Thoughts on the basketball schedule

If you’re an Aggie basketball fan, or even an observer, you’ve heard it hundreds of times — Stew Morrill’s rigid scheduling philosophy hurts the Aggies almost as much as it helps them.

By steadfastly demanding a home-and-home arrangement in scheduling non-conference opponents, Morrill has opened himself and the program up to the type of criticism national — and local — media use to argue against an at-large NCAA tournament bid for USU.

Last year, for example, the Aggies had a strength of schedule that put them well into the danger zone of being left out of the NCAA tourney if not for a WAC Tournament title. A big part of that, however, was that several teams on USU’s schedule had sub-par seasons and knocked the Aggies’ rating down with each loss from an Idaho State, a Houston Baptist or even a Nevada or Boise State which were expected to win more games than they did.

USU’s strength of schedule at the end of the 2008-09 season was just 135 according to CBSSports.com. That’s not terribly bad, but USU had just seven games, and a 4-3 record, against teams with RPIs lower than 100.

But that still left Utah State with an RPI of 22 — hardly anything for anyone to scoff at.

But how will the 2009-10 schedule work out?

Let’s look at the RPIs of USU’s Division I non-conference foes — Western Oregon won’t count in USU’s RPI anymore than Southwest Baptist did in Utah’s last year.

Weber State — 107
Utah — 9
Northeastern — 93
IDAHO STATE — 204
SOUTHERN UTAH — 260
BRIGHAM YOUNG — 32
SAINT MARY’S — 47
UTAH VALLEY — 236
at Cal State Bakersfield — 301
at Long Beach State — 160
Morehead State — 137
Cal State Fullerton — 196
Weber State — 107
ESPN BRACKETBUSTER — TBD

That’s only four team with RPIs lower than 200 — better than last season with Cal Poly, Howard, Houston Baptist and UC Irvine all dragging USU’s strength of schedule downhill.

Last season, USU has only six non-conference opponents with an RPI better than 200 and seven worse than that mark.

This year — based on last season’s RPIs — the Aggies will face 10 (the BrackerBuster opponent will be one of the better options, almost for sure) non-conference foes on the good side of 200.

While missing any marquee teams from the Pac 10, Big 12 or even the Mountain West, Utah State’s schedule is an improvement over the last one.

With four starters returning from last year’s 30-win team Aggie fans should expect another 25-plus win season. And if the WAC shows improvement as expected — there are tons of returning starters on most teams — the conference RPI will be a big help as well.

So, while lacking any heavy hitters outside the in-state opponents, Utah State has actually improved its schedule a little bit.

The goal, presumably, to win a boatload of games, have a better RPI and SOS and let that, hopefully, result in a better seed in the NCAA Tournament where USU has been one-and-done as a double-digit seed every year — with the exception of beating Ohio State almost 10 years ago — they’ve been dancing with Morrill.

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