The nonconference schedule was released last week at a jam-packed Buffalo Wild Wings in Midlothian. It was an introduction of the new radio deal and host, Wes McElroy. There was as much hunger and thirst for basketball information as for wings and beer. That’s how we roll.
Brevity: I know I’m paid to like the schedule, but it’s an earnest statement when I say I like the schedule. No foolin’. What it may lack in sexy, it more than makes up for in effectiveness.
Let’s break it down:
Of the 13 nonconference games, we have four or five matchups against Power 5 conference schools. odu is a given, and MTSU and Princeton are very good RPI games. So no matter where that third Atlantis game lands, we have eight of 13 games that are very good RPI games. That’s three in the Bahamas, Illinois, Georgia Tech, plus Princeton, odu and MTSU.
Side note–I’m defining “good RPI games” as top 100 or potential top 100, but certainly not outside the top 150. Of the eight “good RPI games,” only odu is being played on the opponent’s home floor. That’s very, very good.
The next two in order of ranking (Asheville and La-Monroe) are decent games–they were 121 and 122 in KenPom last year. Those are games VCU should win and not hurtful RPI games. Those are two games where the opponent may slip into the top 100, and almost certainly not slip out of the top 200. Again, not sexy but solid.
That’s 10 of 13 scheduled games that are helpful to the RPI cause. I like that. (Side note, part 2: VCU was 5-5 in its top 10 RPI games last year.)
The last three (Binghamton, Howard, Liberty) appear on every schedule every year. Binghamton was given to us by Atlantis, and the other two were scheduled. I’m fine with these three. You cannot beat up your kids with all tough games or the A10 will eat you alive. You have to feel success–also a big reason Howard is the last game before the A10 season.
In fact, if you factor out those three, the worst KenPom ranking on the slate is Illinois at 132.
What does that tells us? Let’s frame it.
I took a quick look at last year’s noncon schedule, from the end of 2014-15 (when the game was scheduled) to where the team finished 2015-16:
- Prairie View (began 303, finished 335)
- Radford (began 162, finished 234)
- Duke (4, 20)
- Wisconsin (3, 33)
- American (185, 302)
- odu (66, 94)
- MTSU (155, 112)
- FSU (97, 50)
- Ga Tech (83, 49)
- Cincy (34, 34)
- Buffalo (60, 131)
- Liberty (329, 289)
- North Fla (139, 189)
We began last year believing eight, maybe nine, of those games were top 150 and five would fall into the top 100. It turned out that eight were top 150 and six were top 100.
Here is where I bring out the hammer: this year’s schedule is very similar in construction to last year. Binghamton is Prairie View, Louisiana-Monroe is North Florida, Howard is American, Asheville is Radford, Princeton is Buffalo. Illinois is Florida State. The third Atlantis game is interesting and important–that’s the Cincinnati game.
My point to all this drivel: P5 teams will always help us. Always. We have to have a bunch on the schedule, and we want to win those games. We played four last year and all four were top 50 games. We lost all four games. There’s no getting around that. And we have at least four this year.
And on the other end you have to have a couple “easier” games so you don’t Lonergan your team. Hence, Howard, Binghamton, and Liberty.
The secret is getting those middle games that will likely help you, and not likely hurt you. Northern Iowa. MTSU. Belmont. The brand name may not be there but the metrics will be. It’s where VCU used to reside. Do you really think Jeff Capel scheduled the games in the late 2000s out of contractual necessity or some fancy notion of loyalty? Don’t delude yourself. Now we’re on the other side of that fence–finding the RPI 100-150 teams that may flow into the top 100.
That’s the Princeton, MTSU, odu facet–and to a lesser extent La-Monroe and Asheville. We were undefeated in those games last year.
Sure, there is no Arizona or Virginia on the schedule. However when you break the schedule down to an atomic level, you will see it’s the kind of schedule that sets VCU up for an at large berth. It’s the kind of schedule we need.
Look at it this way: VCU went 8-5 in last year’s nonconference season, which everyone can admit now was not where we wanted it to be. Lost all four P5 games plus the next highest RPI game in Cincinnati.
But we entered January in a good state, didn’t backslide or have a bad nonconference loss, took care of business in A10 play, and earned an at large berth. The math went our way because we lost none of the middle-RPI games. It was closer than anyone believed, but VCU made the cut and won a game.
You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.
Or, let me put it this way: would you prefer to play Arizona and then Virginia after we win in middle November, or in middle March?