University of Dayton Athletic Director Neil Sullivan has worked hand in hand with Dayton Flyers men’s basketball coach Anthony Grant and assistant coach Darren Hertz in putting together the 2017-18 men’s basketball schedule.
Hertz has been in charge of studying possible opponents, determining who should be good next season and who has been consistently good for the last five seasons. Hertz works with Sullivan and Grant to make sure they’re all on the same page. UD uses computer models to assess how scheduling a particular team will effect its NCAA tournament resume.
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It’s hard to argue with Dayton’s schedule the last four seasons. The Flyers made the NCAA tournament four seasons in a row for the first time in a large part because of their success against non-conference opponents. The formula has worked.
“For the most part, when you’ve got four at-large bids in a row,” Sullivan said, “you try to keep doing what you’ve been doing.”
Now the NCAA is changing the way it evaluates teams for the NCAA tournament. Starting this season, it will place greater emphasis on road and neutral-court victories.
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Dayton has played only one true road game in each of the last two seasons — at Vanderbilt in 2015-16 and at Alabama in 2016-17 — but will play at least two this season. The Flyers will play at Saint Mary’s College and at Mississippi State.
Dayton will also play three games on a neutral court at the Charleston Classic. A victory in any of those games will mean more.
“We support conceptually the change,” Sullivan said Monday, “and we like using well-established data. We certainly like the chance to make sure we schedule the best we can in advance. One of our responsibilities in scheduling is to predict future at-large bid criteria as accurately as possible so our team is positioned for both selection and seed in the tournament. Clearly, the easiest way to do that is win a lot of games against really good teams. If you look back 15 to 20 years, the committee’s decisions are actually reasonably consistent for teams that have good records against the best teams in basketball. That’s why bracketologists can be so accurate, right? If it was this mystery formula, you wouldn’t have people getting 95 to 96 percent of the field accurate over time.”
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The NCAA tournament selection committee has a sheet for every team being considered for the tournament. The sheet has games divided into four columns. The sheets were simpler in years past. Results against teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI fell in the first column. The other three columns included results against teams ranked 51-100, 101-200 and then any team ranked 201 or lower.
Here’s how the new sheets will look:
• Column one: Home games vs. teams ranked 1-30; neutral-site games vs. teams in the top 50; and road games vs. teams in the top 75.
• Column two: Home games vs. teams ranked 31-75, neutral-site games vs. teams ranked 51-100; road games vs. teams ranked 76-135.
• Column three: Home games vs. teams ranked 76-160; neutral-site games vs. teams ranked 101-200; road games vs. teams ranked 136-240.
• Column four: Home games vs. teams ranked 161-351, neutral-site games vs. teams ranked 201-351; road games vs. teams ranked 241-351.
Dayton would have received extra credit for beating Vanderbilt, No. 71 in the RPI, on the road in the 2015-16 season. Last season, Dayton’s top road victory came at No. 31 Rhode Island. Dayton played two non-conference games against top-50 teams last season, losing to No. 17 Saint Mary’s and No. 48 Northwestern.
Getting those games will always be a priority.
“I think the challenge for us is we don’t always walk into our schedule given top-50 games that maybe the ACC and Big Ten has,” Sullivan said. “They just know from day one they’re going to have a certain number of top-50 games in their league. We don’t have that as a given, but what we do have are more opportunities for neutral-site games against top-50 teams or road games against top-75 teams.”
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With the ACC going to a 20-game conference schedule in the 2019-20 season and potentially other power-five conferences following suit, Sullivan knows it could be even more difficult to schedule those type of games in the future. That could make events like the Charleston Classic, Advocare Invitational, Puerto Rico Tip-Off and others even more important for Dayton.
“Those exempt tournaments are really so critical,” Sullivan said. “You can get those neutral games that maybe you can’t get at home. (Two years ago) we played Iowa and Xavier (in Orlando). They’re not playing us home and home. Last year we played Northwestern. Northwestern wasn’t going to play us home and home, but they would play us in Chicago on a neutral court. If we can continue to get those types of games, that’s in our wheelhouse. It should match up with our scheduling model.”