- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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What scheduling lessons do you think teams like Syracuse, Drexel, Clemson and VCU learned from this past season's NCAA Tournament selection process?
How about none? Nothing, nada, zilch. At least when it comes to upgrading their nonconference games.
That's right. As schools get going on planning the bulk of their nonconference schedules for the 2007-08 season, programs that were affected the most by the selection committee's decisions -- or in the case of VCU, an interested observer that may have been a bubble team had it not won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament -- aren't buying that there need to be wholesale improvements to their scheduling philosophies.
They're going to go their own way, and if it's not enough for the committee, then so be it. None of the coaches from those programs seems to feel there is a clear road map on how to schedule to get into the NCAAs.
Start with Syracuse. Orange coach Jim Boeheim said he's still waiting for a definitive reason as to why his team was bypassed for selection. The Orange were 22-10 overall, 10-6 in the Big East, with a nonconference strength of schedule (SOS) of 122. There were home losses to Wichita State and Drexel, and a loss in New York to Oklahoma State. Home wins over teams with good names in Penn, UTEP, Charlotte, Holy Cross, Baylor and Hofstra may not have resonated as much with the committee.
Has Boeheim heeded any message from the committee as he prepares his 2007-08 schedule?
"No. I don't think our strength of schedule [was the issue]," Boeheim said. "That's not why we were out of the [NCAA] Tournament. The reasons I have received weren't very good. I haven't found a reason yet why we weren't in.
"The point is, if they want to keep you out, they can," Boeheim said.
So, next season Syracuse will do what it has done every season in recent history, with the possible exception being a potential road game at Virginia, although where this home-and-home series starts still is being decided. The trip to Charlottesville may wait until 2008.
"We always look for those [true nonconference] games, but the last few years we've gotten away from those home-and-homes," Boeheim said. "What we're going to do is nothing new."
Syracuse also is in the NIT Season Tip-Off, paired with Saint Joseph's, Siena and Fairleigh Dickinson at the Carrier Dome to start, with the winner advancing to New York. The other regional hosts -- also favored to advance to the semis -- are Washington, Texas A&M and Ohio State.
"We'll play our usual tough games coming in here like UMass, Rhode Island and Fordham," Boeheim said, joking that it felt like the Orange were in the Atlantic 10. "We've also got East Tennessee State. Remember, we're also going to 18 league games in the Big East [up from 16]. If we weren't going up to 18, we would have added another big-name team."
Boeheim's argument about his team's schedule this past season is simple: Wichita State is just another example of an opponent that looked like a good RPI team early, but ended up fading late.
How about Drexel, which beat the Orange in a one-off road game without a return match?
The Dragons also played at Villanova, Temple, Rider, Vermont and Penn (winning three of the five), and played (and won) at Creighton in a BracketBusters game. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint had no issue playing true road games and more games against better competition, because he had a team that he thought could win them. In the end, despite a 23-8 record and a 13-5 CAA finish, the Dragons' 1-5 mark against the three other top teams in the CAA helped keep Drexel out of the dance.
So, what's Flint going to do next season?
"I'm not scheduling like that," said Flint, who played only three nonconference home games in 2006-07. "We were good enough to do it [last season], but as for this year, I said, 'Hell, no.' I'm not playing a schedule like that. It didn't get me in. What they are telling you is that you have to win your conference. We also played too many games on the road."
Drexel gets Creighton back in the BracketBusters return game and also will play La Salle at home. Flint is trying to get at least five or six true home games. He's also in a tournament that will send him to Virginia for one game and then end up at the Palestra down the street for two more. Drexel's also playing four of the other five Philadelphia schools -- all except Villanova.
One of the teams the Dragons couldn't beat in the regular season or in the conference tournament was VCU. The Rams won the CAA tournament, so first-year coach Anthony Grant didn't have to worry about getting in as a bubble team, but he knows he would have had to deal with the issue had the Rams lost early in the league tournament. In addition to a BracketBusters home game against Bradley (which VCU lost), the Rams played a few good nonconference games, most notably Xavier (loss), Houston (win), UAB (win) and Appalachian State (loss), but in reality only Xavier was an NCAA team and only Appalachian State had any chance to get in of the other three.
Grant said he looked at the selection committee's decisions like this: win a lot of games and win your league. VCU did both, which was important, as the Rams didn't have the top-50 wins to satisfy the committee.
"I don't know if we had lost to Drexel [in the conference semifinals] if we would have gotten in," Grant said of the Rams, who had won 27 games prior to knocking off Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Our strategy is to play a competitive schedule -- for us -- and to get wins," Grant said. "We want to put ourselves in position to where we're an option [for at-large consideration]."
VCU isn't getting calls for any made-for-TV games despite the win over Duke, the near-miss in the second round against Pitt and a star on the rise in junior-to-be guard Eric Maynor, who hit the game-winner that snuffed out the Blue Devils. The Rams have to return the BracketBusters game at Bradley and are looking at maybe renewing the UAB series, as well as honoring contracts for returns like Hampton and Longwood.
VCU also is slated to be in a tournament in Puerto Rico. The Rams will start a home-and-home series with former VCU coach Jeff Capel, now at Oklahoma, but not for another two seasons. As for one-ways without a return, well, Grant said he's not into that.
Then there's Clemson. On the surface, it's easy to argue that the Tigers have no one to blame but themselves after starting out 17-0, only to lose 10 of their final 14 games, including their conference tournament opener to Florida State.
But Clemson coach Oliver Purnell sees it rather plainly: The Tigers didn't win enough ACC Tournament games. Had the Tigers beaten the Seminoles, then maybe they would have earned a bid.
"What it sounded like for me from the committee is that they were putting more emphasis on the league tournaments -- and I kept hearing that -- so why should that affect my [nonconference] scheduling?" Purnell said. "What it [also] sounds like to me is that we were 7-9 [in ACC play] but we needed to be 9-7.
"We were 3-0 against the SEC [beating South Carolina, Mississippi State and Georgia], 1-0 against the Big Ten [Minnesota] and then we went through a meat grinder of an ACC schedule," Purnell said. Purnell also pointed out that the Tigers also won at Old Dominion as well as beat Appalachian State "by 35 or 40." (The margin of victory actually was 30, albeit before the Mountaineers added Virginia transfer Donte Minter.)
"I'm not sure what else we can do," Purnell said. "We're not playing the same teams, but we'll play similar ilk."
Clemson will play South Carolina at home and gets Purdue at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Tigers also are going to Mississippi State and will play in the San Juan Shootout with Ole Miss and Oral Roberts.
These four coaches have derived different reasons why they feel they weren't selected (or wouldn't have been) for the NCAAs, which makes it extremely difficult to come up with any kind of consensus on how they're going to schedule going forward. In the end, none is going to change his approach very much at all.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.