Hewitt's scheduling ethos? Two paths are better than one

Hewitt's scheduling ethos? Two paths are better than one
October 24, 2012, 9:30 am
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The logic is obvious yet frequently ignored or at the very least dismissed by postseason seeking coaches in leagues big or mid-sized.

When it comes time to put together the next season's slate of games, realize there is no fork in the road - take both paths. League membership has its automatic bid privileges, but one must seek out non-conference opponents for a worthy at-large NCAA Tournament resume.

Otherwise, should a run through the gauntlet of say ACC or CAA games turn out only modest results and the conference tournament ends without a cutting down the nets celebration, don't blame the selection committee for your inevitable sad face when the best part of March Madness rolls on with your squad.

Not every decision maker grasps this "give your program as many outs as possible" plan. Virginia Tech fans familiar with the just concluded Seth Greenberg era are currently nodding.

Meanwhile George Mason supporters already versed in the Patriots calendar for the 2012-13 campaign are smiling. Their coach gets it.

"I think playing a strong non-conference gives you two chances," George Mason coach Paul Hewitt said at the Colonial Athletic Association media day, an event packeed with talking points and sound bites. In this case, there's some there there in those words. Hewitt has indeed designed a robust schedule for the program's 2012-13 campaign.

Well, hosting in-state foe Virginia in the season opener came with the furniture, but Hewitt jumped at the chance to decorate the schedule with a second ACC program, Maryland, in the BB&T Classic at the Verizon Center.

Those aren't the only games against a major conference foe (South Florida) or perennial mid-major contenders like Richmond, Northern Iowa and Bucknell. With some luck scheduling luck during mid-November's Paradise Jam, the Patriots could add to their RPI upside against New Mexico and perhaps Connecticut or Wake Forest.

A yes, RPI - or Ratings Percentage Index - that one statistical measure that even non-mathematicians will track over the next five months.

The Patriots reached the 2011 NCAA Tournament because the selection committee liked the cut of their top-25 RPI jib. No doubt, the conference games helped tons that campaign. Those opportunities don't exist this go-round outside of two matchups against CAA favorite Drexel and perhaps a rising Delaware program.

That's why you bolster those "other" games - especially if you're not one programs given favored nation status. Otherwise, it's about essentially running the league table or banking on a conference tournament title.

Unless you're among the heavyweights of heavyweight schools, good luck with that approach every year.

"Obviously we know before the season starts we always have a chance to win the conference tournament. That gets you into the NCAAs," Hewitt said.

"The non-conference games are becoming more and more important to the selection committee. I think that's regardless of your conference. You can be in the highest leagues, you can be in the mid league or whatever, but if you don't play a strong non-conference schedule and you do not win your conference tournament you've completely eliminated yourself from consideration."

Of course, there is an element of luck even the equations folk can't forsee right now. The Virginia's, the Maryland's, the Northern Iowa's need to hold up its end of the RPI deal and win enough games overall so a George Mason victory is legitimate statistical boost, a loss not an upsetting numbers drag. That's how the game is played. At least the Patriots have that chance.

Once again, congratulations George Mason nation, your guy gets it.

Now all you need is for the Patriots to win some of those tough games.

Hey, nobody said the path to "madness" would be easy. At least you're on not one, but two tracks to get there.