Denver's Strength of Schedule Issue

Drew Hallowell

The Pioneers have a ridiculous strength of schedule problem.

There has been a lot of chatter recently about Denver's strength of schedule. This is important for the Pios in two contexts:

  • Denver's strength of schedule will impact the team's seeding in the NCAA Tournament should the pioneers progress to a May adventure either as an at-large selection to the field or as the Big East's representative.
  • Denver's strength of schedule will impact the team's potential inclusion in the NCAA Tournament should the Pioneers fail to earn the Big East's automatic invitation to The Big Barbecue.

Much of the discussion around Denver's schedule turns on how the stupid RPI views the Pios' slate of opponents -- stupidly. As of today, Denver's RPI strength of schedule -- weighted as the selection committee will view it -- ranks 28th nationally, notably distant from the top 10 and likely not to improve much over the rest of the season given the Pioneers' remaining list of actual and potential opponents. That implies that Denver really hasn't played anybody especially difficult in 2014; in fact, there's a better-than-average chance that the selection committee will jump to that conclusion immediately after seeing Denver's rank in the metric on its nitty-gritty report. However, if the selection committee wasn't beholden to what the stupid RPI promotes as Denver's strength of schedule, the committee would see something drastically different: The Pioneers -- in a reality where performance on the field matters more than anything -- have actually played one of the nation's hardest slates up to this point.

Here's the truth about Denver's schedule: It has been top 10 quality. Every measure that uses a modicum of decent math reflects that fact. The only outlier is the RPI, and because the NCAA is stupid and still relies on the stupid RPI to give reasonably intelligent people stupid information as the basis for making the entirety of their decisions, Denver may potentially suffer from its effects. Here's a table that shows the divergence of the RPI from, well, everything that isn't totally stupid:

DENVER'S STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
RATING RANK VALUE
Pythagorean Win Expectation 9 57.33%
LaxPower 10 94.77
KRACH 10 672.34
Massey 11 10.12
RPI 28 0.5804

This is ridiculous and it tarnishes the campaign that Denver has put together. To wit:

  • Only six teams -- Drexel, Duke, Michigan, North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia -- have faced a schedule that has featured more teams expected to win greater than 50 percent of their games compared to Denver's slate. Those six teams have each faced nine opponents expected to win greater than 50 percent of their games; Denver has faced eight.
  • Only 10 teams -- Pennsylvania, Syracuse, Drexel, North Carolina, Penn State, Notre Dame, Yale, Duke, Michigan, and Virginia -- have had a higher percentage of their games come against teams expected to win greater than 50 percent of their games compared to Denver's 66.67 percent mark. Two-thirds of the Pios' schedule has come against teams expected to win more than they lose.
  • Only six teams -- Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Johns Hopkins -- have played more teams expected to win at least 60 percent of their games compared to Denver. The Pios have faced six; Duke tops the list at nine.
  • Half of Denver's schedule has come against competition expected to win at least 60 percent of their games. Only 11 teams have a more egregious mark than the Pioneers.

And yet, despite all of this, the RPI believes that Denver has played a schedule that is only the 28th best in the nation. That's stupid.

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