Evaluating AAC Non-Conference Schedules: The Good…

Posted by CD Bradley on October 29th, 2013

While major rivalries and national television match-ups get the most attention, the games against much lower profile opponents can make just as big a difference come Selection Sunday. Scheduling is with question an art, but it’s at least equally a science. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn and Andy Glockner have both examined the equation for maximizing a schedule’s impact on RPI, and in turn the strength of an NCAA Tournament resume. Glockner succinctly summarized it thusly: “Don’t schedule terrible teams. Ever.” and “Don’t lose at home. Ever.” Simple enough. Expanding on that, he offered four guidelines for assembling a schedule designed to boost RPI: don’t schedule SWAC teams; play the best teams in small leagues; play neutral site games that really aren’t neutral; and remember that the consolation games in holiday tournaments can become much more important than they seem at the time.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Want to go dancing? Non-conference scheduling is crucial to punching your ticket.

Non-conference games account for roughly 40 percent of AAC teams’ regular season games, and closer to 35 percent of the games considered by the NCAA selection committee after the conference tournament. But these games play an oversized role because they largely determine the availability of quality wins within the league once conference play begins. Good performances against a solid non-conference schedule provides a strong RPI from the beginning, while a weak non-conference slate coupled with losses against bad teams can be very tough to overcome. If a schedule is bad enough, it can drag down the RPI of other teams in the conference, particularly in a league like the AAC with a true round robin schedule. If the league can avoid bad losses against decent competition, it can buoy the whole league, as the Mountain West showed last year with its top overall conference rating. As we will see, it’s unlikely that type of quality is present for the AAC this year.

With the elements identified by Winn and Glockner in mind, let’s take a look at the non-conference schedules facing AAC teams this season. First, the good. We’ll visit the bad and the ugly in a corollary post on Wednesday.

The Good

  • Temple: The Owls face what is clearly the best non-conference schedule of any AAC team. It lacks elite competition – unless a match-up against New Mexico materializes in the final or consolation game of the Charleston Classic, there’s probably not an RPI top 25 team here – but more than makes up for it by not including any terrible teams. Almost every team here is projected to finish near the top of its own league, and the ones that aren’t – Clemson and Texas – won’t hurt by virtue of their major conference affiliations. If everything breaks right, no team on this schedule should end up with an RPI above #200. There are winnable road/neutral games, too. It’s hard to envision a schedule more optimized to boost RPI, but can the inexperienced Owls take advantage this season?
  • Memphis: The Tigers take a different tack. Their schedule includes two Division II games, which won’t count toward their RPI; but they might have been better off scheduling a third rather than Jackson State, a second division SWAC team. They overcome some of the dregs with multiple elite opponents: at Oklahoma State, Florida in Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga at home, and a possible second match-up with the Cowboys in the Old Spice Classic final. All four seem likely to be RPI top 25 teams. At least two wins out of those four contests are key, because the Tigers will have so few additional opportunities; aside from those four games, the Old Spice semis against either LSU or St. Joseph’s might well be their only other top 100 foe.
  • UConn: More Temple than Memphis, the Huskies’ schedule features home tilts with probable top 50 RPI teams Florida, Stanford and Harvard. There are neutral court games against Maryland and Boston College (and possibly Indiana or Washington), as well as a home game with Patriot League favorite Boston University and a road game at Washington; all appear likely to end up in the RPI top 100. There a couple of 200+ types, but nothing so likely as to drag the whole ranking down. This is a solid non-conference schedule for Kevin Ollie’s first-NCAA Tournament eligible year.

That’s pretty much it for good non-conference slates in the AAC. More to come…

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A Quick Examination of the AAC Non-Conference Slate

Posted by CD Bradley on October 28th, 2013

Highlighted by the annual renewal of college basketball’s best rivalry, the American has plenty of compelling games to offer before its first in-conference games tip off on New Year’s Eve. The conference’s teams also play a number of games, that while they might not be showcased on national TV, could prove just as crucial if not more so when the NCAA Tournament field is selected and seeded in March. Let’s take a look at four intriguing match-ups as well as four under-the-radar games that AAC teams will be involved in during the non-conference part of the season.

ESPN.com John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off Dec. 28 in Rupp Arena.

John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino might not be all smiles when their teams square off December 28 in Rupp Arena.

