Test Your Strength? Not Us, I Guess
Last season, ND played an OOC schedule heavy on the cupcakes and the home games. Given how many underclassmen were expected to contribute, this made sense in general. However, the concept was taken to an extreme, as this RPI (per CollegeRPI.com) analysis shows, and the sugar content of the non-conference slate hurt ND at NCAA selection time when the Fighting Irish were given a #6 seed despite being a BE semifinalist and matched up against the toughest #11.
#16 - @ Maryland (BB&T)
#27 - @ Butler (PNIT)
#49 - Alabama
#197 - Rider
#225 - Army
#241 - Lehigh
#243 - IPFW
#279 - Portland
#281 - Stony Brook
#284 - vs. Lafayette (PNIT)
#298 - Elon
#304 - Winston-Salem State
#308 - Citadel
Average opponent RPI: 212
Median opponent RPI: 243
To call the drop-off after the top three opponents precipitous would be an understatement. Given 336 teams in the RPI rankings, an average non-conference schedule would be rated at 168. ND's ranked almost 13 percent below that.
Granted, had ND defeated Butler, their game against #28 Indiana would have bumped the average to 190. And games in NYC, had the Irish made it that far, would have helped. But since those games aren't guaranteed, you can't schedule assuming they're going to help you. And even that 190 is below average.
As it turns out, last year's slate is looking arduous compared to what we're seeing so far this season (list based on ND department mailings and released schedules by opponents):
#56 - Kansas St. (Jimmy V Classic, NYC)
#61 - average of #52 Georgia Tech and #70 Winthrop (Paradise Jam 3rd round)
(#146 Charlotte and #159 UIC are also possibles for that game)
#120 - average of #100 Wichita State and #141 Baylor (Paradise Jam 2nd round)
#162 - San Francisco
#173 - Youngstown State
#230 - Brown
#235 - Eastern Michigan
#259 - Monmouth (Paradise Jam 1st round)
#261 - Colgate
#301 - Northern Illinois
#310 - LIU
#333 - North Florida
Average opponent RPI: 208
Median opponent RPI: 232
On the good news side, the median has gone up, meaning overall the range is better. The 250-300 range, which helped kill ND's SOS, has gone from four to two.
But the average is still horrendous. Three of the top four teams on the list -- Kansas State, Winthrop, and Wichita State -- achieved those rankings with coaches who are no longer there. The top-ranked team on the list, Georgia Tech, can only be an opponent if both they and Notre Dame win two games in the Bahamas. And there are now three 300+ ranked teams in there, two of which are ranked lower than anyone on ND's schedule last year.
To be fair, we're still waiting on two more games to be announced, and even though both are at home, there's the possibility there may be one quality opponent beginning a multi-year contract. But in order to improve this slate, both are going to have to be at least be in the top 125, maybe even the top 100.
Last season, Syracuse became the first 10-win Big East team to not make the NCAA tournament. One of the factors in that decision, according to the Committee members, was an un-challenging out-of-conference slate that included too many weak teams at home. ND seems hell-bent to put that theory to the test once again.
I've complained numerous times about the lack of fan support in the past couple of years, especially considering how exciting last year's team is. So I get incredibly frustrated when they trot out a slate like this one, replete with uninteresting matchups, because it kicks my argument right, as Cash would say, in the fruitstand.
It drives me crazy when I look at the RPI lists and I see traditional Irish opponents like Dayton at #75 and Loyola at #101, or other Catholic programs like Creighton at #20 and St. Louis at #74. Any of those schools would not only be a compelling game for the fans but also would give the Irish an RPI boost that would no doubt help them come tournament time. And God forbid we go on the road to play at least one of them, which would help even more.
If ND wins its first six games this season, they will set a new consecutive game win streak at the Joyce Center. That record will be a little asterisk-y if it's achieved against a slate of cupcakes whose RPI's sit on the wrong side of 250.