October 6, 2010

The schedules are done ... for now

MORE: Pitt, Wofford, Belmont schedule series, part I | Pitt, Wofford, Belmont schedule series, part II

Editor's note: This is the third and final part of our series on how Pittsburgh, Wofford and Belmont made up their 2010-11 basketball schedules.

Now that fall has arrived, basketball coaches across the country finally can stop worrying about arranging a schedule and start concentrating on how to attack it.

But even as a season gets ready to start, scheduling is a task that never ends.

We've spent the offseason monitoring the scheduling efforts of Pittsburgh, Wofford and Belmont to see how the process works for programs at every level of college basketball. Belmont released its schedule in mid-August. Wofford unveiled its schedule a week later, while Pittsburgh announced its slate in mid-September.

By that point, each of the three schools already was starting to put together its 2011-12 schedule. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll get their schedules done any earlier next year.

"You think the best-case scenario is you've got the thing done in February or March," Wofford coach Mike Young said. "There's no way. There's no way. We're all looking for the best deals for our team and it just doesn't work out that way, as much as you'd like it to and as much as you think it should."

But they did all get their schedules done this year, even if it took longer than they would have liked.

Pitt finally learned which Big East foes it would face twice. Wofford finally managed to line up a second non-conference home game. And Belmont found a way to schedule a "guarantee" game in which it won't have to fly across the country.

PITTSBURGH

Pitt has played one of the nation's 10 toughest schedules in three of the past four seasons, and coach Jamie Dixon doesn't expect that to change this season.

"When it's all said and done, I wouldn't be surprised if we had the toughest strength of schedule in the country," Dixon said.

Pittsburgh plays 13 games against teams that reached the NCAA tournament last season, including non-conference dates with Robert Morris at home, Tennessee in the SEC-Big East Invitational and Maryland in the 2K Sports Classic/Coaches vs. Cancer event. The Panthers also will face either Texas or Illinois in the second round of the Coaches vs. Cancer event.

The Panthers' schedule strength gets an upgrade because they play in the Big East, traditionally the toughest conference in the country. But they also try to avoid scheduling non-conference games against teams with poor RPIs.

Pitt ranked 10th in the nation in schedule strength last season, and the Panthers faced four teams with RPIs in the 200s and none with RPIs in the 300s. Pitt's 2010-11 schedule includes five teams that had RPIs in the 200s last season: No. 214 Delaware State, No. 236 North Florida, No. 291 Illinois-Chicago, No. 295 American and No. 299 Penn. Pittsburgh also has a home game with Maryland-Eastern Shore, which was 308th in the RPI last season.

The trick is trying to predict how programs in the low-major leagues will fare, since roster turnover and coaching changes can drastically alter the fortunes of those teams from one season to the next.

PITT'S SCHEDULE
Here is Pitt's schedule for the 2010-11 season.
(home games in CAPS)
NOVEMBER
8: RHODE ISLAND. 10: ILLINOIS-CHICAGO. 13: NORTH FLORIDA. 18: Maryland at New York. 19: Texas or Illinois at New York. 23: ROBERT MORRIS. 27: PENN.
DECEMBER
1: Duquesne at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. 4: RIDER. 8: DELAWARE STATE. 11. Tennessee at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. 18: MD-EASTERN SHORE. 22: AMERICAN. 27: CONNECTICUT.
JANUARY
4: at Providence. 8: MARQUETTE. 12: at Georgetown. 15: SETON HALL. 17: SYRACUSE. 22: at DePaul. 24: NOTRE DAME. 29: at Rutgers.
FEBRUARY
5: CINCINNATI. 7: at West Virginia. 12: at Villanova. 16: USF. 19: at St. John's. 24: WEST VIRGINIA.
MARCH
2: at USF. 5: VILLANOVA. 8-12: Big East tournament at New York.

For instance, Maryland-Eastern Shore and North Florida return four starters each and ought to fare better this season. Pitt lined up North Florida for Nov. 13, a particularly tough date to schedule an opponent because every team naturally wants to play at home on the opening Saturday of the season. Penn returns all five starters from last season's team. American struggled last season after reaching the NCAA tournament in 2008 and 2009.

Pitt already had lined up most of its non-conference schedule by the start of May, but coaches and administrators spent almost the entire summer waiting for the Big East to announce its conference schedule.

The Big East faces a unique challenge because its league schedule is 144 games -- the most of any conference -- and many of its teams share arenas with pro basketball and hockey franchises.

