How Scheduling Has Evolved in the Era of RPI has partnered with LexisNexis to bring you this content.

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For years under basketball coach John Thompson Jr., Georgetown was known for an easy non-conference schedule -- one that mixed in the likes of St. Leo and Shenandoah in the weeks leading up to games against Syracuse, St. John's and the rest of a grueling Big East.

His son doesn't have that luxury, even if he wanted it.

In recent years, coaches have seen more and more teams get rewarded with NCAA bids after taking on challenging non-conference schedules. There's no longer a magical win total that will get you in; it's who you played, where you played and how you played them -- in that order.

This season, the Hoyas opened against Oregon in South Korea. They will play Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday and face Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on Super Bowl weekend.

"Without a doubt, the climate has changed, the emphasis has changed," the younger Thompson says. "I don't think that went through my pop's head. He was just worried about, 'Let's get ready, let's get some minutes played, let's get the younger guys some games, then let's be ready for the Big East.' ...

"There are so many factors that we've been programmed to think about (now). You know what the committee is looking at. In the past, it was, 'Go win some games, do well in your league and you have a shot.' So many more things are being analyzed now, so without a doubt coaches are cognizant of them as we put together our out-of-conference schedule."

Coaches have adapted their scheduling philosophies. More have become if not fluent in RPI and its manipulative powers at least conversational.

Building that RPI

For all of the big names listed on Georgetown's slate, there really is little risk in scheduling them, at least in the eyes of NCAA tournament selection committee members. Even if all three (Oregon, Kansas and Michigan State) are losses, they are losses to likely NCAA tournament-bound teams. One is a true road game, and the other two are at neutral sites.

In addition, Thompson says he tries to predict which smaller-conference teams are likely to win or at least battle for their league titles (Elon and Wright State on this season's Georgetown schedule, for example), adding, "The casual fan may not realize that." But in that framework, Georgetown can theoretically pick up a victory against a potential NCAA tournament team, or at least a squad that will win a bunch of games throughout the season.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who previously coached at Colorado State, got the Rams into the NCAA tournament two years ago with a 20-11 record and a fourth-place finish in the Mountain West Conference. Their sterling RPI of 29 made them a lock to make the field, despite having an otherwise unspectacular résumé.

The NCAA selection committee uses RPI to gauge teams' overall strength of schedule. A team's winning percentage against Division I opponents counts for 25% of its RPI. Half of its RPI calculation comes from opponents' strength of schedule, and the remaining 25% is opponents' opponents' strength of schedule. Road wins receive more weight than neutral-site wins, which receive more weight than home wins.

The best-situated teams hoping for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament are those with strong RPI numbers and wins against teams in the RPI's top 25, 50 and 100. It looks better, too, if you aren't scheduling many teams outside of the RPI's top 150 or 200. Losses to those types can be deadly; wins against cupcakes don't impress the selection committee.

Seeking top-100 wins

Non-conference scheduling is an inexact science, coaches like to say. There are some constraints in the forms of regional rivalries, holiday tournaments, league-mandated events, travel and advance scheduling. Some midmajor schools that have tasted success, such as Harvard and Wichita State, find it difficult to find high-major programs willing to play them outside of tournaments.

And even the most expertly crafted non-conference schedule can be derailed if an opposing team suffers an injury to or early departure by a key player.

"You have to have good intention with the RPI," Michigan coach John Beilein says.

The selection committee knows coaches have more control over non-conference scheduling, so its members can see who is at least attempting to make it difficult on their teams. The Wolverines, for example, have played at Iowa State, at Duke and at home against No. 1 Arizona. All three were losses, but they shouldn't hurt Michigan on Selection Sunday, other than being missed opportunities for résumé-boosting wins.

Miles said once he started to really dig into the numbers at Colorado State he realized he had to eliminate games against teams outside of the RPI's top 250. He also needed chances for top-100 wins. If he and other coaches in the league scheduled tougher, he reasoned, then more Mountain West teams could be top-100 teams come conference play.

"I think there's more awareness to how we schedule than ever," Miles says, "whether that's the advanced math part of it or people are talking about it more and more. ... It's something we've always tried to figure out, how to build our non-conference résumé to be as attractive as possible."

At his previous stop at North Dakota State, Miles scheduled two-for-one deals with teams such as Colorado State and Kansas State. In 2006, he persuaded Texas Tech coach Bobby Knight to let his team come to Lubbock as Knight was chasing the career wins record. He'd try anything and everything to get people to care about and pay attention to his program, Miles says now.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is known for brutal non-conference scheduling. He has plenty of reasons he has done it in the past and continues to do it. It has helped his teams get exposure (which helps attract recruits), and it has prepared his players for Big Ten play. Izzo says he also strategically tries to schedule teams from various conferences.

"Then if I run into a team from that conference in the NCAA tournament, I might not play Texas but I know how we played Texas and they played Kansas, and it might help me against Kansas, if that makes any sense," Izzo says, shaking his head. "That's the method to my madness."

But make no mistake, it is madness.

"Once in a while, I say, 'Why be a masochist?'" Izzo says. "I think most Final Fours (we've been in), we've had the most losses (of Final Four teams). But it's worked for me and it's worked for Michigan State."


December 19, 2013
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