Arizona is playing in the NCAA tournament this week, despite losing 5 of their last 6, winning no road games of any value, and finishing 9-10 in a weaker conference (if you go by the numbers). Their inclusion makes me believe the final spot came down to PSU and Arizona. They probably felt San Diego State, Creighton, and St. Mary’s either cancelled themselves out, or they didn’t feel they would perform in the tournament. While many PSU fans inevitably are outraged by the committee’s selection, you should have seen it coming.
The non-conference schedule was released at the end of July. Anyone who followed college basketball knew right then and there that PSU was shooting themselves in the foot. There’s not a whole lot of things you can control in college basketball. Officiating and injuries are just two factors off the top of my head that you can’t control. But you can always control your non-conference schedule. I’m only 20 years old and I’ve followed college basketball closely the last 5 or 6 years. Even I know how much emphasis the Selection Committee has put recently on non-conference schedules. They have tended to reward teams who make efforts to challenge themselves out of their conference and punish those who don’t. Remember the outrage over the 2007 Syracuse Orangemen that went 10-6 in the Big East? They were left out because they never left the state of New York in November and December.
I’m not going to act like I know what restrictions are put on the staff when they’re trying to comprise the team’s schedule for the upcoming season. I don’t know budget concerns nor do I know travel costs or any of those types of specifics. I’m sure there are inevitable date conflicts that further complicate the process. All I know is, plenty of other schools find their way around those obstacles.
DeChellis deservedly has been taking heat about the non-conference schedule. While I’m not expecting any sort of apology or admittance of the mistake, he’s made the point that a lot of our opponents didn’t have the seasons they were expected to have. While that maybe true, it’s pretty dumb to assemble a schedule full of risks like PSU’s had. Here’s what the final RPI numbers were for PSU’s non-conference opponents:
|Mt. St. Mary’s||118|
The RPI formula is pretty basic. 25% of your overall rating is your weighted winning%. 50% of the rating is your opponent’s combined winning%. The last 25% is your opponent’s opponents winning %. Obviously the first two factors have the biggest impact, and they’re basically under your control. Ideally, your non-conference schedule should include a fair share mid-major conference champions or contenders. They’re teams you should beat if you expect to be an NCAA tournament team, and they’ll have winning records to boost your RPI rating. The teams you want to avoid are the 200+ RPI teams. They’re the teams who aren’t even competitive in their low rated conferences. Having 3 or 4 of these teams on your schedule will not hurt (Michigan played 5 but still had an OOC SOS of 50), but having 8 of these teams (with just two top 100 teams) will leave you with a 307 OOC SOS.
So let’s go back to DeChellis’ point about under-performing opponents. The Georgia Tech game was mandated through the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. We had no control over that game. They certainly struggled in the ACC this year and lost a number of close games that would’ve helped us if they won. But they still finished with a more than respectable RPI and their impact on our overall rating wouldn’t have been much better with a few more wins. I’m going to address the Philly Classic debacle for later, so let’s look at the teams we did schedule. I’ll give each team my risk factor, as far as RPI impact, from a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the riskiest. I will also note how the team performed compared to season’s expectations.
- William & Mary – While they did finish 155th in the RPI last year, they were picked to finish 9th in the CAA. Now honestly, I’m not too upset about scheduling this team. They play in a very good mid-major league and they were a decent season-opener. They shouldn’t have been a big deal, if not for the rest of the schedule. Risk Rating: 5 – Slightly Underperformed
- New Hampshire – This was a complete dog. Here’s a trivia question for you. When was the last time New Hampshire had an RPI under 200? It’s been 14 seasons (1994-1995). In fact, UNH’s 201 RPI rating was their best by far this decade (they’ve never been under 250). They were expected to finish 7th in the 9 team America East. They clearly overachieved, yet they still didn’t do anything to help our RPI. Risk Rating: 10 – Significantly Overperformed
- @ Pennsylvania – I had no concerns over this game. First off, it was a road game against a winnable opponent. Second, it gave us another game to expose our program in the Philadelphia recruiting pool. Third, I seem to remember that DeChellis wanted to get a game in the Palestra before the Philly Classic. All-in-all it seemed like a wise game. Penn was picked to finish 2nd in the Ivy league, after all. They’re a team who didn’t have the season they were pegged to have. Risk Rating: 3 – Significantly Underperformed
- Temple – I believe this is a home-and-home series, so we should be traveling to Philly in next year’s schedule. Obviously, Temple is a quality opponent. They’re no risk to our RPI at all, and they also provide exposure in Philadelphia. I personally would have rather seen a bigger name team for our marquee home opponent, though. Still, there was no risk here. Risk Rating: 1
- Army – Another team who’s been notoriously terrible in the Patriot League. Who knows when the last time they’ve had an RPI under 200. They were picked to finish 7th in the 8 team league. Their RPI rating is no surprise to anyone. And just out of curiosity, who thinks that Army is an adequate opponent in December to prepare your team for the Big Ten? Risk Rating: 10 – Expected Performance
- Mount St. Mary’s – Now here was a quality school from an RPI standpoint. They made the NCAAs last season and had an RPI rating of 159. They were the favorite to win the Northeast Conference this season. However, the Northeast is notoriously weak (29th out of 31 conferences). If MSM suffers through some injuries or what have you, they could turn into a dog. Also, I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t be your best non-conference win. Risk Rating: 3 – Slightly Overperformed
- Lafayette – Remember Army was picked to finish 7th out of the 8 team Patriot League? Well, Lafayette was the team that was picked behind them. They had a decent season last year (175th in the RPI), but they lost 5 of their 8 man rotation to graduation. They were not expected to do anything and they didn’t. Why they were scheduled is beyond me. They certainly offered no test in preparation for the Big Ten. Risk Rating: 10 – Expected Performance
- Sacred Heart – This game actually wasn’t too bad. SH has only been D-1 for 10 years, but recently they’ve started to be competitive. They finished with winning conference records the last 2 seasons and an RPI under 200. They were considered a contender in the Northeast. But as mentioned, the Northeast isn’t a good conference, and they did lose 4 seniors off last year’s squad. Risk Rating: 5 – Expected Performance
So those were games that PSU scheduled on their own. Lafayette, Army, and New Hampshire should never have been considered, even if UNH ended up being not-so-bad compared to other teams. Now the Philly Classic needs to be addressed. I don’t know what specifics PSU knew when they agreed to participate. What they had to know was they were going to get 2 home games against weak competition and two neutral games against good competition in Philadelphia at the Palestra. I’m going to assume they knew Villanova was participating, because otherwise, this tournament would’ve been a complete waste.
