On September 15th FSU announced its ACC schedule. The Noles will play four ACC teams that finished in the RPI top 25 last year in Notre Dame (#1), Syracuse (#12), Louisville (#14), and Miami (#25). FSU finished #15 in the RPI last year. We will have more to say about the ACC as a whole as the season approaches but don't expect any of the above teams to take major steps backward. Syracuse probably won't make the final game next year but they will still be tough. FSU will play Miami twice and get the Cuse and Louisville at home.
The Noles obviously don't have much control over the ACC slate so it's a bit more interesting to examine the non-conference part of the schedule. The final verdict is that it is a pretty good job of scheduling.
Before we dig into the schedule lets discuss some principles of good college basketball scheduling. A coach wants to accomplish a few main goals when putting together a non-conference schedule. First, the schedule should be difficult enough to enhance the team's resume when the committee examines it at tournament time. Strength of schedule is an important component of a team's resume and coaches don't want schedules that will hurt the team's chances of getting into the tourney.
Second, coaches want to schedule more home games than away games in the non-conference. This principle can sometimes conflict with the first one because better teams will likely demand home and home dates and if a coach schedules too many it could possibly saddle future schedules with too many away games.
Third, coaches should try to avoid terrible teams. These teams are anchors for a team's strength of schedule. Just playing them will lower a team's strength of schedule even if you win and losing to such a team is a literal disaster for strength of schedule purposes. Teams below 300 in the RPI should be avoided like the plague and teams under 250 should be avoided just in case they slip under 300. So why would anyone schedule these teams? See principle #2. Coaches need more home games so they will sometimes schedule a lesser team because that team won't demand a return game. Also, schedules are often determined well in advance so it's sometimes hard to predict where a team will be in the RPI when the game is actually played.
Fourth, coaches don't want the non-con schedule to be too difficult because having too many losses will cause a team to miss the tournament regardless of how hard the schedule is when the committee evaluates it. Also, coaches don't want to destroy their team's confidence with too many losses before they even begin conference play.
Finally, a coach will try to fit the schedule to the team's ability level. In other words, better teams can handle more difficult schedules. If the coach thinks the team is in for a down year the schedule should probably be a bit easier.
With these principles in mind we can evaluate FSU's upcoming schedule. The Noles play 14 out of conference games and three of them are against teams that were #300 or worse in the RPI last year (Western Carolina #300, UNF #326 and Winthrop #328). Jacksonville St just missed the cut at #298. Florida State gets a bit of a pass for the Winthrop game because it is in the Paradise Jam tournament and coaches don't have much control over the opponents they meet in these tournaments. I don't like the Winthrop or UNF games (or Jacksonville St for that matter) but at least they are in Tallahassee.
However, the reason why this schedule gets a high mark from me is that these are the only games FSU will play against opponents lower than 200 in last year's RPI. In fact all of the other opponents except for UAB (#155) were in the top 150. The headliners are Texas (#7), Florida (#26), James Madison (#31) and some team named Connecticut (#3). All four of these games will be played in Tallahassee. As an aside, the fact that national champion UConn which arguably had the best team in college basketball history last year didn't finish #1 in the RPI tells you all you need to know about the RPI as a metric for evaluating college basketball teams. Unfortunately the committee still uses it so it remains a highly relevant measure.
Florida State is at the point that it can match up with almost any team in the nation. In the pecking order of programs FSU is probably on the second tier. The first (super-elite) tier is comprised of programs like UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Maryland, Baylor and two or three others. FSU is in the next tier as a program. With the talent level currently in Tallahassee, the Noles don't have to worry about making the Tournament (absent ridiculous injuries) so it makes perfect sense to play tough teams in high profile games. Florida State is peaking as a program right now so it is a very good move to play games against teams like UConn and Texas that will shine a national light on the program. Both games have been picked up by ESPN2.
It is important to emphasize that the Seminoles will not play a single team that finished between #155 (UAB) and #298 (Jacksonville St) in the non-conference portion of the schedule. FSU is quite a talented team. The Noles would have a greater than 75% probability of beating virtually any team outside of the top 40 on a neutral court. Therefore, it makes all the sense in the world to avoid teams ranked in that 160 - 300 range when you can play teams ranked higher and have about the same probability of winning while getting bonus strength of schedule points for beating tougher teams. It's important to point out that the RPI doesn't consider point differential (another reason why it's an archaic metric) so destroying a lesser team gets you less credit than edging a better team.
Combining the non-con schedule with the conference schedule, FSU will likely have a very high strength of schedule when the committee evaluates them in March. Now FSU just needs to win some of these games. The Seminoles were 2-6 versus the RPI top 25 last year before the NCAA tournament (both wins were against #25 Miami). They beat #19 Texas A&M in the tournament. If they can do better this year with this schedule the Noles will once again be a top four seed and host NCAA Tournament games in the TLCCC.
In part two of the women's basketball notebook (coming soon) we will discuss recruiting as well as other news around the program.