Four most intriguing AAC non-conference games

  • Memphis at Oklahoma State, 8 PM, November 19, ESPN. This match-up of two of the nation’s best backcourts, with Marcus Smart and company squaring off against the Tigers’ fleet of guards, has to be considered among the highlights of the season’s first two weeks. It will also provide, fair or not, an early barometer of how these teams and leagues stack up.
  • Louisville at Kentucky, 4 PM, December 28, CBS.  It’s the two best teams in the country. The last two national champions. It’s the most important annual sporting event – yes, even bigger than the Kentucky Derby — in a state where college basketball is the most important sport. It’s Russ Smith vs. the Harrison twins, Montezl Harrell vs. Julius Randle, and, of course, Rick Pitino vs. John Calipari.
  • Florida at UConn, 7 PM, December 2, ESPN2. Connecticut has one of the best guard tandems in the country in Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Florida has talent all over the floor, led by senior center Patric Young. Can the Huskies overcome the Gators’ interior advantages to get the kind of marquee win their non-conference schedule offers few opportunities for? The answer could be key to their March chances.
  •  Gonzaga at Memphis, 9 PM, February 8, ESPN. This rare February inter-conference matchup is one of two visits to AAC homecourts by ESPN’s College Gameday this year (Louisville at UConn on January 18 is the other). The Zags entered last year’s NCAA Tournament as the nation’s #1 team, but reached only the round of 32 before bowing out to Wichita State. This game should provide crucial insight into whether Gonzaga can begin to approach last year’s success.

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ESPN Insider Projects AAC Among Nation’s Top Conferences

Posted by CD Bradley on October 25th, 2013

The American compares favorably to the best conferences in the country in ESPN Insider‘s 351-team projections that were released Friday. Led, unsurprisingly, by Louisville at #2, the American placed three teams in the top 25, and three more in the top 100. The team projections are based on projections of each player, based on past production by both the players and the teams as a whole, as explained by Dan Hanner. “The model predicted the tempo free stats of every D1 player, projected the lineup for every D1 team, and then added up the player stats to get a projection for every D1 team,” Hanner wrote. (ESPN Insider absorbed most of the writers of the late, lamented College Basketball Prospectus, which produced similar #1-#351 rankings in its annual book in years past.)

Congrats to Fran Dunphy on His 400th Victory

Fran Dunphy’s inexperienced Temple team presents a major challenge to the coach this year.

After modeling predictions for each player on each team (a detailed, somewhat technical explanation of that process can be found here), Hanner ran 10,000 computer simulations of the season, a new aspect of this year’s version of the rankings which provides a best and worst case scenario for each team. “There are a number of consequences to adding a simulation to the model,” Hanner wrote. “First, the simulation approach gives an advantage to teams with positional flexibility. For example, Louisville has two players, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, who will likely compete to be the team’s starting point guard. Both players project as good, but not elite college point guards. But when you simulate the lineup, and realize that the better of the two players will start, suddenly the expectation is even higher. The winner of the competition is going to have a higher expectation than either player individually.”

Accordingly, Louisville is ranked second (only the uncertainty surrounding Chane Behanan’s suspension dropped them below Kentucky for the top spot), with a best case as the top team in the county and a worst case of 12th. Memphis checks in at 15th (best case sixth, worst case 26th), while UConn is 25th (12th/42nd).

The rest of the American ranks:

  • Cincinnati: #59 (23/97)
  • Central Florida: #96 (60/138)
  • Rutgers: #100 (58/150)
  • SMU: #105 (70/134)
  • South Florida: #110 (63/151)
  • Temple: #129 (67/209; the wide variance, Hanner explains, is due to the lack of returning production: “Fran Dunphy has worked miracles before, but he has never had a team this inexperienced at Temple.”)
  • Houston: #158 (96/209)

The American joins the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big East as the only conferences with each team in the top half of the overall rankings, a claim the SEC, Big 12, MW, A-10 or any other conference cannot make. The full rankings, with commentary, can be found here; conference predictions can be found here.

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Rule Change on Hand-checking Poses Issues for Louisville and Russ Smith

Posted by CD Bradley on October 17th, 2013

With every new college basketball season comes tweaks to the rules of the game, and this year’s version may cause problems for the defending national champions. A major point of emphasis this year will be the enforcement of rules designed to improve offensive flow in the game many complained had grown too sluggish. Among them are increased scrutiny of hand checking, particularly on the ball, and bumping cutters through the lane. Discussion of the rule this week quickly focused on Louisville, which relied on intense pressure defense to win a national title in April. The Cardinals ranked first in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, and second (to VCU) in forcing turnovers.

