The Washington Times - August 12, 2011, 08:00AM

One of the topics new George Washington athletic director Patrick Nero spoke about extensively during an interview this week was basketball scheduling.

It was mentioned extensively in this morning’s dead-tree edition story, but warrants a follow-up here.

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The Colonials’ nonconference schedule in recent years has, to put it mildly, not been the most fan-friendly. Just once in the last six years did GW rank in the top 150 in nonconference schedule strength.

Here’s guessing that will change in 2011-12.

The Colonials have yet to release their schedule, but enough other schools have done so to piece together a decent picture of what the first half or so of Mike Lonergan’s first season will look like. (And credit to GWHoops.com for filling in a blank for me on the series with Bradley I didn’t notice when it was announced in early June).

And sizing this up, there won’t be much reason to fret about the Colonials’ schedule strength:

DateOpponent2010-11 RPI   
Nov. 13
at California
76
Dec. 1
at Kansas State   
23
Dec. 4
vs. VCU
49
Dec. 10   
at Syracuse
18
Dec. 15
Bradley233
Dec. 28
UAB31
Jan. 14
at Harvard
35
TBAJames Madison
88
TBALoyola179

 

That’s seven top-100 teams out of nine games. One of the other games is Loyola, a capable regional foe that returns an experienced team. And while Bradley struggled last year, it ranked in the top 105 of the RPI (per collegerpi.com) in each of the previous five years.

The Colonials will have three more games scheduled for them in the CBE Classic (which the California game is a part of). That leaves up to three more games for this season.

(The math on that: Teams are permitted 27 games plus one exempt event. GW’s exempt event is four games, for a 31-game max. Take out 16 Atlantic 10 contests, and the Colonials can play as many as 15 nonconference games this year).

Nero, a former conference commissioner (America East), offered a wise approach to nonconference schedule that so often eludes coaches fixated on simply collecting victories. It didn’t fit into the dead-tree story, but it also is worth including in its entirety here to demonstrate the scope of the insight.

“What we have to be careful with the schedule – coaches and everyone else – you want to have a certain percentage of the games that you feel like going in you’re going to have a good opportunity to win,” Nero said. “But at the same time, in watching the RPI, if you’re good enough to be in the NCAA tournament, you should be able to beat someone in that 150 to 200 RPI [range] versus playing somebody with a 300 to 350 RPI.

“I think you really want to be careful not to go too low, too down to get yourself what you consider an automatic win. You’re better off playing someone who might be a tougher game and a tougher chance of winning versus playing someone where a win is only going to hurt you from an RPI gain.”

Someone who talks like this is clearly thinking about at-large NCAA tournament berths in the long term. The Atlantic 10 has a history of carving out postseason space for itself (four straight three-bid years), so a third- or fourth-place team in the conference with a decent nonconference profile will often have a serious shot at an NCAA invitation.

That’s not to say it will happen next season for George Washington. But there’s already a philosophy in place to avoid, say, having a 26-2 team earn a No. 8 seed because it only scheduled two top-200 opponents in nonconference play, and that’s an important step.

Patrick Stevens