- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

Karl Hobbs’ scheduling strategy is not a complicated one.

The George Washington basketball coach does not worry about the Ratings Percentage Index. He is not concerned about maximizing his strength of schedule to have a greater chance of reaching the NCAA tournament. The 12th-ranked Colonials’ nonconference slate is about piling up victories and playing at home.

“I want wins,” Hobbs said. “I have never really believed in the RPI. After last year I became even more disenchanted with it. The ‘experts’ said we wouldn’t have made the NCAA tournament if we had not won the [Atlantic 10] championship.”

Just as the Harlem Globetrotters had their Washington Generals, the Colonials regularly have an opponent they are expected to knock off. Tomorrow night they will take a step away from the parade of patsies when they visit 19th-ranked N.C. State. The Wolfpack are the only team on GW’s schedule that participated in last season’s NCAA tournament.

The average RPI of GW’s 11 nonconference opponents is 184, based on last season’s final rankings on rpiratings.com — and that does not include Division I first-year program Kennesaw State. That average does factor in Norfolk State, St. Francis (Pa.), Florida International, Morgan State, Maryland-Eastern Shore and Stony Brook.

Things rarely have looked brighter for GW. The Colonials boast a win over No.16 Maryland and are enjoying their highest ranking since 1956. They have a schedule that would seem to guarantee plenty of wins. But in college basketball, a schedule that promises too many victories can be a team’s downfall.

GW does not face a team from last season’s top-50 RPI and only three — N.C. State, Maryland and Boston University — who finished in the top 100. No other nonconference foe finished in the top half of the-then 329 Division I programs.

It is clearly one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the country for a team with NCAA tournament aspirations, and the slate could have GW fined by its own league for its lack of quality competition.

“We have a nonconference scheduling policy, ” Atlantic 10 commissioner Linda Bruno said. “People can follow it or not. They have that choice. Then it is up to the NCAA Committee. You really want to play your way into the tournament and not let the committee make a tough decision.”

Programs that do not meet the minimum requirement, graded on an RPI-based formula, are subject to a financial penalty. Bruno said she did not know whether GW will meet the requirement. Teams are reviewed before and after the season in case a strength of schedule changes like, “If Kennesaw State for some reason moved up the ladder, GW would get credit for that,” Bruno said.

Last season, the Colonials took on Maryland and Michigan State in the BB&T; Classic and had nonconference games at then-No. 2 Wake Forest and West Virginia, which eventually reached the Elite Eight. GW went into the A-10 tournament with a 19-7 record, but a 63 RPI meant it almost surely would not have received an NCAA at-large bid.

“We beat Maryland and Michigan State, which I believe was ranked No.11 [actually 9th] at the time and went on to the Final Four, “Hobbs said. “We played against a difficult nonconference schedule, and what did it get us? We would have been in the NIT.”

In their most recent game this season, the Colonials improved to 8-0 by pounding hapless Maryland-Eastern Shore 98-72. GW has won its games by an average of 21.5 points. However, its RPI as of yesterday was 69th, according to collegerpi.com, with a strength of schedule ranked 299th out of 333 Division I programs. Seven of GW’s 11 nonconference games are at Smith Center, three are away games and the Maryland game was at MCI Center.

“We owe it to our students to play as many home games as we can,” Hobbs told the crowd after a win over Florida International. However, crowds have not turned out well for the no-name schedule. The Colonials’ average attendance has been 2,786 — a little more than half the 5,000-seat capacity — with only Boston University drawing more than 3,000.

The scheduling may result in a suspect RPI, meaning the NCAA Committee could give GW a low seed or not select them at all — if the Colonials don’t have a gaudy record or repeat as A-10 tournament champions.

“I think that team is putting a lot of pressure on itself to win the conference tournament,” said Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin, a former NCAA tournament selection committee member. “You really have to consider the level of play in your conference and schedule accordingly.”

A GW-type schedule can work for teams in highly rated conferences like the ACC and Big East, where multiple teams reach NCAA tournaments. Those teams know their league schedules will bring up their RPIs. However, in mid-major conferences like the A-10, the lack of strong competition on a nightly basis can hurt an team’s RPI and dash NCAA hopes.

Last season the A-10 was rated 16th out of 32 Division I conferences, behind the Sun Belt, Colonial Athletic Association and America East. Wins over low-rated members like St. Bonaventure and Duquesne did not help GW’s cause.

The A-10, which has placed at least two teams in the NCAA field 13 of the last 15 seasons, hopes 2004-05 was an anomaly. Improvements at Xavier, St. Joseph’s and Temple and the addition of Charlotte should boost the league’s overall rating. Four teams made the 2004 tournament, with Xavier and St. Joe’s reaching the Elite Eight.

But even a better league probably won’t be enough to carry GW into the NCAAs, unless its win total approaches 25.

Hobbs said he has tried to set up games with higher-ranked teams and that scheduling is the hardest part of his job. He refuses to go on the road to play “guarantee” games, where bigger programs pay smaller ones as much as $60,000 for a team to come in for one game. The coach said it is hard to schedule major conference teams because GW won’t travel to big-time programs if it doesn’t get a home game in return.

“We will play anybody, but they have to come here as part of the deal,” Hobbs said.

The Colonials pay several opponents to play in Foggy Bottom. Still, it is unclear why they don’t play regional mid-majors like Old Dominion or George Mason or teams in leagues comparable to the A-10 such as the Missouri Valley Conference.

Said Creighton coach Dana Altman, whose Missouri Valley team won at George Mason earlier this season: “We want our nonconference opponents to be just as good as in our conference. We want the atmospheres to be just as good. Year in and year out we know to challenge and have any chance of an at-large bid we have to challenge ourselves in the nonconference.”

This season Creighton plays host to Dayton, Nebraska and Xavier and visit George Mason and DePaul. The Bluejays have two guarantee games in their nine-game nonconference slate, then try to get the best teams available to play home-and-home series.

“We call all the Big 10 and Big 12 teams,” said Altman, who has taken the Omaha, Neb., program to the NCAA tournament six of the last seven seasons. “We have to get some name programs for our fans to get excited about.”

The opposite scheduling of GW’s is that of A-10 rival Temple, which faces UCLA, Rutgers, Miami, Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina and Villanova in addition to common opponent Maryland. Owls coach John Chaney knows that lineup might keep the Owls from winning enough games to make the NCAA tournament.

“I am not interested in buying wins,” said Chaney, referring to guarantee games. “Everyone is serving a different master now. I think the threat of losing your job has a lot to do with it. Money has a lot to do with it. Getting to the tournament has a lot to do with it. And you lose your job if don’t win. Some of the ethics, in my opinion, are not there.”

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