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Breaking down the Big East slate 07/04/2009

Posted by Brian in Big East Report.
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The Big East Conference released its home and away matchups, as well as repeat opponents this past Thursday. You can access the entire list here.

The Big East plays an 18 game schedule with each of the 16 teams playing 12 teams once and the three others twice. With such a large conference it’s basically impossible to balance the schedule. Still, the league does its best and as you’ll see in the repeat opponents analysis the teams projected towards the top of the standings received more difficult repeat games. However, that same standard doesn’t apply to the schedule overall as there are a few surprises in the schedule (starting with the team with the most difficult schedule overall).

Also of interest to Big East fans may be this article in the Charleston (WV) Daily Mail regarding possible changes to the format of the Big East Tournament, scheduled from March 9-March 13, 2010 for the 28th consecutive time at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Let’s get to the schedule analysis…

Toughest overall schedule: South Florida Bulls (9-22 (4-14) last year)

Poor Stan Heath, this one is a real surprise and head scratcher. South Florida finished in 14th place last season and is projected yet again to be near the bottom of the league standings in 2009-2010. The matchups are supposed to favor the teams who didn’t fair so well in the prior season and this definitely goes against that precedent. The Bulls drew a very difficult home slate with six of their nine opponents being teams who should finish in or contend for the top half of the league standings. The other three (Rutgers, St. John’s, and Providence) won’t be pushovers either. Rutgers and St. John’s figure to be improved from last year while Providence, despite being hit hard by graduation, still returns Sharaud Curry, Marshon Brooks, and Brian McKenzie. It will not be an easy time in Tampa this winter, but a tough home slate does provide USF with an opportunity to score a few upsets and create some havoc in the standings. The road will be brutal for Heath’s team as there is only one, maybe two possible wins on the slate away from the Sun Dome. This schedule is a really bad break for a team struggling to find its way in the mega-conference.

Easiest overall schedule: Marquette Golden Eagles (25-10 (12-6) last year)

Marquette is another team hit hard by graduation but Buzz Williams really lucked out here. While no game in the Big East is “easy,” the Golden Eagles will have many good opportunities to win some more games than many will predict them to. The Bradley Center is always a tough environment for any visiting team with thousands of loud and loyal MU fans clad in gold in attendance each game. Coach Williams brought in a very solid recruiting class and they can surprise if the talent comes together quicker than they expect. Marquette will have a very young team but they also have good potential. Marquette gets two bottom feeders in South Florida and DePaul at home in addition to Rutgers and Providence, two teams who do not figure to contend for a top half finish. Also making the trek to Milwaukee will be a somewhat down Pittsburgh squad. Marquette’s toughest home game will be Villanova, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Buzz’s team score an upset or two against the other three teams on the home slate (Georgetown, Louisville, and Notre Dame). The Bradley Center may be the saving grace for Marquette this year as the road schedule is not easy, especially with as young of a team as they’ll have this year. Despite having the easiest schedule overall according to Rise And Fire’s system, MU tied three other teams for the second most difficult road schedule. Marquette will face what figure to be the top two teams on the road (West Virginia and Villanova), as well as much improved Seton Hall and Cincinnati. Traditional Big East powers such as Connecticut, Georgetown, and Syracuse also await Marquette away from the Bradley Center. Marquette will really have to take advantage of a soft home schedule in order to stay in the middle of the pack.

