#KPI Blog: College Basketball Scheduling Analysis

Scheduling is difficult.  There are so many more factors that meet the eye than a directive to “schedule good teams.”  That said, like college football, college basketball needs to schedule more games between like competition!

Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 68 teams for the 2010-11 campaign, 4.9% of non-conference games and 5.7% of conference games have been played between two teams who both advanced to the NCAA Tournament.  When including both NCAA and NIT participants, the numbers grows to 9.4% of non-conference games and 11.3% of conference games.

19.6% of Division-I teams make the NCAA Tournament while 28.8% make the NCAA or NIT Tournaments.  When the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 22.7% of the 282 teams made the NCAA Tournament.

In 2012-13, there were 301 games played between two teams in the #KPI top-50 (which is the average cut line over a 10-year period for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament).  Those top-50 #KPI teams went a combined 1,313-446 (.746) against teams outside the top-50.  Top-50 teams played 75% of their games against teams outside the top-50.

Over the last three years, there have been 958 regular season games (319.3 per season, 5.7% of all games) between two would-be NCAA Tournament teams.  38.4% of the NCAA Tournament team vs. NCAA Tournament team games have occurred in the non-conference, 51.8% in conference play and 9.8% in conference tournaments.   11% of conference tournament games are between two would-be NCAA Tournament teams.  Note that an average of 20.7 of the 31 conferences (67%) were one-bid conferences over the last three years.  Counting only conferences with multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament, 15.4% of multi-bid conference games were between two NCAA Tournament teams in 2012-13.  28.6% of multi-bid conference games were between two teams in either the NCAA or NIT Tournaments.

There are many reasons why certain matchups do not happen, some even good reasons.  Each school is in a different situation both competitively and geographically.  Final exams, holiday schedules and television all play important roles.  Some schools will only play games if they get a return.  Some games are scheduled by conference offices through challenges, such as the Big Ten/ACC Challenge or the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.  The Big 12 and Pac-12 and the Missouri Valley and Mountain West once had similar arrangements.  Bigger schools play fewer road games and schedule them more carefully.  Everyone has different problems, and many schools want to schedule one level up from where they actually may be in the scheduling pecking order.

Larger schools generate significant money by playing guarantee games in the non-conference while smaller schools often need such dollars to balance their budget.  Schools also schedule games because they want to play in the hometown of a current player or in an area where they recruit.  An opponent may end up being better (or worse) than they schools anticipate when they schedule the game as well.  Since the #KPI assigns values to every game, it can be and has been utilized to project strength of schedule based on historical data.

Best laid plans don’t always work out, especially with projected matchups in exempt tournaments.  Connecticut won the Maui Invitational in 2010 en route to the 2011 National Championship.  They were helped by winning in Maui, but their strength of schedule was greatly affected by a quarterfinal win over Wichita State.  UConn trailed Wichita State in the Maui opener 60-51 with 9:26 remaining before finishing the game on a 32-19 run to advance.  UConn beat No. 2 Michigan State and No. 8 Kentucky the next two days while Wichita State beat Division-II Chaminade and 16-15 Virginia to win the consolation bracket.  The quarterfinal win gave a significant boost to UConn’s resume (and eventual No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament), but a significant downgrade to the strength of schedule for eventual-NIT champion Wichita State.

125 of the 368 (34.0%) non-conference games between NCAA Tournament teams since 2010-11 were played at a neutral site.  47 of 128 were neutral in 2010-11, 37 of 129 in 2011-12 and 41 of 111 in 2012-13.  9.3% of all non-postseason games were played at a neutral site in 2012-13 while 21.1% of regular season neutral site games were between two NCAA Tournament teams.

Teams are far more likely to win home non-conference games than home conference games.  In 2012-13, home teams went 1,718-527 (.765) in non-conference play and 1,803-1,143 (.612) in conference play.  The quality of opponent has everything to do with the disparity.  The average difference between the #KPI of two teams facing off in non-conference games was 106.6 spots in 2012-13 compared to 88.2 in conference play and 39.3 in postseason play.

#KPI data since 2010-11 tells an interesting story of who is playing who, and when:

  • There have been 64 games (21.3 per year, 0.4% of all games) between two #KPI top-10 teams.  26 (40.6%) are conference games, 14 (21.9%) are non-conference, 7 (10.9%) are conference tournament matchups and 17 (26.6%) took place in the NCAA Tournament.
  • There have been 284 games (94.3 per year, 1.6% of all games) between two #KPI top-25 teams.  127 (44.7%) are conference games, 70 (24.6%) are non-conference, 31 (10.9%) are conference tournament matchups and 56 (19.7%) occurred in the NCAA Tournament.
  • There have been 852 games (284 per year, 4.9% of all games) between two #KPI top-50 teams.  417 (48.9%) are conference games, 228 (26.8%) are non-conference, 80 (9.4%) are conference tournament matchups, 124 (14.6%) were NCAA Tournament games and 3 (0.4%) were in the NIT.

The number of games played has increased by nearly 11% since 1985.  Teams averaged 29.3 games played in 1985 (when the tournament expanded to 64), jumping to 29.8 games in 2001 (when the tournament expanded to 65) and up to 32.5 in 2013.  Schools are taking advantage of the ability to get four games in exempt tournaments by scheduling the tournaments in formats such that four games are always part of it regardless the size of the field.  The elimination of the “two-in-four” rule that limited exempt tournament participation to twice every four years changed scheduling dynamics in 2006-07.

Even more, the number of teams in Division-I has risen 22% since 1985.  There were 282 Division-I teams in 1985, increasing to 318 in 2001 and to an all-time high 345 teams in 2013.  There are 63 more Division-I teams now than three decades ago.  The schools new to Division-I have not been the big conference teams but rather small conference teams who more commonly seek guarantee games on the road.  A few programs have risen to greater prominence over that span (Gonzaga comes to mind), but there are more teams being added to Division-I than are being added at that highest level, leading to greater concentration at the highest level of Division-I.

Between 2010-11 and 2012-13, there were 1,097 games played by Division-I teams against Non Division-I competition (6.5% of all regular season games).  Division-I teams compiled a record of 1,056-41 (.963) by an average margin of 27.8 points per game.  The Southland (93 games), Big South (87 games) and Ohio Valley (66 games) led the way in Non Division-I games while the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC combined for 41 Non-Division I games over a 3-year period.

Non-conference college basketball gets lost behind the end of college football season, but it also gets lost because of a lack of quality non-conference games.  Want proof?  ESPN earned massive ratings for the Champions Classic this past November.  There was interest on a Tuesday night in November because of the quality and hype around the games.  College football has a similar problem in September (Only 7.8% of all non-conference games were between two members of the top five conferences while 34.4% of games were against FCS teams), but several conferences have sprinkled in conference games through the first few weeks to help.

For growth in any operation, one needs to put the best parts of itself in front of the largest audiences as often possible.  It’s why advertisers spend millions on Super Bowl ads.  It’s also why top teams should schedule more top teams.

This is the #KPI.

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