Schedule strength matters as November gives way to December. Not all records are created equally as each program crafts a nonconference journey that meets not only competitive but financial needs in many cases.
Some programs, such as North Florida, are forced to hit the road in the first six weeks of the season. UNF has already traveled to UCLA, Texas Tech and Kentucky and struggled to a 1-7 start against a schedule ranked the fourth most difficult by KenPom metrics. Coppin State and other MEAC members are familiar with such a fate. Juan Dixon’s squad played 10 games in the first 19 days of the season, all but one at home, cashing guaranteed paychecks but racking up losses along the way. Hofstra’s 3-4 record may be misleading as well. Navigating the 14th most difficult schedule in Speedy Claxton’s first year as head man may not have produced the victories the Pride hopeful hoped for but those experiences against that level of competition will be helpful when CAA play arrives.
On the other end of the spectrum, Seattle’s 6-1 start looks good from afar but a closer look reveals not a single opponent rated inside the top 275 at KenPom.
In other words, don’t overreact if you’re a fan of a mid-major school. Not all losses are created equally. And some victories are more valuable than others. For most, if not all of the teams outside the top six or seven conferences, the end goal is to be prepared for those three or four days in March when the nets are clipped and automatic bids are awarded.
THE CORNER 3
1. Everyone remembers Dunk City, the high-flying surprise from the ocean shores of Florida to the Sweet 16 in 2013. Andy Enfield parlayed that run as coach at Florida Gulf Coast into the head job at Southern Cal and his replacement Joe Dooley kept the program rolling with five consecutive 20-win seasons and two NCAA tournament appearances from 2014-18 before moving on to East Carolina.
Michael Fly, an assistant to both coaches, took on the task of sustaining the success. After two rocky seasons restocking the roster, Florida Gulf Coast made progress in a COVID-19 abbreviated 2020-21, posting a 10-8 record.
Entering tonight’s intrastate battle with FIU, the Eagles are letting the 3-pointers fly and look prepared to be a problem for Atlantic Sun opponents this season. Nearly half of their shots have come from behind the 3-point line in a 6-2 start that includes a win over Atlantic 10 school Rhode Island. The only losses are to likely NCAA participants Loyola Chicago and USC.
2. A player you’ll want to watch: Ques Glover spent two seasons struggling to get off the bench at Florida and opted to enter the transfer portal last spring. He found a home in Samford, joining second-year coach Bucky McMillan’s up tempo attack and is thriving. Glover (pictured above) has three 20-point games in helping the Bulldogs to a 6-1 start that includes a road victory over Oregon State. The 6-foot, 180-pound guard is unafraid to take and make big shots late in games and is perfect from the free throw line against Divison I competition, hitting all 35 attempts.
He assisted on 42 percent of Samford’s field goals and recorded a 118.3 offensive rating while attempting nearly one-third of the team’s shots while in the game. Samford could be in the mix in the Southern Conference this season and Sunday’s home test vs. Belmont will be a good indicator.
3. Not many teams have been more entertaining than Charleston early this season. The Cougars are leading the nation in tempo under coach Pat Kelsey and their frenetic pace and freeflowing offense, producing success against a competitive schedule have made it clear they’re unlikely to finish in the bottom half of the CAA, as the preseason poll projected. The Cougars stormed back from a double-digit second half deficit to win at Southern preseason favorite Chattanooga last week and travel to face another Southern heavyweight, Furman, on Friday in a game likely to feature fast possessions and frequent 3-point attempts.