How KU basketball won the scheduling game ... again
By Jesse Newell firstname.lastname@example.org
Kansas basketball released its nonconference schedule Friday, and it'll only be natural for fans to talk about three games in particular: the Champions Classic against Michigan State, a home contest against Villanova and a road matchup against Kentucky.
Those will be fun, and they'll likely dominate national sports coverage for the day. But they aren't the reason that KU once again was successful in its nonconference scheduling just like every other year.
The beauty, for the Jayhawks, once again lies in the other teams that round out the slate — ones that are good enough to provide a schedule boost while remaining bad enough to not pose a serious threat of actually winning.
This has been — and continues to be — KU's secret weapon when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding each year. The NCAA refuses to acknowledge that it can exist in a world without the RPI, so KU's schedule-maker Larry Keating continues to artificially boost the Jayhawks' résumé using completely legal methods.
KU's early schedule objective is the same every year: Load up on the good teams in bad conferences. Because half of the RPI formula is based on the win-loss record of your opponents, it pays to face teams early that will rack up wins late.
The Jayhawks have plenty of foes that fit the criteria. Vermont should be the pick to win the America East, while Wofford (Southern), South Dakota (Summit) and New Mexico State (WAC) are expected to be top-two teams in their respective leagues.
All four will play KU as major underdogs. According to early numbers from Bart Torvik, KU's expected win percentages in each of those games are 95 percent or above, meaning the risk of an upset is almost nil.
This small attention to detail has real consequences. It can be seen most clearly in another of Torvik's calculations, as his 2018-19 RPI forecast has KU at No. 1 ... with no other team particularly close.
This schedule should look good to the selection committee as well. The group doesn't exclusively use RPI anymore, but it does still employ that ranking to determine the numbers in its quadrant breakdown; each team's wins are broken into four quadrants, with the committee showing a tendency last year to overvalue Quadrant 1 and 2 wins.
(As a quick primer: Quadrant 1 wins are home victories against RPI teams 1-30, neutral-court wins against 1-50 and road victories over 1-75. Quadrant 2 covers home wins against RPI teams 31-75, neutral-court wins against 51-100 and road victories against 76-135.)
Each of the four potential wins mentioned above have a chance to end up in Quadrant 2, just like last year's home blowouts against South Dakota State (98-64) and Toledo (96-58). Those two results helped KU accumulate 21 combined Quadrant 1 and 2 wins in 2017-18; that was the most of any team in the nation, and certainly helped the Jayhawks' case as a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday.
The truth is this: Coach Bill Self probably doesn't need a seeding safety net this year. The Jayhawks appear to be loaded, and they're likely to be either No. 1 or No. 2 in the national preseason polls released in a few months.
KU isn't letting a potential hidden advantage go by, though. The Jayhawks not only filled out the top end of their nonconference schedule, but they also continued to smartly select the rest, choosing opponents that the RPI will love and the selection committee will at least recognize.
Maybe someday more schools will follow suit. Or maybe — hopefully — the NCAA will work to close this loophole.
Until then, expect KU and Keating to continue their RPI manipulation ... one hand-picked school at a time.
2018-19 KU nonconference schedule (home games in ALL CAPS)
Thursday, Oct. 25 — EMPORIA STATE (exhibition)
Thursday, Nov. 1 — WASHBURN (exhibition)
Tuesday, Nov. 6 — vs. Michigan State (Indianapolis, Champions Classic)
Monday, Nov. 12 — VERMONT (NIT home contest)
Friday, Nov. 16 — LOUISIANA (NIT home contest)
Wednesday, Nov. 21 — vs. TBD (Brooklyn, N.Y., NIT semifinals)
Friday, Nov. 23 — vs. TBD (Brooklyn, N.Y., NIT finals)
Saturday, Dec. 1 — STANFORD
Tuesday, Dec. 4 — WOFFORD
Saturday, Dec. 8 — vs. New Mexico State (Sprint Center)
Saturday, Dec. 15 — VILLANOVA
Tuesday, Dec. 18 — SOUTH DAKOTA
Saturday, Dec. 22 — at Arizona State
Saturday, Dec. 29 — EASTERN MICHIGAN
Saturday, Jan. 26 — at Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)