The 2009-10 Idaho Vandals men’s basketball schedule came under fire almost immediately after its release on Tuesday. Some fans have questioned the strength of the non-conference schedule, and in particular, the lack of a “marquee” home opponent.
Yesterday, we talked to coach Don Verlin about the teams the Vandals will be facing. In the second half of our interview, we asked Verlin why the Vandals’ slate isn’t chock-full of major-conference opponents — and in the process, found out much about his scheduling philosophy.
Vandal Nation: There’s been a fair bit of criticism of the schedule, much of it targeted at the lack of a perceived “marquee” opponent. Why isn’t there one?
Don Verlin: One of the things I’m working hard on is to schedule home-and-homes. You know, last year we played Gonzaga and Michigan State — those guys won’t come play here. Our fans will never see them. If you study college basketball, the home team wins about 80 percent of the games. I believe we need to have good, quality wins, and we’d love to play anybody in a neutral-court setting. But we’re not going to put our team at a disadvantage by doing two-for-ones or guarantee games.
But doesn’t it hurt the Vandals’ RPI, not to be playing more “power-conference” teams?
The RPI is based on the games you win. It helps a little bit when you play tough opponents and lose, but most of it is still calculated on wins. You don’t see teams get into the NCAA Tournament with at-large bids with fewer than 20 wins. With the games we play, the challenging regional matchups and teams like Utah and Washington State, I think we can have a real nice RPI.
So with the Vandals improving, fewer teams are interested in taking us on?
Right. Coaches aren’t stupid, for lack of a better term. They want to schedule games away from home they think they can win. If not, they want it on a neutral court or they want it at home. Last year when we scheduled, everyone wanted to play us. Now, nobody wants to play us. When you get better, even though it becomes a better RPI game for them, the other guys don’t look at it that way. They don’t want to lose. We’re all trying to schedule wins.
That’s one reason I’m really happy about the deal we have with Washington State to keep the rivalry going. We have a four-year agreement with them to play home-and-home, and that’s great on their part.
But we’re not the only school that has to deal with these problems. We have to do a better job of getting our schedule balanced. If you’re going to compete at the top of this conference, you have to look at the teams that are at the top. They’ve got schedules with 8 games at home, 6 on the road — and that’s where we need to be.
From what you’re telling me, scheduling is a challenge for mid-majors, particularly those in smaller markets?
It’s hard. It’s really hard. We’ve been working on our schedule since last year, and we just got it finished this week.
There’s a number of ways to get your schedule to where you have more home games than road games. Some of the bigger schools in our league, they can afford to buy games. We’re not in that situation with our program. In fact, we’re in a situation where the last few years we had to play guarantee games to make the finances work. We’re not going to be doing that anymore. That’s something I was adamant about.
We’ve had a number of conversations with teams, where you think you’re getting close to someone committing to signing a contract and boom, they’re gone the next day. That’s what happens with scheduling today — it’s become a game in and of itself.
If you ask me, what are the three most important things to running a college basketball program, I’d put scheduling as number two. Recruiting first, scheduling second, coaching third.
The Utah game, is that part of a multi-game deal?
No, that’s just one game down there. Utah was entertaining the idea of a two-for-one but I don’t think that’s a great deal. We hope to get away from guarantees and 2-for-1s entirely after this year.
What’s the impact of not being able to play in the Spectrum until December?
Not as much as you would think, because it’s early in the year — but it would help us to have a dedicated facility. The way it is now, we do have to juggle some of our dates, that we wouldn’t have to do if we had our own place to play.