The schedule can be broken into two sections: the part FSU can control, aka the non-conference portion, and the part FSU cannot control. We'll examine the OOC games first.
The Noles will play 13 OOC this year, starting with the South Alabama Jaguars on November 9th and concluding with another team from Alabama, the Auburn Tigers, on January 2nd. Overall, the OOC consists of a solid mix between good opponents and games where Leonard Hamilton should be able to get some of the young guys on the team some needed experience. But, let's delve a little deeper in break things down using some of the factors mentioned in Part 1.
Opportunities for good wins:
The defending ACC Champs will likely have four shots at an OOC win that would be legitimately impressive to the committee. FSU is guaranteed home games against preseason number 10 Florida and Minnesota, who starts the year just outside the top 25 but has the talent to finish inside the top 20 if their players and coaches can stay out of legal trouble. The Noles will also play neutral site games against BYU and either Notre Dame or St. Joes as part of the Coaches vs Cancer Tournament. BYU is a perennial NCAA Tourney team and both Notre Dame and St. Joes should be RPI top 75 teams this year, with the Fighting Irish looking like a possible top 5 seed come March.
Beyond those four games, the Seminoles could actually find a few more RPI top 100 wins during the non-conference portion, which always helps the NCAA Tourney resume even if the teams aren't big name opponents. Mercer just might be the class of the Atlantic Sun Conference this year, meaning they could better their 21 regular season wins from a year ago and sneak into the top 100. And at the very least they shouldn't be a drag on our SOS. Similarly, South Alabama and Auburn should both be contenders for the NIT and with the right luck could finish in the top 100.
Potential Bad Losses and/or SOS Killers:
The good news is, there are no games that jump off the page with potential to turn into a damaging loss like FSU seems so fond of suffering. (Although who would have predicted a loss to Princeton or BC last year?) All the teams that appear capable of beating the Noles would likely end up in the top 100, or maybe even the NCAA Tourney. If pressed on the issue, I could maybe see FSU dropping the road game to UNC-Charlotte if they come out unfocused right before Christmas, and the same could be said of the Auburn game, which takes place the day after New Years-although as stated above, Auburn might end up inside the top 100.
However, there are several games that will likely severely hurt our SOS. ULM is the worst offender, and is a game that just has no business being scheduled. The Warhawks have finished ranked below 300 in the RPI the last two seasons and have finished 250 or worse in each of the last five years. They finished 3-26 last year and now must replace three of their top four scorers. In short, they are dreadful. Tulsa is tough to get a read on, largely due to them losing so many players to transfer after a coaching change at the end of last year. The Golden Hurricane actually finished inside the top 100 four out the previous five years, but were 121 last year and I would be shocked if they didn't take a step back this year. Conference USA isn't a pushover conference and after losing so many guys, I wouldn't be surprised if they finish outside the top 200. The good news is, unlike the ULM game, FSU will play Tulsa on a neutral court.
Teams like Maine, North Florida, and Buffalo aren't very good, but none should be woeful either. Despite ULM being abysmal, this is actually an improvement over recent years in terms of the number of likely bottom-feeders on the schedule.
Road and neutral games are key for two reasons: They give you a boost in the RPI (road wins actually count as 1.4 wins according to the formula) and the selection committee appreciates the effort to challenge yourself. FSU did a decent job this year, scheduling 5 road/neutral games out of 13 OOC contests. As mentioned before, two of the five games are part of the CvC Tournament, which provides nice exposure for FSU's rising program as well.
FSU also did a nice job of mixing up the conferences and styles of teams they will face, filling the schedule with several up-tempo teams (BYU, UNCC, and Maine were all top 90 tempo teams last year according to www.kenpom.com) and several grinders (ULM, Tulsa, UF, Mercer, Minnesota, and ND were all 230 or below in tempo last year). This will help prepare the squad for different styles in conference and NCAA Tourney play.
The biggest negative in my eyes is when our opportunities for good wins occur. FSU is a team with a lot of moving parts as Hamilton looks to replace 6 seniors and figure out what buttons to push to get veterans like Mike Snaer and Ian Miller to mesh with inexperienced guys like Devon Bookert, Kiel Turpin, and Aaron Thomas. Having a month of tune-ups would have helped tremendously to get everyone on the same page. Unfortunately, FSU will face their toughest four opponents of the OOC (and an under-the-radar Mercer team) all before final exams. This could lead to either some great, confidence building wins, or another slow start to the season. It would have been nice to play teams like ULM, Maine, and Tulsa before tilts against the Golden Gophers and Gators, but the young guys will just have to be thrown to the fire early.
The ACC expands to 18 conference games in preparations for Syracuse and Pitt joining next year, which is good news/bad news for FSU. The good news is there will be plenty of chances at piling up good wins and The Don should be rocking several times this year as a parade of high quality teams make their way to Tallahassee. The bad news is the conference schedule looks to pretty tough, making it imperative for FSU to exit the non-con portion with no more than four losses-and even that might be pushing it.
One thing is clear; the ACC (with help from ESPN) has a pretty good idea of who they think will be the best teams in conference this year. With the schedule being a one-time thing-a new rotation will start next year with the new additions-league officials were able to design the conference slate exactly to their liking this year. And the five teams widely considered the cream of the crop (NC State, Duke, UNC, FSU, and Miami) will almost play a round robin with each other.
The Seminoles will face the other four teams predicted to finish at the top seven out of a possible eight times, with all four making trips to Tallahassee. Miami, Duke, and NCSU also play seven games against the other top teams, while UNC plays eight. Therefore, it should be very clear who the best team in the conference is by the end of the season.
On the other end of the spectrum, FSU only has four games against the three teams expected to bring up the rear of the ACC (Wake, BC, and Va Tech) with two of those four games on the road. Throw in two games against Maryland, likely the next best team after the top 5, and FSU's ACC slate may be as tough as it's been in several years. Conference play doesn't start until early January, however, so we will look at this portion of the schedule again after more is discovered about the respective teams during the first two months of the season.
Coach Hamilton has stated he expects this year's team to be even better than last year's by the time March rolls around. He may have to get them going earlier than that, though, if the Seminoles are to extend their streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to a program best five consecutive seasons. FSU faces a solid OOC schedule, but nearly all the difficult games occur early. Then in conference play, the Noles will be tested early and often with 50% of their games coming against teams predicted to finish in the top half of the league. There are three different stretches where FSU will play two games in no more than three days-which is great practice for the Big Dance, but potentially tough on a young team trying to find their footing-and there is a stretch of five consecutive road games from December 22nd through January 9th. However, Coach Hamilton has proven that he can get his boys to believe in themselves even when no one else seems to and I expect him to do that again this year.
OOC Schedule: B
ACC Schedule: A-
Overall Schedule: B+