Improving Indiana Basketball's Non-Conference Schedule

Chris McGrath

The NCAA Tournament selection committee (and NIT) sent a loud and clear message to all of college basketball this past season. Play somebody or we'll leave you out in the cold. No teams felt the sting of that more than the newly formed American Athletic Conference. Louisville settled in at a 4 seed when they should be one of the Final Four favorites, SMU was snubbed despite being a top 25 team and and the Cincinnati is likely underseeded as well. All three squads had pretty dreadful non-conference season schedules. The decision makers have made it known. If you don't feel the need to play someone in December, there's no need for you to get any sort of special treatment in March.

That brings us to Indiana, who despite finishing 17-15 in the Big Ten was on the outside looking in of the NIT. I've not found anyone yet who is too upset about that but it certainly begs the question on how IU felt the sting of rejection. Looking at the resumes of other participants in the first losers tournament, Indiana certainly fits in. Heck they have more good wins than half the tournament field combined. But outside of conference play they faced no one.

@CrimsonCast tweeted this morning that Indiana's non-conference strength of schedule over the last 6 years has been ranked 76, 321, 323, 273, 293 and 338. That's some absolutely brutal non-conference schedules. If you were here in November and reading you would have seen things being written on this site like, "everyone's doing it" and "it's not really a big deal" but we've now seen that it very much is a heavy part of the equation. That means that Indiana has to do something to fix it.

This non-conference season specifically had some real issues. The Hoosiers only played three teams that finished in the top 100 of Pomeroy and only two in the top 50. Think about that for a second. Indiana played only two teams that had any chance of sniffing the NCAA tournament without an auto qualifying bid. Worse yet? Indiana didn't pick to play those opponents. They were matched up with Syracuse in the ACC/B1G Challenge. Certainly they chose to participate in the tournament that involved Washington and Connecticut but we've seen those pre-season tournaments go sideways before. If Indiana or UConn had dropped the ball in that weekend Indiana would be sitting with only 2 top 100 games and one of those being against #95 Washington. A schedule like that likely puts Indiana dead last in non-conference strength of schedule instead of the bottom 15 that they already finished. That's brutal.

So we know what got Indiana into the position they are today. What can be done to fix it? Well the above paragraphs suggest that we need to schedule bigger and badder opponents at the top of the heap. While that would certain help, most programs only have one or two heavy hitters in the non-conference. They get plenty of that in the conference season. What would be best for Indiana is to quick playing Kennesaw State. Indiana played 6 teams that finished in the bottom 100 of Pomeroy. That is pretty darn brutal.

The Hoosiers have to raise their competition standards at the bottom. I ran the numbers on Pomeroy and found that if Indiana would just replace those bottom six teams with teams inside the top 250, they would bump their average opponents level of difficulty 15%. Meanwhile their chances of victory wouldn't fall below 90% at home. If you run the numbers on that the difference in their chances of winning all 6 of those games still sits around 53% (assuming 90% chance against all 6). Whereas currently their chances of winning all 6 bottom dweller games this year sat around 70%.

Now after taking out all the crappy teams we play and replacing them with slightly less crappy teams the non-conference schedule makes a sizable jump in the standings. Instead of finishing 338th in the country in non-conference the Hoosiers finish around 290. Still not great, but wait, I'm not done. You're already upping the bottom of the barrel competition ever so slightly, so instead of playing a middle of the pack 150-200ish team you can remove one of those games and play someone like Florida State (#41). So say we schedule a home and home with top half of a major conference foe and use that game to replace Stony Brook (#165). The Hoosiers average opponent jumps 20%. Even more every other year when you play them at their place.

With just those very very minor moves the Hoosiers don't really change their home game revenue streams. They're still getting all their gate revenue that they want, but they're jumping their schedule 100 spots in the rankings because of it. That still doesn't get them at the type of elite non-conference schedule that say a Michigan State plays but it puts them in the same conversation of  the likes of Arizona State, Texas, Ohio State, Syracuse, UCLA and a bevy of other tournament teams.

To put it simply if you're Fred Glass and you don't want to do a thing to change revenue streams, the SoS we had this year still isn't excused. The schedule has to get better. Fortunately it appears that they're well on their way to doing so. Indiana is trying to work out an elite home and home with someone like Louisville, but in the mean time we're going to be playing them in NYC this coming year. SMU is also a confirmed home game according to Larry Brown. Indiana will play Butler and have another strong ACC match-up. That's at least 3 top 50ish games already locked up on the schedule and there is likely at least one more to come. It's too late for this year, but lessons should be learned. Hopefully Fred Glass was taking notes.

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