Breaking down Maryland’s nonconference schedule with Patrick Stevens

August 16, 2013

(Associated Press)

With the additions of Boston University, North Carolina Central and Abilene Christian to the 2013-14 docket, the Maryland men’s basketball team has completed its 13-game nonconference schedule. So naturally, we brought in the big guns to help analyze it.

Patrick Stevens — noted bracket expert, ACC restaurant guru and ardent Kodos enthusiast — was recently hired by Syracuse.com to cover colleges but graciously took the time to trade e-mails about Maryland’s schedule because, really, he’s the best person to talk about it. Here’s our conversation:

PREWITT: Now that the 13 games on Maryland’s nonconference schedule have been cobbled together finally, what are your initial impressions of how Coach Mark Turgeon and his staff did?

STEVENS: There were a lot of smart decisions in crafting this schedule. Teams such as Boston University, George Washington, Tulsa and quite possibly North Carolina Central and Oregon State all figure to land in the RPI sweet spot — somewhere between 75th and either 150th or 175th. Those are games Maryland can and probably should win, but none of those teams are likely to be awful by RPI standards.

There’s only one bottom-100 team from a year ago (Marist), and that was how the bracket broke with the Paradise Jam. If you want a good strength of schedule, avoiding dead weight is just as important (if not a little moreso) than playing opponents you figure will be the NCAA tournament.

Teams get better or worse, so a previous year’s RPI is far from a perfect guidepost to use. But it can indicate intent. Maryland’s nonconference opponents next season averaged an RPI of 146.44 a year ago (a figure that includes the average of Northern Iowa and Loyola Marymount, as well as the average of La Salle, Providence and Vanderbilt). The Terrapins’ out-of-league foes last season averaged a 177.15 RPI. The intent to play a more challenging schedule is clearly there.

PREWITT: We talked last year, almost ad nauseum, about Maryland’s soft nonconference schedule, the likes of South Carolina State and IUPUI and whomever else they played in the bottom 100. And to his credit, every time a reporter asked about the schedule, Turgeon never complained about it. Is it safe to say that, with the way this nonconference schedule has shaped up, that the Terps learned their lesson from last year?

STEVENS: I think so. In truth, I’m not sure there was a huge lesson to learn. When Turgeon went about building much of last season’s schedule, he couldn’t have been certain he would have Charles Mitchell and couldn’t have possibly known Logan Aronhalt and Dez Wells would be on the roster. At the same time, he probably would have assumed Mychal Parker, Ashton Pankey and/or Terrell Stoglin would be around. It’s fair to say Maryland had a better rotation on opening night than Turgeon would have guessed he would have eight months earlier.

The schedule was designed for a young team to get its bearings before getting thrown into the fire during conference play. Instead, Maryland was more talented than expected, and the first two months of the season provided sporadic (at best) on-the-floor tests.
Turgeon and Co. had to figure their 2013-14 team would be better. It makes sense to construct a tougher schedule when you have a better team. I’m not sure last season was a major influence on bolstering the nonconference schedule, but Maryland’s general irrelevance in Selection Sunday discussions very easily could have reinforced the importance of finding greater challenges.

PREWITT: It does seem, though, that while Maryland probably has some stiffer top-tier tests among this group — Ohio State and Connecticut — what really matters is scheduling those “sweet spot” schools you mentioned earlier. How much can that reasonably help a team come Selection Sunday? And, for that matter, how much could it help (or not hurt) that Abilene Christian won’t count against Maryland’s RPI?

STEVENS: Remember what the components of the RPI are: A team’s winning percentage, its opponents’ winning percentage and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage, with opponents’ winning percentage making up 50 percent of the formula. So while scheduling teams that figure to land at or a little north of .500 won’t hurt, it will take one off-the-charts opponent to offset a team that’s headed for a 6-24 season.

The Abilene Christian game doesn’t do a whole lot to help Maryland as a team; it gets a home contest (with the ticket sales, concessions, parking, etc., that go with it) it should win by at least 30. But because Abilene Christian is an RPI non-counter (since it is a first-year Division I program that is not playing a full Division I schedule), it won’t do damage to Maryland’s RPI. Now, the win won’t count in the RPI formula, either, but that is an extremely minimal nuisance.

Put another way, as a hypothetical: Maryland will almost certainly be better off having the selection committee view it as a 22-10 team without a victory over a transitioning Division I team rather than a 23-10 team that counts an opponent likely would have landed in the bottom 50 of the RPI. The benefit of the extra win would be more than counteracted by the RPI and nonconference strength of schedule hit.

PREWITT: See? That’s why you’re the best. On the topic of schedule construction, Maryland has several underlying connections to its future opponents. Athletic Director Kevin Anderson once worked at Oregon State. Turgeon’s former teammate Danny Manning coaches Tulsa. Assistant coach Scott Spinelli is a BU alumnus. And North Carolina Central’s coach LeVelle Moton is a close friend of Dez Wells and his family. How much, in general, do these connections help teams in searching for opponents? I guess you have to start somewhere, right?

STEVENS: I think sometimes they play a role, and sometimes they don’t.

I suspect the Tulsa game was scheduled in large part because of Turgeon’s connection to Manning. On the flip side, Boston University figures to be one of the top teams in the Patriot League and a team that is highly unlikely to hurt Maryland’s RPI. That probably played as big a role as anything in lining up that date.

Yes, Anderson worked at Oregon State, and it might have made nailing down that game easier. But remember, Oregon State (which is coached by Craig Robinson, Barack Obama’s brother-in-law) has made trips to Howard (2008), George Washington (2009) and Towson (2011) in recent years. The Beavers were due for another trip to the D.C. vicinity.

PREWITT: Appreciate the time, my friend. While I have you, any Syracuse (or Pittsburgh) additions to the ACC Best Eats Guide?

STEVENS: Oh, I’ve got some. Should be revising that list sometime soon.

PREWITT: So you’re keeping the readers in the dark for now?

STEVENS: There’s still a little, um, research to be done there.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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Alex Prewitt · August 16, 2013