GoCards.com Russ Smith's defense helped Louisville win the national championship, but a rule change may force him to alter his style this season.

GoCards.com
Russ Smith’s defense helped Louisville win the national championship, but a rule change may force him to alter his style this season.

“Louisville isn’t going to have a team if we stick to this because they’re going to all foul out in the first half, and I love the way they play,” said Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy to ESPN, whose team turned the ball over 19 times in an NCAA Tournament game against the Cardinals. “If you’re going to call touch fouls, it’ll be over in the first 10 minutes. (Rick) Pitino will have to play. It really is crazy.” Eustachy wasn’t alone. CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb, when asked about the impact of the rule on Twitter, replied, “Louisville will be called for a ton of fouls.” ESPN analyst Jeff Goodman said Louisville, along with VCU and Butler, would be hurt by the rules on the defensive end. “However, VCU and Cards will benefit offensively.” Surprisingly, Pitino is a big fan of the changes. “Last season was terrible,” Pitino told ESPN. “It was an ugly season. We need to change the game. The one thing the coaches can’t do: they can’t gripe about it. The first six weeks will be a transition for the players as well as the coaches.” He also said the rule changes would render Russ Smith “unguardable.”

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Rushed Reaction: #12 South Florida 58 #5 Temple 44

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. A Game of Runs.  In the first half, South Florida went nearly 11 minutes without scoring. The Bulls finished the half 3-of-27 from the floor, but were amazingly down by only four points at the break.  In the second half, a different South Florida team showed up.  The Bulls hit 10 of their first 14 shots, including four of their first five from three.  After trailing 19-8 with 6:34 in the first half, South Florida went on a 33-10 run that extended to the midway point of the second half.  The turnaround was stunning, as it didn’t appear that South Florida would be able to do anything offensively after its woeful first half.  Whatever Bulls Coach Stan Heath said to his team during the intermission got them going, and now one of the last four teams in the Big Dance has a chance to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Collins and Rudd Lead the Way. Anthony Collins, South Florida’s freshman point guard, was outstanding in steadying the Bulls in the first half and leading their attack in the second.  He finished with 17 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Sophomore forward Victor Rudd, Jr., hit several key shots in the second half, and went 4-6 from three-point range.  Collins and Rudd were the key to South Florida’s quick spurt at the beginning of the second half, and the Bulls never relinquished the lead after taking it on a Shaun Noriega three with 16:55 remaining.
  3. Good Defense beats Good Offense. This game was a contrast in styles.  On the season, Temple shot 47% from the field and averaged 76 points per game.  According to kenpom.com, the Owls were the nation’s 22nd most efficient offensive team.  On the other hand, South Florida is seventh in the nation in scoring defense (56.8 points per game) and 14th in field goal percentage defense (opponents shot 38.7% on the year). On this night, the Bulls won the battle of these contrasting styles, as South Florida held the Owls to 35.7% shooting and 44 points.  Temple simply could not get into any offensive flow in the game, and the Bulls deserve all the credit for that.

Star of the Game Anthony Collins, USF.  The freshman point guard who had more than three times as many assists as any other Bull, was the steadying influence on this team on this night, turning the ball over only once.

Quotable. ”I think they’re the best defensive team we played against all year.  They’re long and athletic. They do a great job switching, as well as the guards keeping their guys in front.” – Temple’s Ramone Moore, on South Florida’s defense

Sights and Sounds.  A lackluster first half led to a crowd that had no life in the first 20 minutes.  After the break, the South Florida crowd, which had seemed non-existent, came to life when the Bulls rallied.  The game also presented a contrast in styles between the coaches.  Temple’s Fran Dunphy and South Florida’s Stan Heath do things differently.  Heath is animated and argues with officials throughout the game.  Dunphy, though intense, does not let his emotions show like his counterpart.

Wildcard.  This game was a battle of future Big East opponents.  Earlier this month, the league extended an invitation to Temple, and it will join in basketball beginning in the 2013-14 season.

What’s Next?  South Florida will take on 13th-seeded Ohio on Sunday.  The Bulls were one of the last four at-large teams to make the field, and many thought they should not have been in the field at all.  Now, the Bulls will wear their home uniforms as the higher seed, and with their defense, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen is a realistic possibility.

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