Toughest home schedule: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-21 (2-16) last year)

Rutgers should be improved somewhat this year but that all depends on the questionable coaching of Fred Hill Jr. The fourth year head coach has not had an easy go of it in Piscataway and is rumored to be on the hot seat with an extremely poor record in three seasons and a change at the top of the Rutgers athletic department. For the few fans who have showed up at the Louis Brown Athletic Center (a.k.a. The RAC), over the last couple years, this year’s home slate features many quality teams so at least they will get their money’s worth even if RU doesn’t win many games. Connecticut, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown lead the charge into the RAC as well as upstart Cincinnati. Additionally, the heated rivalry with fellow New Jersey school and improved Seton Hall should have the RAC jumping over the winter. In the past the Scarlet Knights have pulled some huge upsets at home even when they were in the midst of a bad year. If the crowd gets going, the RAC is one of the tougher arenas for an opponent in the entire country. The fans seem like they are on top of the court, the temperature literally rises into the 80s in a building without air conditioning, and the RU fans can be pretty nasty to opposing teams. If attendance increases it will be a fun winter at Rutgers whether the Scarlet Knights win or lose.

Easiest home schedule: Marquette Golden Eagles (25-10 (12-6) last year

See above.

Toughest road schedule: DePaul Blue Demons (9-24 (0-18) last year

Talk about cruel. As if the road in college basketball wasn’t difficult enough already, the Big East schedule makers threw the hammer down on an already sinking DePaul program, although as you’ll see later they did give the Blue Demons a break when it comes to repeat opponents. While I don’t think DePaul will go winless overall yet again, I will be surprised if they win one game away from Chicago. This absolutely brutal road slate includes games at former Conference USA brother Cincinnati, traditional Big East powers Connecticut, Pittsburgh, and Villanova, and three visits to each of the New York area teams. DePaul figures to be the worst team in the league yet again and the road schedule won’t help them one bit. One road win will be an achievement for DePaul and that doesn’t bode well for Jerry Wainwright’s job status.

Easiest road schedule: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-21 (2-16) last year)

So DePaul finishes last and gets the toughest road schedule the following year, yet Rutgers finishes only one spot ahead of them and gets the easiest. That makes sense, right? Not quite. Anyway, we have already discussed Rutgers’ tough home slate so the good news for RU fans is that the road schedule, although never easy in this conference, is a bit of a reprieve. Playing at Georgetown, Louisville, Seton Hall, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia certainly will not be easy, but RU gets winnable road games at Marquette, Providence, USF, and DePaul which separates them from the rest of the Big East pack when it comes to the difficulty of the road schedule. Getting two would be great and three would be a huge success. Stealing one of the tougher games could also push Rutgers up to 10th place or so depending how they do against the previously discussed home schedule. Fred Hill’s job just might depend on it.

Toughest repeat opponents: West Virginia Mountaineers (23-12 (10-8) last year

Bob Huggins’ team will be projected to finish at or near the top of the Big East this season. It looks like the Big East schedule makers also agree as Huggy Bear’s team has the three most difficult repeat opponents in rival Pittsburgh, fellow front runner Villanova, and sleeper Seton Hall. As I’ll explain later in the final comments on the Big East schedule, it appears the repeat opponent matchups come real close to matching most predictions about the Big East standings this coming season. The better teams seem to have a harder draw while the weaker teams look to be getting off fairly easy. For West Virginia, the Pittsburgh games will be all out wars while the matchups with Villanova figure to pit the two best teams against each other, similar to Pittsburgh and Connecticut last year. The games with Seton Hall also should be intriguing as Bobby Gonzalez’s team could be a contender for a top five finish in the league or fall flat on its face depending on their defensive effort and if the chemistry comes together as well as they hope. West Virginia received the second toughest home slate according to our system as well. With a strong home court advantage however, the Mountaineers should navigate those games fairly well and provide for some juicy television matchups along the way. WVU got lucky with its road schedule as they tied for 14th in our rating system.

Easiest repeat opponents: DePaul Blue Demons (9-24 (0-18) last year)

Finally, the aforementioned break for Jerry Wainwright. DePaul plays Rutgers, Marquette, and St. John’s twice. While not exactly easy in reality, it is the softest repeat schedule of all the Big East teams. DePaul has the potential to beat all three at home, while stealing one on the road will be very difficult as mentioned previously. Marquette and Rutgers are always tough at home, while St. John’s will more than likely play this game on campus at Carnesecca Arena in front of a louder and more intimate crowd. The Johnnies also figure to be improved as they get Anthony Mason Jr back from a season ending injury last year via a medical redshirt and return most of the team. For DePaul to win three or four games in the league, they’ll probably need to get at least one and probably two wins from these six repeat games.

