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- The Elmira Star Gazette writes:
For Cornell and Binghamton U., putting together a basketball schedule involves many moving parts
While large programs such as Syracuse University or the University of Michigan can practically pick anybody in the country who they want to play, the task of constructing a Division I basketball nonconference schedule as a mid-major program takes a lot more than people realize.
Two coaches who know the pains that go into building a schedule are Binghamton University’s Tommy Dempsey and Cornell University’s Bill Courtney. For them, the nonconference schedule requires planning, collaboration, and relationship-building.
And for programs such as the Bearcats and Big Red, the nonconference schedule is not a group of games to get ready for conference place. It plays a role in fundraising, recruiting and cultivating a fanbase.
“The first thing I think about is what can we handle, and that changes year-to-year,” said Dempsey, about to begin his second season at Binghamton. “If you have some of your more veteran teams that you know are going to play at the top of your league, you’re more likely to take some chances in the nonleague.”
With a young team or a program in rebuilding mode, a coach may be more conservative, knowing he needs to massage the players’ confidence. However, with a team expected to contend, coaches will turn their attention to the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of potential opponents and schedule strength, factors that may help a team if they are ‘on the bubble’ for postseason play.
Cornell and Binghamton both play a regional slate that include games against schools with similar profiles such as Colgate University (Patriot League), Loyola University (Patriot League), and Saint Peter’s University (Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference).
Dempsey makes no secret that he likes to pick nonconference games that can provide storylines.
Monmouth coach King Rice is a local legend in Binghamton, so Dempsey said he plans to make that an annual game; the Hawks visited the Events Center last season, and Binghamton travels to Monmouth on Dec. 14.
Former Duke star Bobby Hurley begins his first season as a college head coach at another SUNY system school, the University of Buffalo; Dempsey put him on the schedule this season with the Bearcats traveling there on Dec. 23.
“I like the nonleague games to have juice in some way,” Dempsey said.
Playing the big boys
Courtney admits nonconference scheduling often comes down to dollars and cents.
“The first thing for us — and many different schools at our level — is we have a certain number from a financial standpoint that you need to raise,” Courtney said.
Taking two or three guarantee games per season is a must for Cornell, and Courtney said if he is going to play guarantee games, he wants to play the top programs in the nation.
Last season, Cornell played the University of Wisconsin (Big 10 Conference), Arizona State University (Pac 12), Vanderbilt University (Southeastern Conference) and Duke University (Atlantic Coast Conference).
This season, the Big Red will play at Syracuse University in their season opener Nov. 8, at defending national champion University of Louisville on Nov. 15 and at the University of Notre Dame on Dec. 1.
“My whole thing on those games — we played Duke, Vanderbilt, Arizona State — is our kids get up for those games,” Courtney said. “I think it helps in recruiting for kids to know you’re going to play the best teams in the country.”
Teams from major conferences can afford to offer mid-major programs large sums of money to entice them to play a road game without a return date. Binghamton received $80,000 for playing at the University of Missouri during the 2011-12 season; they played at Michigan last season and will play at Syracuse this season on Dec. 7.
Those games are not simply a money grab. Playing a major program means the game has a better chance of playing on TV, and a win in a game like that could “springboard” the program, Dempsey said. And sometimes being willing to schedule those types of games can boost a program’s profile to supporters and recruits alike.
“I think you have to put some attractive games on there,” Dempsey said. “Your fans, your recruits, your alums, they want to see you play a couple of the big boys. They want to see some games that ‘pop’ on the schedule. And your current players want to see that — they want opportunities to test their mettle.”
Working within restrictions
No coach has autonomy to schedule whoever he wants whenever he wants. In some cases, the first hurdles to clear include conference and school governance.
Until last season, The America East Conference required Binghamton and its other league teams to play a certain number of games each season against teams within a desired RPI range.
“We just got rid of those standards to allow our schools a little more flexibility so that they could build a schedule that matched their team, their team’s strength, the things that they needed to work on,” America East commissioner Amy Huchthausen said. “I think our coaches have been really receptive to that. They felt a little handcuffed by the scheduling standards to a certain extent.”
From a conference standpoint, Huchthausen asserted there are better ways to build the reputation of its teams besides forcing them into games against major programs.
“We look at the conference RPI, but there is so many things that go into that metric that it’s tough,” Hucthuasen said. “You certainly can’t control it. The one thing that our programs can do is to win.”
The Ivy League presents its own challeneges for scheduling in that schools can’t play more than 14 nonconference games unless a tournament is included. Ivy League teams are also not allowed to schedule games during finals, which this season leaves an two-week gap from Dec. 7-22 for Cornell.
Travel budgets also play a role in what games are scheduled, according to Courtney. To play a game on the West Coast, they have to pair it with a guarantee game during the same trip to make it feasible financially.
Part of the reason the Big Red are able to play at Western Michigan on Nov. 29 this season is because they are playing two days later at Notre Dame, which is 90 minutes away from WMU.
