Big East schedule kind to USF hoops in '11
Each summer, the Big East releases its 18-game men's basketball schedule, and the newsiest part is each school learning who its "mirror" opponents will be -- the three schools they'll face both at home and on the road, adding a level of difficulty to separate one conference schedule from another.
Two years ago, USF got a raw deal from the league, with the toughest three mirror opponents (based on league standings) of any Big East team, despite tying for the league's worst record. Last year worked more in the Bulls' favor, and that's certainly true for 2011, as USF's mirror opponents -- DePaul, Pittsburgh and Providence -- give them the second-easiest schedule, despite finishing tied for ninth in the league standings.
Providence and DePaul finished 15th and 16th in the conference standings, giving the Bulls six league games against teams that finished in the bottom four. What's more, USF has traditionally been much more successful at home than on the road, and of the Bulls' nine toughest games (again, based on the 2010 standings), seven of them are in the Sun Dome.
It's another break for Stan Heath's program, with home games against seven of the top eight teams in the league -- Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame and Georgetown. That makes upsets more likely against those opponents, and along the same lines, with weaker opponents on the road, the Bulls are more likely to win their road games.
A few more notes on the league schedule and who benefits the most and least:
-- Connecticut and DePaul got a raw deal. You'd like to think the best teams get the toughest schedules and the worst teams the easiest, but that's rarely the case. The Huskies finished 12th in the standing (they'll surely do better in 2011) but got the third-toughest set of mirror opponents, facing Louisville, Marquette and Notre Dame. DePaul finished last in the league, but has the sixth-toughest schedule, facing third-seed West Virginia (!), USF and Cincinnati.
-- If you're wondering how the numbers shake out, here's how the schedules compare, giving each opponent a value based on their seed in the conference tournament. The higher your total for your three opponents, the easier your draw, based on the standings, anyway. Here's how they rank, from toughest to easiest, with the team's 2010 finish in parentheses.
1. Pittsburgh (2nd): 16 (WVa, Nova, USF)
2. Villanova (4th): 17 (Syr, Pitt, Rut)
3. Connecticut (12th): 18 (Marq, Lville, ND)
4. Seton Hall (10th): 20 (Syr, Marq, Rut)
5. Syracuse (1st): 22 (Nova, Gtown, SHall)
6. DePaul (16th): 23 (WVa, USF, Cincy)
7. West Virginia (3rd): 24 (Pitt, Lville, DeP)
8. Georgetown (8th): 25 (Syr, Cin, St.J)
9. St. John's (13th): 26 (ND, Gtown, Cincy)
10. Marquette (5th): 29 (ND, SHall, UConn)
10. Rutgers (14th): 29 (Nova, SHall, Prov)
10. Providence (15th): 29 (Lville, USF, Rut)
13. Louisville (6th): 30 (WVa, UConn, Prov)
13. Notre Dame (7th): 30 (Marq, UConn, St.J)
15. USF (9th): 33 (Pitt, Prov, DeP)
16. Cincinnati (11th): 37 (Gtown, St.J, DeP)
-- One caveat to keep in mind in all this -- we're judging the difficulty of a 2011 schedule using the 2010 standings. Obviously teams can move up or down a lot in one year. For instance, when we evaluated the mirror opponents last summer, USF's three -- Notre Dame, Cincinnati and Providence -- had combined for a league record of 26-28 in 2008-09. As it turns out, the three weren't nearly as good this past season, combining for a 21-33 record. USF went 3-3 in those games, sweeping Providence, splitting with Cincy and losing both games with Notre Dame.
With Providence as a mirror for USF this coming season, the Bulls benefit that much more from Friars star Jamine Peterson getting dismissed from Providence's basketball program.