The Philly Classic in hindsight has clearly turned out to be a disaster, and the blame can be spread around to both Penn State and the tournament’s organizers. When the tournament field was announced over the summer, I theoretically came up with what I thought the format would look like. The Philly Classic, though, decided that Towson (219 in the RPI), who was picked to finish last in the 14th rated conference (CAA), was a more worthy opponent in the Championship bracket than Niagara (49 in the RPI), who has consistently competed and has even recently won the 13th rated conference (MAAC). Why that decision was made is beyond me.
Regardless, I’m assuming Ed bought into my excitement over this tournament, too. A chance to play Villanova in Philadelphia is about the best exposure you can get there. But that game was never guaranteed. It was just an opportunity. Therefore, you had to know you’re taking a big risk with this tournament. You had to know you were going to get 2 RPI dogs at home. It just so turned out we drew the worst draw with our preliminary games, too. Either Monmouth or NJIT were going to be major RPI hits, but Hartford’s disastrous season hurt as well. They were picked to finish in the top 3 of the America East Conference. I haven’t paid attention closely, but they finished last and won just 2 conference games for whatever reason. They were expected to be a in the high 100, low 200 RPI range, but instead they finished 299. So to recap: The Philly Classic had 8 teams – 4 top 100 schools and 4 dogs. Of our 4 games, we played 3 dogs and 1 top 100 school. We didn’t play Villanova and our RPI suffered significantly for it.
So while the Philly Classic turned into the worst possible scenario for PSU (due to losing to Rhode Island), PSU clearly made no attempt to account for it with the rest of their games. Other than Temple, which of the scheduled games above could really help our RPI? Mt. St. Mary’s actually did help, but the rest either didn’t hurt or did hurt. No guaranteed games were scheduled to help balance out the teams with negative impacts on our RPI. So the subpar non-conference scheduled compounded on itself and turned into one of the worst in the country.
I have to chuckle a little bit when people try to say if PSU won @ Iowa they would be in and that PSU blew their chances. That very well could be true, but I don’t think people realize how lucky we’ve been this season. We got to play Purdue without their 2 best players, Michigan State without Raymar Morgan, and Iowa without Cyrus Tate. After seeing the BTT beatdown, who thinks PSU beats Purdue if they have Robbie Hummel? We clearly overachieved if you look at our efficiency ratings. Expecting to win more games is just downright silly and doesn’t place the blame for our NCAA snubbing where it needs to be placed – the non-conference schedule.
Now back to the Arizona and Penn State debate. Both teams had 6 top 50 RPI wins. PSU won on the road and clearly finished better down the stretch. But Arizona’s in and PSU’s out. Whether it’s right or wrong, it should have been the expected decision from the committee. When you get to the NCAA tournament, you’re not playing against familiar conference foes. You’re playing against the rest of the country. Arizona beat Gonzaga, Kansas, and San Diego State. They also lost to UAB, @ UNLV, and @ Texas A&M. The committee loves seeing games like these. It almost doesn’t even matter if you win or not. Take a look at Wisconsin, another last team in. They have just 4 top 50 wins with only one of them on the road. They finished at a mediocre 18-12 (10-9). They had no top 50 OOC wins, but just by playing them, they were included. Wisconsin lost to UConn, Texas, and @ Marquette. Their RPI was 45 (because of their OOC schedule), and they played the 40th toughest OOC schedule. PSU’s non-con clearly isn’t even in the discussion with those 2 teams.
So while this message about the OOC has been sent quite a few times, PSU finally got the message directly. I’m not too upset about it, actually. I just feel terrible for Jamelle Cornley, who got robbed by his own school’s athletic administration and coaches. I’m not one to speculate on who exactly is responsible for it, so as far as I’m concerned, DeChellis, Eldon Price, and Tim Curley all get blamed. Hopefully we’ll see some tougher schedules that will show that PSU’s errors have been corrected. Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a reason for people to head up to the BJC before PSU’s bowl game from now on.