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Thread: Article on WAC out of conference games

  1. #1
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    Lopes chooses an easier road for schedule

    By Eric Prisbell
    The Fresno Bee
    (Published Sunday, October 20, 2002, 4:55 AM)



    When Ray Lopes was hired as Fresno State's men's basketball coach, he knew more about what he didn't have than what he did have. He knew his team would be without two players -- Melvin Ely and Chris Jefferies -- who became first-round NBA draft picks.
    Lopes said he scheduled accordingly. He "wasn't interested" in accepting offers to play road games at Stanford and Massachusetts. Instead, he filled the remaining three game slots with home dates against Sacramento State and Centenary, and a game at Washington State, three teams with an average Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 270 -- 324 is the worst -- from last season.

    "Criticism toward my schedule is irrelevant," Lopes said. "Whatever people want to think, I could care less. If we have a great year and win 20 games, people will forget who we played."

    The approach suggests Lopes scheduled down to assure more victories with a less talented team. But the coach won't acknowledge as much, saying only he picked up three games that "were appropriate for the transition."

    A strength-of-schedule analysis reveals Fresno State's nonconference opponents have an average RPI from last season of 202, tied for second-worst in the Western Athletic Conference. Fresno State's 2001-02 nonconference opponents had an average RPI [from 2000-01] of 108.

    The analysis, however, is incomplete because it can't measure the strength of non-Division I opponents. RPI does not include non-Division I teams, and seven WAC teams play non-Division I teams that presumably are at least as weak as the worst Division I teams.

    Fresno State does not play a non-Division I team this season. Last year, however, the Bulldogs played two teams --

    UC-Riverside and Savannah State -- that were not ranked in the previous season's RPI but since have earned full Division I status.

    What's more, Fresno State's opponent for the Feb. 22 "Bracket Buster" event -- expected to be a top-tier mid-major team -- has not yet been revealed and undoubtedly will enhance the strength of the nonconference schedule.

    The schedule is in question only because it contrasts from those former coach Jerry Tarkanian used to compile during his seven-year reign. But then again, those Bulldogs teams had more star-power than this club appears to possess.

    Scheduling philosophies vary throughout the WAC, as coaches balance scheduling for the most victories versus scheduling to impress NCAA Tournament selection committee members.

    Scheduling soft can be risky because a gaudy record could be tarnished, at least in the eyes of the selection committee, by a lightweight schedule.

    Conversely, a formidable nonconference schedule could hobble a team before it enters what matters most, the conference schedule.

    "Everyone has their own restrictions and philosophy," Louisiana Tech assistant Johnny Simmons said. "You can't be successful if you go out and play teams with a top-70 RPI. It's suicide. People want wins."

    Even if WAC teams want to play top 70-RPI teams, it's easier said than done. It's nearly impossible to lure a power-conference team to visit a mid-major -- the big guys fear losing.

    Former Fresno State director of basketball operations Jack Fertig used to feverishly try to schedule a power-conference team to play in Chicago to honor Ely. No bigwig club bit.

    Louisiana Tech has tried, to no avail, to get a home-and-home series with Louisiana State. Tulsa, on par with Gonzaga as an elite mid-major program, also unsuccessfully has attempted to schedule up, only to be penalized for its schedule during NCAA Tournament seeding.

    Golden Hurricane coach John Phillips has been outspoken regarding penalties for a schedule Tulsa tried but had been unable to toughen. This year, however, Tulsa gets its wish -- a robust nonconference slate that includes Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa and Gonzaga.

    "You've got to pick your seasons that you schedule the way we have scheduled this year," Phillips told media this week. "It could backfire on us."

    Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, is strapped financially because it flies commercial to several long-distance WAC opponents, namely Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, San Jose State and Hawaii.

    That leaves Tech trying to schedule nonconference opponents within a bus ride of the Ruston, La., school to cut costs. And because most power-conference teams within the area are wary of playing Tech -- the Bulldogs knocked off Southeastern Conference foe Auburn last season -- the school is relegated to this: Home dates against Millsaps College (Division III) in Jackson, Miss., and Harding University (Division II) in Searcy, Ark.

    Those two non-Division I teams are not measured in the RPI. The remaining Tech opponents have an average RPI of 76 -- best in the WAC. The slate includes heavyweights Florida (Preseason National Invitation Tournament), Mississippi State, Arkansas and Texas.

    As new Boise State coach Greg Graham concluded, "You need to find a balance."

    Did Fresno State find balance, or schedule too soft? Check back in March.

    For now, Bulldogs players are echoing their coach's mantra:

    "We have to win on the road," Noel Felix said. "Be mentally tough enough to win on the road."

  2. #2
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    "Criticism toward my schedule is irrelevant," Lopes said. "Whatever people want to think, I could care less. If we have a great year and win 20 games, people will forget who we played."


    That sounds like an arrogant Big 12 coach to me. The schedule is relevant-- completely relevant. If JP won 20 games with that schedule, I'd be calling for his head anyway.

  3. #3
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    The NCAA selection committee will care ....and with that schedule there's no way Fresno could get an at-large bid.

  4. #4
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    I think that Lopes forgot to realize that he is in the WAC-- where scheduling counts. Fluff doesn't get anyone in our conference anywhere.

  5. #5
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    "The remaining Tech opponents have an average RPI of 76 -- best in the WAC."

    That's what I like to see.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dirtydawg
    "The remaining Tech opponents have an average RPI of 76 -- best in the WAC."

    That's what I like to see.
    Yeah-- after you get rid of the Div II and III teams.

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