Digging into the mess that is strength of schedule

by | CBSSports.com Senior College Basketball Blogger
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Miles Plumlee's Blue Devils have tough tests against Belmont, Michigan State and Ohio State (US Presswire)  
Miles Plumlee's Blue Devils have tough tests against Belmont, Michigan State and Ohio State (US Presswire)  

The schedule. It means so much in college sports. College football more than basketball, but when we get to February, there's all sorts of sorting and examination in college hoops into who teams have scheduled, beat, where they played and how each one compares to the next.

So why not get a collective look at how every major-conference team, plus another eight non-BCS schools, arranged their slates this season? Let's see what lies before these them now -- before records get in the way -- with a perspective of who these programs scheduled based off of last year's accomplishments.

I probably took six months off my life tabulating, averaging and compiling data from last year, but it was worth it. The graphic attached is really, really cool -- and I encourage you to share. Compare teams throughout the major conferences, and then see how they spectacularly fail to live up to the standards of Long Beach State and Xavier.

Name brand and conference affiliation have a lot to do with how coaches and schools schedule. Politics are often involved, and big egos run amok. It's an arduous process. The big boys have a lot more control over who they play than the other 300 or so schools also tossed into Division I. Sometimes, you can't get out of a bad game or two, but if the overall concept of your out-of-conference schedule is out of line with your talent, pedigree or potential, then blame is to be handed out.

More accolades

As well as punishment, and that normally comes when the Selection Committee brackets and seeds.

Regardless, coaches can improve their schedules if their team gets better, and their team can't get better -- via perception -- than by making NCAA tournaments. It's a vicious cycle some programs can't spin free of. Others prefer to cruise and hope weakling competition is overlooked. That won't be the case here, not today, not on my tableau!

Now, the critical thing to keep in mind as you look at the interactive graphic below is that not every future game is accounted for. It makes for a problematic, unavoidable "glitch" of sorts, but with early-season tournaments offering up to-be-determined opponents, we can't truly get a full scope of what teams will be lining up against. (Although, in some cases, we can; there are some schools who are not involved in bracket play in November.)

Despite that, those undetermined tournament games only account for 10 percent or less of any given team's schedule, which means we're still getting an overall look.

I do mention in a number of team commentaries (which can be found simply by clicking on a team) which possible and likely opponents are coming down the road for said team. But they're not definite, so they can't be factored into the five key ingredients in analyzing the ambition -- or lack thereof -- of a team's slate. The primary category is the overall wins average from 2010-11. The overall and conference-by-conference default rankings go to this statistic. Six BCS teams have an opponents' average of 20 or more this year, and that's led by Sean Miller's Arizona team.

The other criteria:

  • BCS teams
  • 2011 tournament teams
  • 20-win teams from 2010-11
  • Single-digit-win teams from 2010-11
  • True road games

True road games are the most important, and appropriately so, the smallest data set featured. How often is a team going out and challenging itself in hostile territory? There are some gutless teams (Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas A&M) who don't have one true road game on the docket. Others, like South Florida, LSU, Miami (Fla.) and Georgia Tech, will suit up in a genuine visitor's locker room four times this season.

Hopefully this graphic gives you an idea of which teams actually care about their reputations down the road. For some, weak scheduling is OK and even necessary. With others, it's a disturbing trend. And with schools like Connecticut, Texas A&M and Notre Dame, the lack of conviction is befuddling.

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