Pitt's non-conference schedule is annually panned by fans, and somewhat understandably so. College sports is about brands and Pitt's non-conference opponents usually aren't schools that most fans could find on a map. So you can forgive the casual fans for lacking enthusiasm about Wofford and Ohio University. But SI's Luke Winn took a look a Pitt's non-conference strategy and found out that it's one of the smartest in the game.
Some excerpts from the article with quotes from Dixon (emphasis added):
Pitt's Jamie Dixon is rarely lauded for his scheduling -- if anything, the knock on him has been that he doesn't schedule hard enough when he has an elite team -- but here, he looks shrewd. He's the best coach in the country at consistently turning a mildly efficient NCSOS into a respectable NCSOS in the eyes of the RPI, and thus, the selection committee. As he says, "I look at kenpom statistics -- I love all the stats he does -- but in scheduling, the NCAA is gonna look at RPI. So I care about RPI."
What Dixon likes to do for his home guarantee games, he says, "is play the teams that we think are the best picks to win the non-BCS conferences." These are the best "gap" teams, because they're beatable despite having high RPI returns. In 2010, Dixon beat five of them in Wofford (69 RPI), Wichita State (43), Kent State (47), Ohio (95) and Robert Morris (129). He only had one 250-plus RPI opponent (Youngstown State, at 271), either, and so it didn't matter that he played just one marquee game (against Texas) and lost it; the Panthers were in good standing due to their choices of non-BCS opponents. Despite their efficiency profile suggesting they were the quality of a 7-8 seed, they were a No. 3 on the strength of their RPI.
And he says there's an added benefit to playing guarantee games in which you might have a chance of losing: "Those are the teams that other [BCS-conference] schools don't want to play, so not only do you get a higher RPI by scheduling them, you can also possibly schedule them for less money. It comes down to supply and demand, and there's just less demand for those teams."
Not only is he gaming the RPI, he's saving his school money on its guarantee-game budget. High-value teams at low prices: That is next-next-level Scheduleball.
Theoretically, that strategy will take a bit of a hit this season, as Pitt's only major non-conference game will be the winner of Robert Morris vs Lehigh. It would likely be better RPI-wise to get both Robert Morris and Lehigh (Lehigh is predicted to win the Patriot League by Lindy's and RMU is picked third in the Northeast), but Pitt gets Fordham first instead.
With the whole Big East / SEC drama, Pitt has an easy villain to blame this year's lousy non-con schedule on. The SEC isn't usually a hoops power outside of Kentucky, but Florida and Missouri would be high quality opponents as well. Pitt still has the luxury of playing in the Big East to boast its tournament resume, but the subpar slate of games in November and December will make those conference games even more meaningful.
And speaking of Dixon, Athlon's college basketball magazine is out and apparently agrees with Winn's assessment:
Jamie Dixon ranked among the nation's top-15 college basketball coaches by Athlon Magazine preview...— Greg Hotchkiss (@PittGHOTCH) September 27, 2012
Certainly no surprise given his accomplishments and the annual demand for his services. Still, I wonder at what point the lack of Final Fours start to creep his reputation downward.
Finally, here's Pitt's Livewire blog once again dominating on the multimedia end with an inside look at the making of the 2012-13 poster photo-shoot:
Pitt Basketball Poster - Behind the Scenes (via PittLiveWire)
Great to see the guys back on the hardwood. Counting down until Midnight Madness.