The best thing about October isn’t watching football or the MLB playoffs; no, it’s all about analyzing college basketball non-conference schedules. Where are the potential RPI boosts? Trap games? Guarantee ones? So many possibilities for those ’12 or ’13 tilts!
But way out west, promise has quickly turned into embarrassment in November and December for the Pac-12 in recent years. Last season, the Pac went 9-38 against teams that finished the regular season in the RPI Top-100 and 3-28 against those finishing 50th or above, according to realtimerpi.com. Numbers like those are why Washington didn’t get an at-large bid even as the conference’s regular-season champion. So, it goes without saying that the first two months of the season are HUGE for a conference like the Pac-12 to regain respect around the college basketball world. With that in mind, we’re ready to begin circling some dates to keep an eye on in the conference calendar. Here are my choices for the five most important non-conference games for the Pac in 2012-13, in order of appearance:
1. USC vs. Illinois (November 19) - Talk about the ultimate RPI-boost game. Illinois is the Trojans’ first-round opponent of the Maui Invitational, which means a certain D-II team will be lurking in the consolation bracket. If the Trojans beat the Illini, they get to play Texas, another high-quality RPI opponent. If the Trojans lose… that’s right, Chaminade is up next (assuming Texas doesn’t Oklahoma 2010-11 it). In case you were wondering, the Silverswords are not a high-quality RPI opponent. Neither the Trojans nor the Illini are coming off storybook seasons (USC went 1-17 in an extremely down Pac-12, while Illinois absolutely imploded, finishing the season 2-12 after a 15-3 start), but a little early-season karma can do a body of work good. And, we’ll get a chance to see just how much difference USC’s new faces (like Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise) and newly healthy returnees (with senior point guard Jio Fontan exhibit A) can make.