by JAMES WILHELMI
Winning… as easy as 1, 2, 3
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the head coach of the men’s basketball team, Dave “Augie” Vander Meulen, taught a terrific and informative coaching class. It's been many years since I sat in that classroom, but I will never forget one of the first things the two-time NCAA Division III national championship coach explained to us...
Winning comes down to three things, in this order:
1) Recruiting: It’s about the Jimmys and Joes, not the X’s and O’s.
2) Scheduling: You can schedule yourself into a bad season, even if you have solid players.
3) Your schemes: X’s and O’s do matter, but the first two must be in line.
My experiences over more than 25 years as a coach at every level of the NCAA, as well as coaching junior college and high school basketball, have all validated his words of wisdom.
When you're a young coach just starting out, you think you can come up with these amazing plays or defenses that nobody has seen before, but the bottom line is you must have "Dudes," to borrow from Kansas State’s Jerome Tang.
You also need to make sure you don't overwhelm or exhaust those dudes with a schedule that overwhelms them. The part Vander Meulen didn't talk about was the business side of making that schedule on the Division 1 level.
Sometimes, you have to take a game or two where the odds of winning are low, but the paycheck is HIGH. Sometimes, you need a couple of money games, so you can have some of the bells and whistles the big boys have.
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240.
Recently, I had a conversation with a head coach of a reputable Mid-Major Division 1 program who was grappling with the challenges of scheduling in the era of the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).
The NET is used by the NCAA to evaluate teams based on five key factors:
1) Team Value Index
2) Net Efficiency
3) Winning Percentage
4) Adjusted Win Percentage
5) Scoring Margin.
It's impossible to get a read on how these categories are weighted, but the NET has become a major determining factor on who gets at-large bids to the NCAA tournament and who gets seeded highest.
The coach I spoke with excels in recruiting and teaching a sound basketball system, especially for a "Mid Major" program.
Mid Majors must find a way to schedule games vs other Mid Major programs that are above and below them in the NET. Accomplishing that has not been the problem.
The major issue for many Mid Major programs is that they must find a way to supplement their budgets through "guarantee games" versus "Power 6" conference teams.
Recruiting is so competitive, and they must find a way to get the resources for the extras in their respective programs. If they want to take a foreign trip, a chartered flight, or enjoy nicer accommodations during travel, they need to raise the funds. The most efficient way to get this done is through scheduling games with big paychecks attached to them.
Recently, I took a glance at the scheduling message board located on the Basketball Travelers website. For years, this site has been used as a sort of "matchmaker" site for teams trying to complete their schedule. There were several posts made by Power 6 conference teams saying that they are "buying a game" and need a team that has a NET of around 200 or higher.
Nobody wants to take a chance anymore. They simply won't pay a team that is capable of winning on the road and falls in the NET rankings in the 76-160 range.
Every Selection Sunday, the "team sheet" is mentioned for various teams that are on the bubble. Often times, their "worst loss" is cited and a Quad 3 loss (76-160) can be the thing that kills their chances of being a part of March Madness.
They are much better off playing a Quad 4 level team that has a much lower probability of beating them and a much higher probability of helping the team inflate their NET efficiency (offensive and defensive efficiencies) and increase their Scoring Margin, which are two of five things weighed in the overall NET ranking.
When you are a Quad 3 team, the scheduling phone calls are filled with conflicts. On one call, the other end will say, "No, you guys are too good." On another call, it'll be "No, you guys are not good enough."
Either way, like in the movie Jerry McGuire, the guy doing the scheduling is begging for someone to "Show Me the Money." Unfortunately, for the teams within that ‘not so sweet spot,’ there is just little to no incentive for the big boys to give them that money.