About a week ago Michigan announced the Men's Basketball team's 2009-2010 Non-Conference Schedule. A quick glance at that schedule resulted in a mixture of "woo!" and "meh." It's kind of a mixed bag, and at first glance I'm not really sure how to deal with it. Sure there are some tough, tough games on it. There also some really putrid ones as well. Houston Baptist? Arkansas Pine Bluff? Who the hell are these guys?
But, man, at Kansas and welcoming UConn? Woo! What about Boston College? While Andy Katz (someone whom I actually think knows something about college basketball) has Kansas as a preseason No. 1 and UConn at No. 25, the 2009-2010 non-conf slate is a tought thing to judge at first glance. I took a look at the Ken Pomeroy rankings for these teams (which I consider roughly equivalent to RPI, and actually better) and was surprised how things shook out. Many of the teams fall into that could be good/could be bad gray area. Is Utah going to be any good? Who do we get in the Old Spice Classic? Three things are certain: 1) Michigan will play more tough opponents than they've played in a long, long time; 2) There are still a lot of cupcakes on the board; and, 3) Michigan has no margin for error this year.
|Friday, Nov. 6||Exhibition vs. Wayne State|
|Saturday, Nov. 14||Northern Michigan|
|Friday, Nov. 20||Houston Baptist|
|Thursday, Nov. 26||vs. TBD (Old Spice Classic)|
|Friday, Nov. 27||vs. TBD (Old Spice Classic)|
|Sunday, Nov. 29||vs. TBD (Old Spice Classic)|
|Wednesday, Dec. 2||Boston College
|Saturday, Dec. 5||Arkansas Pine Bluff|
|Wednesday, Dec. 9||at Utah
|Sunday, Dec. 13||University of Detroit Mercy|
|Saturday, Dec. 19||at Kansas - #1
|Tuesday, Dec. 22||Coppin State|
|Sunday, Jan. 17||UConn - #25
Like any good schedule, Michigan's 2009-2010 line-up has its share of "gimme" wins. Actually, it's got a lot of them. Michigan will play six of its twelve to thirteen non-conference games against teams below the 250 ranking point on Ken Pomeroy's rating system. The lowest of the low are Wayne State and Northern Michigan. Both are early warm-ups for the Wolverines and both are all D-II basketball. That's not good. Both should be exhibition games, but only Wayne is. So that lowers the strength of schedule right off the bat. The other four cupcakes are of the really, really frosted variety. Houston Baptist was 5-25 last year and ranked 324 out of 344 D1 schools. Arkansas Pine Bluff was 13-18 and 311 out of 344 D1 schools. Detroit Mercy was 7-23 and 279 out of 344. Coppin State was 13-19 and 266 out of 344. So, when we say there is a heavy helping of the hyper-sugary, overly frosted, super chocolate cupcake variety; we mean it.
I mean, jeezus. That looks terrible. Michigan is playing four teams that are below 250 on the KenPom rankings and two teams that aren't even D1. Six of thirteen games against downright horrible competition. Either Ken Pomeroy or Brian @ MGo posed the question last year, "what's the difference between playing someone ranked between 100 and 200, and 200 and 344?" The answer came back "not a whole lot." When you consider that Oakland finished 103 in the ratings, and Arkansas Pine Bluff finished 311, the only difference is where they're ranked. Neither team is really going to challenge a mid or top tier BCS basketball school (re: Michigan). But scheduling APB over Oakland ends up really costing Michigan at the end of the year in terms of its final, tournament resume RPI. What's worse, gack up a game to a 300+ RPI team and you're in deep, deep doodoo.
Compare the current schedule to Michigan's schedule last year. Five flat out super frosted cupcakes (including one D2 squad), two cupcakes (100-125), one good team (Maryland) and four top tier OOC opponents (UCLA, Duke twice and UConn). How bad were the cupcakes in 2008-2009? They ranged from unranked D2 Michigan Tech to #297 Norfolk State and included the second to worst team in the D1 Universe, #343 North Carolina Central (4-27). The big victory on the 2008-2009 Non-conference schedule was a fateful win over UCLA that granted an extra showdown with Duke. This gave Michigan an extra top 20 PRI team to build it's resume on. However, what isn't talked about, is the two 100-125 schools that actually helped to bring up the non-conference RPI averages. When you consider Michigan actually went 2-3 against the big name OOC competition, those two 100-125 wins came in really handy.
A look at the bigger names after the jump...
The Name Schools, but Really Just a Name:
This year things are a little better, but that's mostly because of the Old Spice Classic. Michigan sits in a field that includes Florida State, Alabama, Baylor, Creighton, Iona, Marquette, and Xavier. Two (possibly three) scheduled games against quality teams will bolster Michigan's strength of schedule (even if the games are played on a neutral court). That is, of course, unless we draw Iona. Iona was ranked 199 by the end of the season, so that wouldn't help much.
Drawing Boston College in the ACC/Big Ten shoot out is a good thing, especially since it's in Ann Arbor. BC is going to be a tournament team next season, just as they were this season. While the Eagles are loaded with good players, Tyrese Rice (leading scorer, all around bad ass) is gone. Additionally, BC is fairly similar to Michigan in size with a lot of guard-forward tweeners, and no true center. After that, a road trip to rebuilding Utah will give the Wolverines a good name road pelt to hang on their wall.
The Big Names:
The presence of Kansas and UConn on the schedule certainly will help the cause. I don't think I need to get into this, but just in case, Michigan has to split these games at a minimum.
The way the schedule shapes up, Michigan should draw at least six top 100 teams next year in its non-conference season. Kansas, UConn, BC, Utah, and two OSC opponents. A third game in the OSC, and Michigan could lock in a seventh quality date on it's schedule. However, there isn't a large margin for error. Michigan's schedule is loaded with horrible teams and good teams. There isn't an inbetween. Michigan's RPI will take a beating from the bottom rung schools they've scheduled and they will have to win the majority of their name games to state their case for inclusion in the tournament before the conference season opens. We all remember how happy ESPN was to bash the Big Ten as slow, boring basketball, so wins over the Big East, ACC, and SEC will be critical in convincing the east coast voters who are swayed by that ego affirming nonsense.
Looking at this year's schedule, things are only marginally different than last year. Replace Duke or UCLA with Kansas and you've got the same Top 5 opponent. Instead of the 2K Challenge there's the Old Spice Classic. Instead of Maryland you've got BC. UConn's still on there. The differences are in the little things. This year Michigan gets six, possibly seven, top 100 RPI schools. Last year there were five. Last year Michigan had two cupcakes with respectable RPIs. This year Michigan has none (maybe Utah, depending on their rebuild).
The difference is there is no margin for error this year. Not only is Michigan expected to make a run, they've got a schedule that would leave no doubt that they are a legit Sweet 16 threat. That's assuming nothing goes wrong. With no margin for error, Michigan has to take care of business or they'll be back on those recliners on selection day chewing their fingers to the bone, just like Beauford.