In Scheduling Talk, RPI Remains Top Priority

During Monday’s SEC basketball coaches teleconference, there was a lot of talk about increasing the number of conference games starting in 2012-13. It’s something that was agreed to during the SEC spring meetings about four weeks ago.

The question, of course, is how many games? Most coaches agreed that the fairest way would be to employ a 22-game schedule, which means everybody would play each other twice – home and away. Most of the coaches also admitted that such a heavy slate would not be very feasible, and there are many reasons for that. So 18 is the most likely solution.

One reason – perhaps the best reason, in my opinion – for not playing 22 games was mentioned by only a couple of coaches, Alabama’s Anthony Grant and Kentucky’s John Calipari: Scheduling that many games would cut severely into the non-conference slate, which could adversely affect postseason hopes.

“Leagues that have gotten tons of teams in the NCAA tournament have figured out it’s about your non-conference strength of schedule and your non-conference RPI,” Calipari said. “In other words, play the very best teams you can play and still win. You have to win. If you play a really strong schedule, like a winning percentage of the teams you play is like a 60, if you’re up in there and you win 12 games or 13, you’re going to have the No. 1 RPI ranked schedule non-conference in the country.

“If the schedule you play has a 52 or 53 winning percentage, and you win 12 or 13 games or 11 games, you’re going to be in the top 40 or 50 in RPI in non-conference scheduling.”

Kentucky was fifth in the final RPI rankings last season with a strength-of-schedule ranking of fifth. The Wildcats earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and reached the Final Four, losing to eventual champ Connecticut.

Alabama, which won the Western Division, went 25-12 and missed the NCAAs. Its RPI ranking of 60 and SOS rank of 92 certainly did not help, which is why Grant is trying to beef up next season’s schedule.

“I think we have to continue to challenge ourselves and our team with our non-conference schedule,” Grant said. “I think we have to continue to try to put ourselves in position where we’re in a favorable light should we have an opportunity at the end of the year to qualify for one of the postseason tournaments.”

Auburn’s Tony Barbee said he thought Alabama would’ve made the NCAA tournament last season if there had been no divisions. As noted in my story in today’s Journal, the East was certainly stronger last year, and has been stronger for a while in terms of postseason appearances.

Increasing the SEC schedule could help a team’s RPI, or it could hurt it. Depends on who your extra opponents are. So there’s a little more control over the RPI factor when scheduling non-conference games.

Calipari thinks the new-look SEC could help RPIs, saying that with divisional play, “what was happening was one side of our league’s conference schedule was power-ranked one way and the other was power-ranked differently. That’ll change. So 16 and 18 (SEC games) is important, but not as important as non-conference strength of schedule and RPI.”