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What Will Vanderbilt's Non-Conference Schedule Look Like in 2016-17?

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If the Commodores are in the discussion for an NCAA Tournament bid, how Bryce Drew fills out the last few games on the schedule could make a big difference.

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Unlike in football, college basketball teams generally don't schedule non-conference games years in advance.  Frequently, they're put together on the fly, with home-and-homes scheduled the year before and guarantee games often scheduled over the summer.  Dates aren't always hammered out until later on.

So as of today, Vanderbilt's non-conference schedule for the 2016-17 season isn't completely set in stone.  A few things we do know:

  • The Commodores will play the Marquette Golden Eagles in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, MD to open the season.
  • Vanderbilt will also play in the Las Vegas Invitational in November.  The "finals" will be a four-team event in Las Vegas -- it's not necessarily clear from the article, but the other three teams in the final rounds will presumably be Arizona, Butler, and Santa Clara.  Vanderbilt will also get two home games against some combination of Northern Colorado, Bucknell, Norfolk State, and Sacred Heart.
  • The Commodores will play at Dayton in the return game of a home-and-home that started last year.
  • Vanderbilt will play at Middle Tennessee State in the first game of a so-called "2-for-1;" the two teams will then play at Memorial Gym in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • Vanderbilt is reportedly negotiating a home-and-home with Belmont.
  • Supposedly Vanderbilt cancelled its remaining games in the four-game series in Baylor.  Circumstances changed in that Baylor coach Scott Drew would now be coaching against his brother if that series continues.
  • Vanderbilt may be invited to participate in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge (because of an imbalance in the number of teams, four SEC teams won't be invited.)

Not counting the "four" games in the Las Vegas Invitational, which are exempt, Vanderbilt already has three games scheduled for next season's non-conference slate.  Assuming Vanderbilt is invited to the SEC/Big 12 Invitational and the deal with Belmont gets done, that's five.

That would leave four more games to be scheduled.  The games currently on the schedule practically ensure that Vanderbilt won't have an awful non-conference schedule, so it's likely that the remainder of the slate will be filled up with guarantee games at Memorial Gym.  How Bryce Drew approaches those four games, though, can make some difference.

The oft-criticized RPI can be worked.  The secret to working the RPI has to do with who you schedule for guarantee games -- scheduling the dregs of Division I, even if it's only one or two games, does damage to your strength of schedule in a way that scheduling teams in the 150-200 range doesn't, even if the latter aren't terribly likely to beat you if you have a good team.  What Drew should be looking for is teams in low-rated conferences that are likely to finish near the top of those leagues.  A team like Texas Southern isn't all that good, but the Tigers will rack up a bunch of wins against the SWAC and thus do less damage to the SOS than a team like Grambling (which generally finishes at the bottom of the SWAC) would do.

These considerations don't really matter if you have a team that's going to finish in the top 10 (in which case strength of schedule might make a slight difference in seeding, but that's it) or if you're not expecting to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid (in which case, who really cares if you pad your record against a crew of nobodies?)  But for a team that's probably going to be squarely on the bubble in February and March, putting together a good non-conference schedule can make all the difference in the world.