The Art of Scheduling in College Basketball


This is part III of the series looking at the RPI and how UW schedules their non-conference opponents. This part will look at past schedules and compare it to other comparable programs. Part IV will examine the schedule for 2011/12 and attempt to predict how that will turn out.

There is an old saying my mother used to say to me as a kid which is “You can’t please everyone”. So it seems to be the case with the non-conference schedules since Lorenzo Romar took over at the University of Washington back in 2002. Every summer when the Husky schedule is released there is a huge outpouring of disappointment and even frustration by many commentors on the various Husky blogs about the schedule. Depending on the year, it usually falls into one of three categories:

1) Not enough marquee names to get the national media (and elite recruits) excited.

2) Not enough true road games to test the players before the conference season starts.

3) Too many pansies and no-name teams coming to Hec Ed to justify the $$$ paid by season ticket holders.

There are also always those who defend (or at least understand) the reason the schedules come out the way they do. And, anecdotally, it seems like Romar tends to be vindicated at the end of the season when UW ends up with a pretty solid Strength of Schedule (SOS) and several of the teams they played end up winning their conferences and joining the Dawgs in the NCAA tournament.

So, rather than discuss theoreticals and anecdotes, why don’t we actually analyze the schedules over the years and see how good of a job Romar actually does with the non-conference schedule. Then, we’ll actually address the three points of contention above and see what can be done about it, if anything.

I took a look at the non-conference schedules for UW over the past 5 years since the 2006-2007 season to see how strong or weak the schedule was and what impact it had on UW’s RPI. I only went back 5 years because the available data gets fragmented beyond that. Here are the statistics:

SeasonRecordRPINC SOSAve RPI of NC oppTotal SOS
2010/1123-10 (14-7)3260122.543
2009/1024-10 (14-7)4140121.060
2008/0924-8 (15-5)1477145.019
2007/0816-17 (7-12)122224179.462
2006/0719-13 (9-11)84267177.365

There are a couple of things that really stand out in this data. First of all, UW’s non-conference SOS has improved dramatically in the last three years compared to who they were playing before 2008. So, while some people may still be frustrated that Romar’s schedules remain weak, they are clearly improved over what they were earlier.

Secondly, there is a correlation between the poor non-conference schedule and the poor overall performance of the team. Notice that even when UW was playing a 200+ NC SOS, they were still struggling to get wins. So, this begs the question; Did Romar realize the weaknesses of his teams and schedule accordingly? Or, did the team perform badly precisely because it was not adequately challenged early in the season?

Of course, these numbers are only numbers unless you also compare them to other major conference college basketball teams. So, I took a look at who has been scheduling the most competitive and least competitive non-conference schedules the past four years. The numbers below are the averages of the non-conference SOS from 2008-2011 compiled by Joe Lunardi at ESPN.

Worst NC SOS 08-11 Best NC SOS 08-11
Oregon State318.8 Tennessee19.5
Iowa State272.8 Georgetown33.5
Stanford265.0 Arizona36.8
Nebraska256.8 Duke44.5
Colorado250.8 Michigan State47.5
N.C. State248.8 Connecticut52.0
Northwestern248.5 Syracuse52.0
Rutgers240.8 Michigan55.8
Auburn238.8 Wisconsin59.0
LSU232.8 Pittsburgh61.5
Penn State226.0 West Virginia61.5

To compare, UW’s average NC SOS over the same time period was 100.3, which while not in the top 10 in the nation, is nowhere near the worst of the major conference offenders out there. In fact, UW’s non-conference schedules are actually pretty high. But, if you want to look at one small factor hurting UW’s RPI each year, it is the horribly weak schedules Oregon State and Stanford are playing! What’s up with that?

OK, let’s directly address the three objections raised at the beginning one at a time:

1) Not enough marquee names to get the national press (and elite recruits) excited.

  • Last year, UW played in the Maui Invitational against Virginia, Kentucky, and Michigan State. That was a clearly a marquee event, but UW did not take full advantage of it. However, outside of those games, UW’s only “marquee” opponents were a road game against Texas A&M and home to Texas Tech.
  • In 2009, UW played Georgetown in Los Angeles and lost, lost at Texas Tech, and beat Texas A&M at home.
  • In 2008, UW went to Kansas City to lose two games against Kansas and Florida, but beat Oklahoma State at home. None of the others were marquee.
  • In 2007, UW did play a marquee lineup, but it didn’t turn out that well. They lost to Texas A&M, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, but did manage to beat Utah and LSU.
  • In 2006, UW lost to Gonzaga, but beat LSU with no other games worth mentioning.

UW has established a pattern of playing just about 3-4 “marquee” games out of the 12 non-conference games. But, I suspect the bigger issue Husky fans have with these games is not the quantity of games, but rather that UW loses most of them. During this 5-year period UW is just 7-12. If the UW was 10-9 or better, something tells me people wouldn’t complain as much.

2) Not enough true road games to test the players before the conference season starts.

UW has generally only played one true road game in the non-conference schedule. Romar tends to prefer neutral court games. UW’s struggles on the road in Pac-10 play the last few years have given ammunition to the critics who complain about this point. But, I am not convinced they are linked at this point. Most teams struggle on the road.

3) Too many pansies and no-name teams coming to Hec Ed for the season ticket holders.

People who pay good money want to see Duke come to Hec Ed, not Houston Baptist. I am not going to challenge this point. But, it should be realized that teams tend to schedule teams who they think they can beat and teams who want to come. Duke isn’t going to risk losing on the road any more than UW is. It’s hard to convince the major conference teams to come to UW for an almost certain loss.

There is much more to say here on this point, so I’ll address more about this in the next post looking ahead to this year’s schedule.