Each Big East team's 18-game schedule includes two games each with three league rivals and one game with each of the other schools in the conference. No Big East team knows which schools it will face twice until the conference releases the schedule.

"It is what it is," Dixon said. "It's not ideal, but at the end of the day, we're going to be playing 18 really tough games. We're just going to find them out at a later date.

"The biggest challenge is answering the numerous questions throughout the summer and fall of when your schedule is going to be out."

Big East coaches conduct a straw poll each summer in which they predict the standings for the upcoming season. Big East officials then arrange the teams in various tiers. The idea is that no Big East school should have to face three upper-tier teams twice each.

Still, Pitt got stuck with a particularly tough assignment. The Panthers will face Villanova, West Virginia and USF twice each. While the departure of Dominique Jones should make USF one of the Big East's weaker teams this season, West Virginia reached the Final Four last season and Villanova got there in 2009.

Now that this season's schedule is done, Dixon already is looking ahead -- far, far ahead. Pitt already is lining up early season tournaments through 2014.

"I think we're probably farther ahead than most," Dixon said.

WOFFORD

Wofford coach Mike Young spent most of the spring and summer looking for a second non-conference home game. But with four starters returning from an NCAA tournament team, the Terriers couldn't find any team willing to play them at their place.

Young finally solved his problem by turning to an old friend.

Wofford lined up a Dec. 18 home date with High Point to round out its schedule. Young is friends with High Point coach Scott Cherry.

When they realized their teams had the same open date, they lined up a home-and-home series for the next two seasons.

The Terriers' only other definite non-conference home game is Nov. 24 against Air Force, though they are hoping their ESPN BracketBusters game against an undetermined opponent also will be at home.

"[Scheduling] is without question one of the most difficult things we do," Young said.

Young's struggle to find quality home games caused him to create the type of schedule that will make it tough for Wofford to match its 26-win total from last season.

WOFFORD'S SCHEDULE
Here is Wofford's schedule for the 2010-11 season.
(home games in CAPS) NOVEMBER
12: at Minnesota. 15: at Clemson. 18: USC Upstate at Charleston, S.C. 20: Coastal Carolina or Georgetown at Charleston, S.C. 21: TBA at Charleston, S.C. 24: AIR FORCE. 27: at Xavier.
DECEMBER
2: UNC GREENSBORO. 4: at Elon. 11: at South Carolina. 18: HIGH POINT. 29: VCU at Richmond, Va. 30: Cornell or New Hampshire at Richmond.
JANUARY
6: THE CITADEL. 8: COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON. 12: at Georgia Southern. 15: at Davidson. 20: CHATTANOOGA. 22: SAMFORD. 24: FURMAN. 27: at Appalachian State. 29: WESTERN CAROLINA.
FEBRUARY
3: at College of Charleston. 5: at The Citadel. 9: DAVIDSON. 12: GEORGIA SOUTHERN. 16: at Samford. 19: ESPN BracketBuster opponent TBA. 23: at Chattanooga. 26: at Furman.
MARCH
4-7: Southern Conference tournament at Chattanooga, Tenn.

Wofford has non-conference road trips to Xavier, Clemson, Minnesota and South Carolina. Young was having so much trouble filling out his schedule that he agreed to play the host school in the VCU Tournament in Richmond, Va. Wofford also will face either Cornell or New Hampshire in that tournament.

That's more high-profile non-conference road games than Young would have liked.

"The best number ideally is three," he said. "I think we've got four or five. I'd consider VCU one. We've got more than we'd like to have. That's how this worked out. I did the best I could with it."

Young scheduled some of those games to give his players a chance to return to their home states. The Minnesota game represents a homecoming for Wofford seniors Cameron Rundles and Jamar Diggs, both from Minneapolis. The Xavier game will have special meaning for junior guard Brad Loesing and senior forward Terry Martin, who grew up in Cincinnati.

Wofford also will play in the Charleston (S.C.) Classic in November. After facing USC Upstate in its opening game, the Terriers will meet either Georgetown or Coastal Carolina in their second game.

Young expects to have an easier time putting together next season's schedule. Wofford's roster includes 2009-10 Southern Conference player of the year Noah Dahlman and four other seniors, which means the Terriers figure to have a much less experienced team a year from now.

"We lose five good players," Young said. "We've got a heavy senior class, so I'm not going to have the difficulties [scheduling] that I had this year. Still, getting home games is going to be hard for any of us.

