Southeastern Conference basketball coaches got a lesson in scheduling analytics this week.
It could lead to more NCAA tournament berths.
On the heels of what SEC Commissioner Mike Slive called a “bad year” – defending national champion Kentucky missed the tournament while only Florida advanced past the first weekend – the league has hired former NCAA tournament guru Greg Shaheen as a scheduling consultant.
Shaheen gave detailed presentations to coaches and athletic directors during the league's annual spring meetings this week. And SEC schools agreed to send their non-conference schedules to the league office for evaluation and possibly renovation.
“We're going to make sure we're playing the kind of schedules that will position us to put the number of teams in the (NCAA) tournament that we have traditionally over the years,” Slive said.
He compared the process to a stoplight, saying some schools will get the green light on their non-conference schedule, some will get a yellow light and some will get a red – meaning stop and try again.
Slive hopes to avoid a repeat of last season's debacle. Powerhouse Kentucky was knocked out of the first round of the NIT while only three of the league's 14 teams made the NCAA tournament.
Seven conferences, including the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West, had more teams than involved in March Madness than the SEC.
The mostly football-first league was under fire most of last season really, especially after a string of bad losses.
Alabama dropped games against Mercer and Tulane. Auburn lost to Winthrop. Georgia fell to Youngstown State. Mississippi State got beat by Troy and Alabama A&M. South Carolina lost to Elon. Texas A&M fell to Southern. And Vanderbilt lost to Marist.
There were bad wins, too. The SEC played a combined 30 games against teams noted basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy ranked 300th or lower out of 347 teams.
When the season ended, six SEC teams – Texas A&M (105), Vanderbilt (111), Georgia (143), South Carolina (228), Mississippi State (230) and Auburn (250) – were ranked 100th or lower in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings. Arkansas was 99th.
This week, Shaheen handed every SEC coach a 20-page report that broke down the league's non-conference schedules from last year, with details that included how every game – win or lose – affected conference power ratings.
“One of the things that was very, very eye-opening to all the coaches was just how much every school's scheduling impacts the other team because you are going to play those teams,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I think just the whole education process, not only the RPI but the scheduling and how to go about scheduling and the importance of it, is really good.”
Three SEC schools already have submitted their 2013-14 non-conference schedules, Shaheen said, and he already is considering tweaks to those.
“It's not only who you play, it's where you play them,” Shaheen said. “They need to be serious about this from the first game to the last. If they don't go on the road and don't play quality competition, it will be reflected at the end of the year.”
The SEC has won three national championships in the last eight years, with Florida capturing back-to-back titles in 2006 and `07 and Kentucky winning it all in 2012.
And all but two teams – Auburn and South Carolina – have made the field at least once over the last six years. But the 19 bids over the last five years (2009-13) is nine shy of what the conference had the five before that (2004-08).
“Non-conference schedule is a big part of getting in the NCAA tournament,” Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said. “Calling it like it is: we're losing units. Units are money. I think the commissioner overseeing that is a good business decision. I don't think the commissioner has any desire to micromanage that.
“His goal is to get 14 teams in the NCAA tournament, and if scheduling is holding us back for some reason or holding some institutions back, then that needs to be addressed.”
The SEC already is dealing with one potential pitfall for next season. Auburn got bumped from the Puerto Rico Tip-Off scheduled for late November. The Tigers were replaced by Northeastern earlier this week, missing out on three games against a field that includes Charlotte, Florida State, Georgetown, Long Beach State, Kansas State, Michigan and Virginia Commonwealth.
At least now the Tigers have Shaheen working on a solution.
“We want to help our teams, we wants to help our coaches, we want to help our student-athletes and make sure that when one of our teams plays somebody that win or lose that doesn't hurt us,” Slive said. “That's really what you're talking about.”