Rocky Mountain High

Well, well, well…UNCW Disptaches Northwestern 56-48 to WIN the BCA Invitational. I’ll save the writeup and boxscore for someone else, but my point is simple: Butler, host Wyoming, and Northwestern were the teams UNCW methodically took apart. While none are Duke, none are the Welding Institute of North Dakota either.

Nobody took more than seven shots. Nobody grabbed 10 rebounds. Nobody scored more than 11 points. Each of the starting five scored between seven and 11 points, and the lowest total was its best player, John Goldsberry. It was this way in all three games.

Chew on that for awhile.

The CAA is now 5-1 in OOC games.


UNCW gets Colorado, in Boulder, on Friday. It is the tail end of the Rocky Mountain High portion of the Seahawks schedule. (Note to remember, in the Cart Before the Horse section of today’s entry: Salt Lake City hosts an NCAA regional, and it’s a quick five-hour drive down I-80 from Laramie. UNCW fans can start the hate mail….wait….hold….settle….almost….NOW.)

But seriously, here’s the issue. UNCW went across the country to get three better than average games, maybe, and then a decent game against a Big 12 foe (and not one named Kansas or Texas or Oklahoma). I don’t know the travel plans of the school, but these kids are students and will be out of class for a decent stretch. Forcing mid majors to go to these lengths to get a good game on the schedule is a bit ridiculous.

Then again, UNCW won all three games, proving two points: the CAA can play with anybody; and (2) the major schools have a reason to fear playing mid majors.

And that environment and its intricacies is precisely what makes scheduling a basketball game for a mid major daunting. Heading into a season, a coach needs to balance several factors in gearing up his team for conference play. While Roy Williams and Lute Olsen garner most of the headlines for their team’s preparation, it is even more important for a mid major coach.

Remember, the regular season in a mid major conference is unlike that of the ACC or Big East, where a .500 conference record likely gets you into the NCAA tournament, assuming you have taken care of business (read: won) with the out of conference games. It’s a vicious cycle for the mid major team trying to get noticed. The major school is shooting for a 9-1 nonconference schedule, thinking that combined with its 8-8 conference season puts them at 17-9 entering the conference tournament.

When you factor in strength of schedule, based in part on strength of your conference, they can make a credible case. So the major coach can throw a toughie in there, such as Arizona’s trip to Charlottesville and loss to Virginia in December 2004. However the rest of the games should be easy wins. Home games, for sure. This is where the mid majors get left out, because often they stand a legitimate chance of beating the major school.

In 2004-05, NC State and Iowa accomplished better, both going 7-9 in its regular season and making the NCAA tournament as at large selections. Since 1997, in fact, eight teams from the BCS Big Six conferences have made the NCAA tournament as an at large team with a losing record in conference play:

1997 – Virginia (18-12, 7-9); 9 seed
1998 – Florida St (17-13, 6-10); 12 seed
1998 – Clemson (18-13, 7-9); 6 seed
1999 – Purdue (19-12, 7-9); 10 seed
2001 – Penn St (19-11, 7-9); 7 seed
2003 – Alabama (17-11, 7-9); 10 seed
2005 – Iowa (21-11, 7-9); 10 seed
2005 – NC State (19-13, 7-9); 10 seed

Note: Arkansas (7-9 in 2000), Iowa (7-9 in 2001), and Maryland (7-9 in 2004) won their conference tournament with sub-.500 conference regular season records. Incredibly, Clemson finished the 1997-98 ACC season 7-9 and won just one game in the ACC tournament. The Tigers were given a six seed and promptly lost to Western Michigan 75-72.

Both Iowa and NC State were able to fatten up on dubious nonconference schedules in which mid majors were, in general, avoided. Certainly traveling to play a mid major was not part of the plan. This is the cycle that allows the major to promote a glossy overall record as well as a couple of key wins over other major schools.

And why not? Since 1997, an astounding 276 of 428 teams (64.4%) from the Big Six BCS conferences who finished their regular season at .500 or better have made the tournament. In that time frame, BCS schools have received 222 at-large bids out of 307 available (72.31%).

This is what rankles coaches of mid major programs. They know they can compete. But the odds, especially because they are rarely given the opportunity to play major schools, are long. America has become a statistic-driven culture. Unfortunately, mid major programs have little to fall back on when not given that opportunity. The NCAA selection committee is often cites a team’s “body of work” or “resume.” For mid majors, neither slate is long.

So UNCW spends a week in Colorado. VCU flies to Houston and Hofstra to South Bend during Thanksgiving Week. And ODU has to go to St. Thomas in November. (Well, okay, so that really ain’t so bad. But you get my point…)


~ by mglitos on November 16, 2005.

5 Responses to “Rocky Mountain High”

  1. Great writeup on mid-major scheduling. I’m a student at UNCW and the fact that we didn’t have a high SOS last year kept us out of the NIT even though we finished higher than two other teams from the CAA that were invited. As well as better than some big conference teams that finished right at .500. Looking forward to reading your book, and to the start of conference season.

    PS. Your Rams are our first conference home game. Should be fun as always. Great Rivalry.

  2. Sorry for the two posts but i have a blog going as well it is mainly about UNCW sports but i’m including other CAA news as well.

  3. I’ll be spending the weekend in Wilmington, as always, which culminates with a visit to Trask.

    Congrats on the trip. Well done.

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