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Initial Impressions of the Florida State University Seminoles 2009-2010 Men's Basketball Schedule

The 2009-2010 schedule was officially released, revealing interesting out of conference opponents and the typical rough ride through the ACC.

After last year's success on the court, making the NCAA tournament for the first time in 11 years, and a strong recruiting class, the Seminoles are getting attention on the national level and the difficulty of the schedule reflects that recognition. 10 opponents played in the NCAA tournament in 2009 and 8 played in the NIT. This increase in difficulty and television time results from the steady improvement the program has made under Leonard Hamilton's tenure.

In fact, Hamilton summarized the upcoming year well when he said: "We feel this schedule is very representative of the direction the program is heading on a national level. As we continue to improve as a basketball team we are able to play the type of schedule that our players want to face and that our fans want to watch." 

Upon initial inspection, seeing the likes of Jacksonville, FIU, Georgia State and Iona on the schedule doesn't necessarily fit the argument presented above. Last year, we had very similar opponents and our SOS, according to Ken Pomeroy, was 24th overall and 72nd overall for Out of Conference (OOC) play.

Inside we'll take a closer look at the details of the schedule and discuss what it really means to play the likes of Jacksonville and FIU.

Photo from here.

Since 2000, the general trend for the Seminoles' final RPI ranking has been positive, meaning they have improved from an RPI of 175 to 15 in a 9 year period. The RPI is a measure of how a team performs against its strength of schedule, regardless of the margin of the outcome. This tool was developed in 1981 as a reproducible tool to compare the abilities of teams who may or may not have common opponents or levels of competition. Many argue that the RPI is not an effective tool, but I will not get into that discussion here. As you can see, the RPI for Florida State has increased significantly:



The interesting thing about the RPI measure is that it is a dynamic value during the season, meaning it can reflect how a team has done during a season relative to it's strength of opponents. Last year, the Noles' RPI was low to begin the season, but as you can see, it increased significantly as the Noles' level of competition increase and as they won games.



That dip at the beginning of the season occurred after a close win over Stetson at home.

The other interesting thing to note is that as the Seminoles RPI increased significantly, so did their position in the polls:



Clearly, this reflected our success during ACC play.


Another measure of strength of a team is the Pythagorean Calculation for Expected winning percentage (Pyth) developed by Ken Pomeroy. If you are not familiar with Ken Pomeroy and his body of work then spending a few minutes on his site will give you a knowledge foundation for the discussions that will follow during the upcoming basketball season.

The Pomeroy ratings are based on the philosophy that who a team beats and how they beat them is important, and the same goes for loses. Last year, Florida State finished 36th in the Pomeroy ratings with a Pyth of .8801. What the actual value means is not super important, but it is interesting in the context of trends. Plus, the Pyth has only been in existence since 2006. But, Pomeroy has been using advanced metrics since 1999 to rank teams. Here is how Florida State has fared in the Pomeroy Ratings since 1999: 85, 117, 123, 146, 80, 25, 93, 40, 34, 52, 36. Clearly, there has been a significant trend towards the top of the rankings.

Putting all of this together demonstrates that Florida State has earned a difficult schedule over the years. Success has lead to attention and exposure, more teams want to play Florida State. The Seminoles are now a big ticket game rather than a bottom feeder team in the ACC that simply brings an ACC team to your stadium. Good teams want to play us in their OOC schedule, just as we want to play some good teams, like Pitt for example, in order to help their RPI, SOS and potential ranking in the AP and Coaches Polls.

Does Florida State's success translate to a more difficult schedule this year? On face value, it appears so: 10 opponents in the NCAA tournament, 8 opponents in the NIT, the National Champion, playing in a prominent tournament that will add more NCAA tournament teams to the schedule. However, using the Pomeroy ratings from the end of the 2009 season, there is actually a drop in the "strength of schedule." Clearly, last year's rankings do not predict what a team will be like this year, but it is the only objective data available to work through this discussion.

