Updated: March 17, 2013, 8:06 am ET
Bad non-conference schedules sink teams
by Patrick Stevens, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Days until Selection Sunday: 0
The big picture:
There truly are few absolutes when it comes to projecting the NCAA tournament field. There are first times for everything, and they have become more frequent with a 68-team event rather than a 65-team field.
So you never say never.
But if there is one consistent message the NCAA selection committee has sent in recent years, it is don’t play a horrible non-conference schedule and expect to get into the tournament if you are a borderline case.
Since the still-inexplicable inclusion of Air Force (non-conference schedule of 273, among other shortcomings) in 2006, only 11 teams with out-of-league schedules ranked worse than 250th nationally have earned at-large nods (thanks to CollegeRPI.com for the data to sift through). The worst seed any of them received was the No. 8 seed handed to Louisiana State in 2009.
As for borderline teams? Let’s take a peek:
2007 West Virginia: The Mountaineers were 22-9 (9-7 Big East) and had a couple top-25 victories and possessed an RPI of 57. But a No. 271 non-conference schedule sent West Virginia to the NIT, which it won in John Beilein’s final flourish in Morgantown.
2008 Arizona State: Herb Sendek’s first decent team in the desert went 19-12 (9-9 Pac-10) and collected five top-50 triumphs. The non-schedule slate was ranked 294th (which helped lead to an RPI of 83) and off the Sun Devils went to the NIT.
2009 Penn State: The Nittany Lions (22-11, 10-8 Big Ten) won six top-50 games. They also faced the No. 307 non-conference schedule and wound up with an RPI of 70. Thanks in part to the wonders of Talor Battle, the Nits lived up to their abbreviated nickname and won the NIT.
2009 Kansas State: The Wildcats (21-11, 9-7 Big 12) weren’t as accomplished as Penn State was, but were still a power conference team with a winning record in the league. The 308th-ranked out-of-league schedule didn’t help the RPI 81 team.
2010 Virginia Tech: The gold standard of dreadful non-conference schedules, the Hokies ranked 339th out of 347 nationally, went 23-8 (10-6 ACC) — and got left out. There was nothing certifiably … [For more on Bubble Watch: History tells us bad non-conference schedules sink teams, click here.]
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