Thoughts Following the Release of the Non-Conference Schedule
Earlier today, the Central Connecticut State men's basketball team unveiled its non-conference schedule, which will begin on 11/6 at the University of Hartford, and includes a few high profile matchups including Virginia Tech (ACC), Oregon State (Pac-12), Providence (Big East), and Georgetown (Big East). Anyway, I have thoughts:
1. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t put much stock in the non-conference portion of the schedule, at least as far as results go. Whether the Blue Devils finish 9-4 or 4-9, they are going to have to win the NEC Tournament in order to make the NCAA Tournament. And if they were to do that, they’re likely going to be a 16-seed no matter what. I get that fans want their teams to win every game, but to me, at least for a school at the bottom rungs of Division 1, staying healthy and figuring out a rotation are the primary purposes of the non-conference schedule. Of course I like wins too, but you won't find me overreacting if CCSU gets its doors blown off in the season opener at Hartford, just like I won't be securing my 2019 NCAA Tournament hat if they were to pull off a major upset.
2. Yes, there are two non-D1 schools on this schedule (PSU-Wilkes Barre and Pine Manor College). And no, you do not have to like it. But if you are up in arms over this development, you’re clearly missing the forest through the trees. At least six of the ten NEC schools are playing two non-D1s, while LIU and SHU are each playing one. Bryant is the only school without a non-D1 program on its schedule, and Wagner has yet to announce its schedule as of this writing. Looking beyond the NEC, the majority of schools in the America East, Atlantic Sun, Big South and Southland are not just playing non-D1 schools, but sometimes three and four of them. Every Big South school that had released its schedule as of 9/6 was playing three non-D1s, while McNeese St., New Orleans, and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, all of the Southland, are each playing FOUR. Former NEC member UMBC, which famously became the first 16 seed to beat a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament just over five months ago, has three non-D1s on its schedule. Hell, even Loyola-Chicago of the MVC, which crashed the Final Four in 2018, has a non-D1 on its schedule. You want to be upset with it? Fine. But point your blame at the NCAA for allowing conferences to move to 20-game schedules as well as increase in MTE’s across the country, and yell at the high majors who are afraid to travel. I'm under the impression that those in charge of the schedule did everything they could to schedule quality home and homes, and as seems to be so often in today's landscape, it didn't work out.
3. With that said, if I had to grade this schedule, I’d give it a…C-? Obviously this sort of thing is subjective, but what I look for in a good NEC schedule: 1) home games against D1 opponents; 2) local road games; and 3) Fun $$ games. The $$ games are solid, with Virginia Tech, Providence, Georgetown and Oregon State all having big names. However, outside of the Hartford game, only the road tilt at Providence is reasonably close (unless you want to make the 5.5 hour trip to Orono), and there is just one D1 home game on the docket. In each of the first two years of the Donyell Marshall era, the Blue Devils played three D1 home games.
4. If you are looking for an example of a great NEC schedule, take a look at Bryant. The Bulldogs have five D1 home games, which is the highest in the NEC, play in-state road games at Brown and Rhode Island, plus head to NYC to go take on Columbia. While CCSU fans will have the opportunity to see their team play against D1 opponents just thrice prior to Christmas, Bryant students/alumni can see their Bulldogs play seven times without leaving the Greater Providence area. Additionally, nine of Bryant’s 11 non-conference games are against teams that finished between 195 and 299 in Kenpom, meaning they are all challenging but winnable (or at least, games where they won’t be heavy underdogs).
5. The Blue Devils will certainly be tested, as they will play two NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago (Virginia Tech and Providence), plus two other Top 100 Kenpom teams in Georgetown (#94) and Oregon State (#100). While neither are likely to be a tournament team this season, both have enough talent to overwhelm a school from the Northeast Conference. Plus Austin Peay is year in and year out near the top of the Ohio Valley and UHart will be picked to finish in the top 3 in the America East.
6. Next season will be the final year of the current deal between the University of Hartford and Central Connecticut State, and I truly hope they continue the rivalry. The two schools are separated by just ten miles, and they provide a great kick off to the season, especially with both programs trending in a positive direction.
7. It’s unlikely CCSU will be favored in more than four games during the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Heavy Underdogs (20+ points): Virginia Tech, Providence, Georgetown, Oregon St.
Moderate Underdogs (5+ points): Loyola Marymount, Hartford, Austin Peay
Pick'em: North Carolina A&T
Favored: Florida A&M, UMass-Lowell, Maine
8. With ESPN3 becoming a pay service called ESPN+, I’m curious to see how that affects our ability to watch road games (I’m assuming all home games will be streamed via NEC Front Row). America East has already announced a partnership with ESPN+, so for those of you unable to make it to West Hartford on 11/6 should be able to watch that game there, the same goes for the game at Maine and ditto for the Virginia Tech game (the ACC Network has had an affiliation with ESPN for a few years now). Both Jamaica Classic games will be on CBS Sports Network, and the Big East games (Providence and Georgetown) will likely be on a FOX affiliated network. The most difficult games to watch will likely be: Oregon State (the Pac-12 Network is notoriously difficult to subscribe to); Loyola Marymount (the WCC does not have a national broadcast deal to my knowledge); and North Carolina A&T. Last season, every game was at least watchable; I doubt that will be the case this season.
9. It’s obviously a long ways away, but it’s never too early for predictions. Based on what we know now, I’ll put the over/under on D1 non-conference wins at…3.5? Yeah, that feels right. Winning any more than four non-conference games (excluding the two non-D1 games) may require an unlikely upset, especially if Tyler Kohl isn’t healthy enough for the season opener.