Like clockwork, nonconference scheduling always finds itself being a hot topic of discussion in the world of college basketball. You'll typically find the discussion warming up as the NCAA Tournament occurs, and once the Selection Show has come and gone, the stovetop dials are cranked up even higher.
Being that it's the offseason, content can sometimes be difficult to churn up. So, I've decided to present to you a very simple study: Who has scheduled the toughest noncon schedules in the last 10 years?
The Big East has been in fluctuation since the 2005-06 season. That much is hard to argue. The conference added five new teams - Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida that year and at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, a mass exodus and subsequent scoop left the the Big East with 10 teams.
While Butler, Creighton and Xavier are current members of the Big East, it is far too small of a sample size to make a legitimate assertion on. It's merely two seasons and prior to that they were in mid-major conferences. As we've so often seen, mid-majors don't typically reap the rewards that the high-major schools do when it comes to scheduling, and are often unjustly penalized for having "cupcakes" when it could be argued that they often don't have leverage when these deals are broken down. So, unfortunately, they are omitted from this study.
In the interest of fairness, for the purpose of this study, we will conduct this study in two parts. The first, today's post, will feature the nonconference schedules of Big East teams from 2005-06 to 2012-13. After that, we will examine the seven teams that have stayed in the conference from the 2005-06 season to the most recent 2014-15 season.
Part 1: The Big East from 2005-2013
Numbers courtesy of KenPom.com
So who had the toughest nonconference schedules, on average, from the 2005-06 season to the 2012-13 season?
It was none other than the West Virginia Mountaineers. Head coaches John Beilein and Bob Huggins frequently put the Mountaineers to the test with an average nonconference pythagorean mark of 0.5178.
(Now, for those who might be uninformed, pythagorean expectation is a formula that was developed by Bill James, who applied it to the sport of baseball. Years later, Daryl Morey, current general manager of the Houston Rockets, used a similar formula for the sport of basketball that would later be supported and substantiated by Dean Oliver. It measures, when applied to basketball, how many games a team should have won based on how many points they scored versus how many points they allowed. Thus, by the metric used by KenPom.com, 0.5178 equates to win %. So over the course of this sample, nonconference teams that West Virginia faced had an average expectancy win % of 0.5178, just above the .500 mark)
The highest point for West Virginia during this run was in the 2010-11 season. That year, West Virginia squared off with a Purdue team that would finish 26-8, as well as Oakland, Davidson, Vanderbilt, Cleveland State and Marshall among others. The year before may have been even more astounding, as they found themselves stacked up against Texas A&M, Portland, Ole Miss, Purdue, Ohio State and Marshall - all finishing in the KenPom Top 100 with A&M, Purdue and Ohio State finishing within the Top 15.
To the surprise of few, Georgetown, Villanova, UConn and Louisville consistently tested themselves more than their peers. The Hoyas had a rigorous go in 2011 as well. They faced seven teams in the KenPom Top 100 and four within the Top 50. Their toughest noncon opponent? Utah State, who they took care of by the score of 68-51. As far as road tests go, Temple and Old Dominion were their two toughest opponents by KenPom rankings while fellow NCAA Tourney team Mizzou also posed a threat in a game in which Georgetown won 111-102 at the Sprint Center.
'Nova has been nothing if not consistent with their only low point being a NCSOS pythagorean mark of 0.3533 in 2008-09. Interestingly enough... that was the season that the 'Cats marched to the Final Four. So even without being "battle-tested" that season, the 'Cats had success.
Connecticut's high mark was in their last hurrah as a member of the Big East Conference. Kevin Ollie was put to the test as the Huskies faced Michigan State, New Mexico, North Carolina State, Washington, Stony Brook and Harvard. Perhaps impressively, UConn finished 10-2 in their nonconference slate that season.
For many years, Jamie Dixon and Jim Boeheim were dragged through the mud for their nonconference scheduling. And hey, it's not up to par with some on the top of the charts across the nation and their respective conferences. But allow me to confidently say now that while they may have been less than stellar, they weren't nearly as bad as some of their peers.
Notre Dame, Rutgers, Providence, Seton Hall and St. John's represent the cellar in terms of nonconference strength of schedule within this timeframe. And based on the results, it wasn't all that close either. The 'Cuse found themselves sandwiched in the middle of the Big East house, with an average NCSOS expectancy of 0.4445. That isn't GREAT, but here are the numbers for the five aforementioned teams:
Not only does Notre Dame hold the lowest average margin through this sample size, but they also hold the lowest individual watermark of all. The Irish went 24-8 that season with a 10-point first round loss to the Winthrop Eagles, but this story begins back in November. Only three teams that finished in the KenPom Top 100 were on Notre Dame's nonconference slate. This included Butler (who they took a two-point loss to at Hinkle Fieldhouse), Maryland and Alabama, whom they defeated in College Park and South Bend respectively. The rest of this schedule reads out like this:
- The Citadel
- Winston Salem State
- Stony Brook
A grand total of one above .500 team comes from this list, and it was merely by one win (Rider). This is a rather pathetic slate as a whole. So much so that it wound up being the worst mark... in the country. Out of 336 teams observed by KenPom.com that season, it was ranked 336th. Dead last. Notre Dame's marks didn't quite improve that much after that. Three seasons later, they had a NCSOS expectancy of 0.2802 and had marks of 0.3581, 0.3297, and 0.3368 scattered about as well.
In case you're wondering if Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish have gotten their act together or not, their 2015 mark was 0.2371, which would be good for 347th of the 351 teams observed.
RU didn't do themselves much help over the years either, and neither did the likes of Providence, Seton Hall or St. John's. The Friars' low-mark was 0.2556 in the 2011-12 season. That year, aside from Iowa State and Northern Iowa, Providence faced a host of teams in Ed Cooley's first season as head coach that were near or hovering around the bottom of the college basketball barrel. This included a putrid 9-22 Boston College team that the Friars easily handled in Friartown. Though slowly on the uptick, as we'll find out in Part 2 of this analysis, Cooley and the PC athletics department has made sure that their noncon schedule has gotten much more competitive over the years.
Interestingly enough, Rutgers aside, the three aforementioned squads who were in the bottom five will be under the spotlight in Part 2 of this study, which will encompass 2005-2015. For now, let what's been delivered digest and banter away if you so choose.
For a full listing of each team's nonconference SOS pyth as well as their averages, click here. All numbers are courtesy of KenPom.com.