The strength of schedule calculated by Pomeroy is based on the Pyth of a team's opponents. In 2009, Florida States' overall strength of schedule ranked 24th in the nation with an average opponent Pyth of .771. The Seminoles OOC SOS was 72nd in the nation with a Pyth of .650. Using last year's final Pyth, the Seminoles schedule projects in the following way: overall SOS .682 and OOC SOS .502. The average SOS for the nation is .500, placing the Seminoles well above average but slightly lower than last year. However, the SOS will increase significantly depending on how the Seminoles fair in the Old Spice tournament. That tournament will completely change the difficulty of our schedule and likely increase the overall SOS and OOC SOS.

Historically, Florida State's SOS is always high due to the level of play in the ACC. Their OOC schedule has been significantly weak in comparison to their overall SOS. But, the trend has been for an increasing level of difficulty since 2006. The OOC SOS increased as follows each year: 306, 140, 192, 72.

The impact of ACC play on Florida State's SOS is remarkable. For example, in 2005 Florida State's Overall SOS was 18th in the nation despite having an OOC SOS of 242. To illustrate this point, the Pyth of Florida State's opponents game by game is plotted below:


The closer you get to one the better the opponent is. This graph demonstrates the abrupt increase in the quality of opponent that Florida State faces in the ACC. It also demonstrates that Florida State has a relative "breather" every few games in ACC play, meaning there isn't a run of Duke, UNC, Wake, Clemson, Duke and UNC.

The next graph demonstrates Florida State's opponent's Pomeroy rating game by game:



Add a couple of games against quality opponents at the beginning of the season and the shape of the graph completely changes.

The following graph demonstrates the week by week average of Florida States' opponent's Pyth, meaning it is the average of all the preceding weeks with the final point being the season average. Again, it demonstrates the significant impact that the ACC has on the Seminoles' schedule.


The difficulty of the schedule transitions from average, or even below average, to exceedingly difficult as the season goes on.

Again, the look of the schedule will be completely different depending on how far the Seminoles go in the Old Spice Tournament. The initial evaluation of the schedule shows that the numbers may be lower than previous years, but the Seminoles would never been invited to play in the Old Spice Tournament in years prior. The quality of opponents in that tournament alone speaks to the overall increase in difficulty of OOC schedule that the Seminoles will likely continue to face in the future.

With the exception of the Old Spice Tournament, assuming they make the final, the Seminoles only play, at most, two games in a row away from home. The Tournament is in Orlando, so say what you will about that being an away game or not. The beginning of the season will be a tough test for Florida State as they play 4 games in 8 days, two of which are on the road at Mercer and Florida. If the Seminoles made it into the finals at the Old Spice Tournament, the Seminoles could play 7 games in 13 days, limiting the amount of practice time available.

The overall season is divided into runs of multiple games over short periods of time, not atypical for a college basketball schedule. There are a few that should be highlighted: January 10th to the 16th (@Maryland, vs NC State, vs VTech), January 24th to 30th (vs GTech, @Duke, @BC), February 4th to 17th (vs Maryland, vs Miami, @Clemson, vs BC, @Virginia) then to finish the year February 28th to March 6th (vs Clemson, vs Wake, @Miami).

There are other ACC games scattered between those groups. But, those clusters reflect the intense periods of the season in which the Seminoles are essentially playing every other day. Fortunately, Florida State has a week to prepare for UNC. There are two pairs of away games during the season for the Seminoles: @Duke/@BC and @Virginia/@UNC. The Duke/BC games are separated by 3 days.

The other favorable features of the ACC schedule are that the Seminoles only play UNC, Duke, VTech, NCState and Wake Forest once. Miami, Clemson, Maryland and Georgia Tech and Boston College play twice against the Seminoles. Clearly, playing Duke and UNC once is to our advantage, these 5 teams are going to be a significant challenge for Florida State as well as everyone in the ACC. Unfortunately, we only play Virginia once this year.

The fact that the Seminoles don't spend a lot of time away from the Tucker Center clearly plays to their advantage. Unfortunately, there are a significant number of difficult clusters that will provide Florida State with the potential for disaster depending on the resiliency of this team.

This is going to be an exciting year for the Seminoles and the quality of basketball in the ACC should be outstanding. What are your thoughts on the schedule in general? Can the Seminoles win 10 games in the ACC this year? Will they win 25 games again?