Did you know that the Northeast Conference gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament this year? It's true! That league has teams and everything. It's pretty neat. One of those teams is Bryant, a school you've probably heard of but ignored because Rhode Island is a weird place that people hear about things happening but question their actual existence. Don't feel bad. It's Rhode Island's cross to bear.
The Bulldogs are coming off their third season of double-digit wins since 2009, its first in Division I under Mike Pressler. Bryant appeared to have somewhat permeated the national consciousness a bit in 2012, finding residence in the top-20 at various points of the season last year while putting together a run at the NEC Tournament championship. The Bulldogs won't have a lot of competition in its league in 2013, but this may not hold the Bulldogs back from making a splash: The non-conference schedule for Bryant is fairly decent and features some juicy names. Bryant isn't quite ready for at-large consideration (unless something remarkable happens in Smithfield in 2013), but there's enough balance in the schedule where the Bulldogs can still stay relevant. Let's pick this apart.
It's Who You Know
February 9: Colgate; February 16: Fairfield; February 23: @ Bucknell; March 9: @ Drexel; March 19: @ Harvard; April 23: Brown
This is where Bryant can make some bones in the spring. Playing solid teams from power conferences, the Bulldogs have an opportunity to grab valuable wins -- wins that carry silly RPI points and the such -- that will raise the profile of the program. Outside of the Colgate game there are no other schools in the national elite on the Bulldogs' schedule (there's a reason for that: avoiding a no win situation for the upper crust), but there are a lot of next level teams dotting the schedule that are nice markers for where Bryant is as a program and where they can go. These are important games for Bryant -- and for Bryant's opponents -- and if the Bulldogs can win more and more of these type of games (against similarly situated teams last season Bryant went 2-3 (Colgate, Fairfield, Drexel, Brown, and Yale)) the more deference they'll earn in the long run.
Don't Undo the Work
March 2: @ Vermont; March 16: Albany; March 23: @ Stony Brook; March 26: Providence
There's a lot of chatter that Bryant could be the next big thing once Mike Pressler breaks the program through to the NCAA Tournament. That story is obviously unwritten (and we're still early into the prologue if that's the case), but if the Bulldogs want to walk down that path, they can't retrace their steps. Taking care of business against competitively equal schools -- and those lower on the ladder -- ensures hierarchical stability. These are all regional peers, and if Bryant hopes to establish itself above their level, they need to keeping winning these games. These games don't glitter on the schedule, but they are probably the most important for a program like the Bulldogs.
Don't Cock It Up
March 30: Quinnipiac; April 6: Robert Morris; April 9: Holy Cross; April 13: @ Wagner; April 20: @ Mount St. Mary's; April 27: Sacred Heart
Look: Outside of Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary's, there's nothing in the NEC that should touch Bryant this season. Quinnipiac is still very young, Holy Cross is still trying to figure itself out under Jim Morrissey, Wagner is Wagner, and Sacred Heart isn't exactly blood-chilling. Bryant needs to keep its focus and not ruin things for itself, which can be an easy thing to do when you're staring at a conference slate of lames and only two teams that makes your skin itch. Take care of business through this piece of the schedule and the reward is clear: the NCAA Tournament and a shot at making further history.