Final notes

Some other interesting findings from our schedule analysis include:

–What figures to be a down (by their standards) Pittsburgh team received the second toughest overall schedule.

–Notre Dame has the second easiest overall schedule and the third easiest home schedule at what is always a tough place to play, giving the Irish a real good shot to finish in the top five. The road schedule isn’t bad and could be much worse as that checks in tied for the 6th most difficult.

–The schedule was made before Lance Stephenson committed to Cincinnati (T-10th most difficult overall) giving the Bearcats a real chance to make a lot happen at home (T-13th easiest schedule), and impress the NCAA Selection Committee with quality wins away from Fifth Third Arena (T-2nd toughest road schedule).

–Rutgers extremely difficult home schedule gives them an overall rating of T-3rd most difficult.

–Syracuse and Seton Hall both tied for the 10th most difficult schedule giving each a good opportunity to contend for a top five league finish. Syracuse loses a lot but has a Hall of Fame coach and the Carrier Dome to help itself out. Seton Hall receives a strong infusion of talent and could have a lineup that is 10-deep. The Pirates will look to take advantage of an average schedule and have a breakout year, although going to St. John’s for the third consecutive year can’t make Bobby Gonzalez happy given his past criticism of the Red Storm’s on-campus facility.

–Villanova shouldn’t have too difficult a time at home whether it’s at the Wachovia Center or on campus at the Pavilion. The Wildcats got the 5th easiest home schedule, not something you’d expect for a team that is projected among the top two.

–Louisville will look to take advantage of 4th easiest road schedule while having the strong advantage of home games at Freedom Hall as well.

–The repeat opponents strength of schedule seems to stack up pretty well with most Big East preseason projections. Here’s how Rise And Fire’s system rated the repeat schedules, toughest to easiest:

1. West Virginia
2. Connecticut
T-3. Villanova
T-3. Pittsburgh
T-5. Georgetown
T-5. Louisville
7. Seton Hall
T-8. Cincinnati
T-8. Syracuse
T-8. South Florida
11. Notre Dame
T-12. St. John’s
T-12. Rutgers
14. Marquette
T-15. Providence
T-15. DePaul

Aside from South Florida being way too high and Notre Dame being low, you can’t really argue with that. The Big East did a nice job in scheduling the repeat opponents, although giving South Florida the hardest schedule doesn’t make any sense at all.

The Big Winner: Notre Dame
The Hard Luck Loser: South Florida

Rating system explanation:

Rise And Fire assigned points to each team (1-10) for playing that team at home and away with 1 being the easiest and 10 being the most difficult. The team with the highest point total was judged to have the most difficult schedule as a result. Teams were rated a minimum of two points higher than their home rating for being played on the road. Here is how Rise And Fire rated all 16 Big East teams:

Team ( home rating, road rating )

Cincinnati ( 5, 7 )
Connecticut ( 6, 8 )
DePaul ( 1, 3 )
Georgetown ( 5, 7 )
Louisville ( 5, 8 )
Marquette ( 3, 5 )
Notre Dame ( 5, 8 )
Pittsburgh ( 4, 7 )
Providence ( 2, 4 )
Rutgers ( 2, 4 )
St. John’s ( 3, 5 )
Seton Hall ( 5, 7 )
South Florida ( 1, 3 )
Syracuse ( 5, 7 )
Villanova ( 7, 9 )
West Virginia ( 7, 9 )



1. Zach - 07/04/2009

Nice rundown, Brian. I like how they balanced out Rutgers with the easiest road/toughest home. The conference will be down but it’s still my 2nd favorite. Can’t wait for Big Monday!

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