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Nitt Links might finally understand the importance of scheduling

Submitted by on March 24, 2011No Comment
Penn State reacts to tournament selection. Photo Credit: Mark Selders
Oh what fond memories. It seems like just yesterday when the NCAA Selection Committee flat out rejected Penn State’s tournament bid due to a laughable non-conference strength of schedule of 184 despite a deserving 22-11 record including 11-9 in the Big Ten. But with games against the likes of William & Mary, NJIT, New Hampshire, Hartford, Towson, Mount St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart padding their record, who could blame them. The Lions were eventually rewarded with a spot in the NIT for that season’s stunning run in which they proceeded to win it all.

Though the debate still rages on as to whether the eventual NIT champions deserved to be in the Big Dance that year, the message from the Selection Committee was pretty clear. Schedule tougher out of conference opponents, or face being left out.

And though the Selection Committee might argue tooth and nail on how the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) doesn’t play a major role during the selection process, the truth is that it is the most glaringly consistent statistic when debating at-large teams. The RPI is simply a quantity used to rank teams based on their winning percentage (25%), it’s opponents’ winning percentage (50%) and and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents (25%). The RPI rewards teams for winning on the road and penalizes teams for losing at home. A road win counts as 1.4 wins, while a home win counts as 0.6 wins. A road loss counts as 0.6 losses, while a home loss counts as 1.4 losses. Therefore, it’s more than twice as valuable to win a road game or lose a home game than it is to do the opposite. It provides a good assessment of a team’s strength of schedule especially when paired with their overall and conference records.

Photo Credit: Greg Shaheen
So when the Selection Committee rejected Penn State’s 10-8 (11-9 counting the B1G tournament) conference record, it wasn’t hard to see why. Despite beating 4 ranked teams and notching road wins at Illinois and Michigan State, the non-conference schedule was so weak Penn State’s RPI remained at a measly 70. When it comes to the RPI, there is no benefit in playing a 1-18 SWAC team at home. Even if you win the game, it actually lowers your RPI especially as the season progresses. The Selection Committee is well aware of this and made itself crystal clear, Ed DeChellis and the basketball powers that be can not hide behind a tough conference slate while padding their records with cupcakes.

Consider the message received.

Following the 2008-09 tournament snub, Penn State showed some signs of scheduling progress. Even as the non conference schedule remained littered with Sacred Heart, Maryland Baltimore County, Gardner Webb and American, Penn State scheduled games against Virginia, Robbert Morris, Virginia Tech and Temple, 2 away from home and participated in the Charleston Classic giving them the chance to play a few more RPI quality program. Their efforts paid off when their 9 guaranteed non-conference brought them a projected RPI of 134, a whopping 80 points better than the previous seasons.

Even last season despite the questionable decision to pull out of the 76 Classic in Anaheim which would have given Penn State the opportunity to play against the likes of Cal State Northridge (Big West Conference), Oklahoma State (Big 12), DePaul (Big East), Stanford (Pac-10), Tulsa (Conference USA), UNLV (Mountain West) and Virginia Tech (ACC) due to logistics, Penn State still made an effort to schedule the likes of Ole Miss, Maryland, Duquesne, Virginia Tech and St. Josephs. It is always difficult to know which teams will have strong records before the season, but it is easy to predict that playing teams like Maryland and Florida will enhance a team’s RPI far more than playing teams like Sacred Heart or Maine. But to Penn State’s credit, they did schedule 5 programs that had made the postseason and had won more than 20 games in 2009-10.

“Eight of the Nittany Lions’ non-conference opponents posted winning records last season and all but three return their top scorers from their 2009-10 rosters. Five teams posted RPIs below 100 last season, and all but two had RPIs below 200.”

The Penn State basketball powers that be finally gets it! And they are not done.

The Nittany Lions just announced that they will be participating in the 2011 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament along with Long Island University (Northeast), Marist College (MAAC), Old Dominion University (CAA), Radford University (Big South), University of Kentucky (SEC), University of South Florida (Big East) and the University of Vermont (America East).

The tournament format will have Penn State playing four games total; 2 at the Bryce Jordan Center on Nov. 14 and 16 and 2 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncansville, Conn., on Nov. 19 and 20. The Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off will give Penn State the opportunity to play 4 RPI legitimate opponents. They will take on Radford and 2011 NCAA Tournament participant Long Island University in the Bryce Jordan Center during the campus round of the tournament before facing national powerhouse Kentucky at the Mohegan Sun on November 19 as well as the winner of Old Dominion/South Florida.

Though the remaining 2011-12 schedule has yet to be announced, this is a step in the right direction. In addition to a game against a legitimate ACC program for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, participating in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off will provide the Nittany Lions a chance to square off against legitimate RPI enhancing opponents. Just the opportunity to play the likes of Kentucky even on the road is far more important to the program than padding our record against more cupcakes that nobody can pinpoint on a map.

Quick Hits: … Scranton native and basketball recruit Terry Turner who lost vision in his left eye during an accident during an AAU game last summer has the Lions above Temple, St Josephs, VCU and Richmond. Great news considering VCU and Richmond are still dancing. … Who doesn’t appreciate a good death defying military flyover? Apparently the Air Force when the 6 pilots of the four Talon T-38 Trainer jets were flying 100 knots over the allowed limit and just 16 feet above the stadium’s press box. …

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