"I would much rather have what could be a really good team and have a hard time scheduling than a poor team and have an easy time scheduling. I've learned a lot. That would be one of them."

BELMONT

Belmont coach Rick Byrd wanted to fill out his schedule with one final so-called "guarantee" game in which a school is guaranteed a certain amount of money -- usually a five-figure payout -- to play a road game against a program from a larger conference.

He found his solution just a couple of miles away.

Belmont completed its schedule by arranging a Dec. 4 game with Vanderbilt. This will mark the first time the Nashville schools have faced each other since 2003, in the opening game of Belmont's Curb Event Center.

The schools rarely play each other in part because Byrd and Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings are good friends.

"Personally, we'd much prefer not to play one another," Byrd said. "We like to talk basketball. We're not afraid to help one another in recruiting when we see a player we think fits the other's program. He and I like to sit and have lunch and move the salt shakers around talking about this play or that play, this action or that action.

"Now, we won't do that until that game. We'll have lunch, but we won't have that basketball discussion."

Scheduling the game may have been uncomfortable from a personal standpoint, but Byrd couldn't deny it would help Belmont's program. Bruins fans wanted the chance to play the local SEC team, and the matchup will give Belmont more local media exposure. This opportunity also gave Belmont a matchup with a major-conference program without having to get on a plane.

BELMONT'S SCHEDULE
Here is Belmont's schedule for the 2010-11 season.
(home games in CAPS)
NOVEMBER
16: at Tennessee. 17: Missouri State or Arkansas State at Knoxville, Tenn. 22-26: TBA in NIT Season Tip-Off. 29: at Tennessee State.
DECEMBER
2: MERCER. 4: at Vanderbilt. 7: MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE. 16: KENNESAW STATE. 18: at Troy. 20: at Alabama State. 23: at Tennessee. 30: MIAMI (OHIO).
JANUARY
3: at Florida Gulf Coast. 5: at Stetson. 8: NORTH FLORIDA. 10: JACKSONVILLE. 13: LIPSCOMB. 15: CAMPBELL. 21: at USC Upstate. 23: at East Tennessee State. 25: at Lipscomb. 28: FLORIDA GULF COAST. 30: STETSON.
FEBRUARY
3: at Jacksonville. 5: at North Florida. 12: at Campbell. 17: EAST TENNESSEE STATE. 19: USC UPSTATE. 24: at Mercer. 26: at Kennesaw State.
MARCH
2-5: Atlantic Sun tournament at Macon, Ga.

Byrd noted Belmont might have made more money by scheduling a game against a Big 12 team that would have required a long trip, but facing Vanderbilt will prevent his players from having to miss any class.

"Because we're good friends, it's uncomfortable for us, but it's good for Belmont and I hope it's a good game for Vanderbilt," Byrd said. "It's definitely good for Belmont. For instance, they've played [Belmont's archrival] Lipscomb three times since we played them. People were asking me, 'You're buddies with Kevin. Why are they playing Lipscomb and not us?' My only honest answer is a selfish one."

Belmont also will get a double dose of Tennessee, the state's other SEC program. The Bruins already had scheduled a road game with Tennessee on Dec. 23 when they learned they also would be facing the Vols in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Nov. 16 in Knoxville.

Tennessee is the No. 1 seed and Belmont is the No. 4 seed in a preliminary bracket that also includes Missouri State and Arkansas State; Missouri State and Arkansas State also will be facing each other in December. Byrd had notified NIT officials that he already was facing Tennessee later in the season and hoped his team wouldn't have to face the Vols in the opening round.

"I was a little disappointed we ended up seeded fourth in that pod," Byrd said. "You could look at the history and RPI and accomplishments. Without naming names, I'd think we maybe should have been third. And the other part was the realization, 'Tennessee and Belmont already play [each other], Missouri State and Arkansas State already play [each other]. Let's not pair them together in the first round.' "

Belmont's non-conference schedule also features road games with Tennessee State (another Nashville school), Troy and Alabama State. The Bruins get Mercer, Middle Tennessee and Miami (Ohio) at home.

Belmont worked out a unique "triangular" arrangement with Troy and Miami. Next season, the Bruins travel to Miami and host Troy. That agreement gave Belmont a head start on its 2011-12 schedule, but there's still plenty of work ahead.

"We lose two games next year because Campbell's moving [from the Atlantic Sun] to the Big South," Byrd said. "That's two more games than we've had to get in the past."

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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