Did USF draw Big East's hardest schedule?
More on the Big East men's basketball home and away opponents for the 2008-09 season: The league's official release writes that the decisions on scheduling "mirror" opponents are "natural interest, geography, rivalries, television contractual obligations and competitive balance." The last factor doesn't seem to have come into place much in USF's case.
Despite tying for the worst conference record at 3-15 in 2008, the Bulls have arguably the toughest schedule in the league. If you look at the "mirror" games each team plays -- the three teams that a school plays home-and-away to reach an 18-game schedule -- no team has a tougher draw than the Bulls, who get extra games against second-place Louisville, fifth-place West Virginia and 12th-place DePaul.
If you assign a point value based on each team's place in the final '07-08 standings and add up the total for each school's three mirror opponents, you'll find that the five highest point totals -- the easiest schedules -- belong to teams who finished 10th or lower in the standings. It's only logical from a competitive standpoint to help the teams in the lower half of the standings with more games against each other, and from a TV perspective, you want the best teams against each other as often as possible. So similarly, of the six toughest schedules in the upcoming season, five of them belong to teams who finished seventh or higher in last year's standings. The exception? USF. Here's the totals, going from toughest to easiest, with each team's finish in last year's standings in parentheses.
1. USF (t-15th) -- 19 points
2. Connecticut (4th) -- 20 points
2. Notre Dame (t-2nd) -- 20 points
4. Marquette (t-5th) -- 21 points
4. Pittsburgh (7th) -- 21 points
6. Louisville (t-2nd) -- 22 points
7. Georgetown (1st) -- 23 points
7. St. John's (14th) -- 23 points
9. West Virginia (t-5th) -- 24 points
9. Syracuse (t-8th) -- 24 points
11. Villanova (t-8th) -- 25 points
12. Cincinnati (10th) -- 27 points
12. DePaul (t-12th) -- 27 points
14. Rutgers (t-15th) -- 31 points
15. Providence (t-12th) -- 33 points
15. Seton Hall (11th) -- 33 points
As Stan Heath said, it's a challenge to find a schedule that's fair for 16 teams, and the TV obligations to match up the elite teams only further complicate things. But if there's one team out of 16 whose schedule is wildly disproportionate to their place in the league standings, it's probably the Bulls. It's one more thing Heath and Co. will have to try to overcome next spring ...