Location, location, and location
Being creative goes a long way in scheduling. Without games consistently on national television, mid-major programs make it a point to play games in recruiting hotbeds to get their names out.
The Bearcats have five players from the Philadelphia area and southern New Jersey. Dempsey had success recruiting players from that region while as coach at Rider University, and he plans to make at least one trip per season to Philadelphia for a game; this season, Binghamton plays at St. Joseph’s on New Year’s Eve.
Cornell tries annually to play games in New York City as well as the Maryland and Washington, D.C., areas because the staff wants to have a strong presence.
During the recruiting process, coaches often pledge to try and schedule a game in a player’s home state so his family can see them compete. Usually, a program’s assistant coach serves as scheduling coordinator and keeps track of the places the team has agreed to play.
While at Rider, Dempsey also routinely scheduled games in desirable destinations both players and alumni could appreciate. The list includes playing at Cancun, Mexico; Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla., and Hawaii (when Dempsey was an assistant coach before taking over the program).
Pencilling it in
Even after taking into account variables such as which players they have promised to bring home, which games fit recruiting needs and what guarantee games are available, getting games set and on the schedule can be a challenge. There are coaches who will change dates or manipulate the schedule, which can drag out the process.
“There’s guys — I’m not mentioning any names — there’s guys I’d never play, mainly because it’s too hard of a process to lock down the game and the time. It’s ever-changing and it screws up three games. I don’t have time for that,” Dempsey said. “There’s other guys that you deal with and it’s like, ‘How about this game? Bang. This date? Yup. You’re good. We’re good.’ You never hear from them again until you walk into their gym.”
Courtney said the process can be frustrating because changes can alter a schedule dramatically, and it happens “all the time. One or two games can throw the entire schedule into chaos ... You’re really at the mercy of guys some time.”
A lot of games are locked on a schedule via contracts to play in two- or four-year terms, leaving a handful of games to where a team can actually search for new opponents. Because of long-term scheduling, Binghamton this season plays only three teams that sought out by Dempsey: Buffalo, Syracuse and St. Joseph’s.
Courtney said he gladly trades some flexibility from year-to-year for the solace of getting the schedule completed.
“Scheduling is so difficult to begin with that I’d rather it be done than try to find new people,” Courtney said.
And once months of planning, organizing, and rearranging is done, the only thing left to do is to get ready to play.
- The Juice writes, "It’s that time of year again. The Syracuse men’s basketball team will open up the regular season against Cornell in less than two weeks. Coming off a trip to the Final Four last year, expectations are high. But there are also question marks, as the Orange loses three of its top four scorers and moves into a new conference."
- The Ivy League Office notes, "Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman is the father of former Cornell star Ryan Wittman. Ryan was the 2009-10 Ivy League Player of the Year and a three-time, first-team All-Ivy selection. He led the Big Red to the Sweet 16 of the 2010 NCAA Tournament."
- The Syracuse Post Standard writes, "Harvard is going to be better, maybe quite a bit better [from last season[, and could turn out to give 2010 Cornell a run as the best single-season Ivy League team since Princeton spent much of the 1997-98 season ranked."
- Former Cornell assistant coach, Ricky Yahn, made his debut last night as a head coach against Michigan in an exhibition.
- The Ft. Wayne Journal and Courier expects Errick Peck (Cornell '13) to start tonight's exhibition game for Purdue.
- The Ft. Wayne News Sentinel writes:
Purdue's Errick Peck does it all, Boilers Play Indianapolis Tonight
WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue's Errick Peck does not leap over tall buildings with a single bound. That much is certain. Other than that, if you believe basketball teammate Sterling Carter, all things are possible for this senior forward. “He's superman to me,” Carter says. “He can play the post. He can play the perimeter. People underestimate his ability to dribble and handle the ball.” The 6-6, 223-pound Peck has one year to put the proof to Carter's optimism, starting with tonight's exhibition against the University of Indianapolis. He's a fifth-year senior transfer from Cornell with a big upside and a lot of learning to do in the Boiler system. “We have to get a better flow to the offense,” Peck said. “People are still learning the offense. Me, too. At certain times on the floor, I have smoke coming out of my ears. “But it will come.” Peck was basically a double-figure scorer in his last two years at Cornell. He scored as many as 26 points and averaged 4.8 rebounds last season. In games against Minnesota and Syracuse, he averaged 15.0 points and 3.5 assists. Beyond that, coach Matt Painter said, Peck brings a veteran's leadership and poise the youthful Boilers need. “He gives us experience,” Painter said. “He's competed and played hard. He's done a good job of rebounding and shooting. That's what we want. We want him to bring some leadership in those areas, starting with leading by example.” The example Peck delivered in Saturday's scrimmage included 14 points and six rebounds. “He's a good combo forward,” Painter said. “He has a good feel for the game. He'll mix it up and play physical. I've been surprised with his ability to rebound. We're going to need him to rebound. That's been great.” Peck's ability to play multiple positions fits Painter's versatility preference, and if it leads to a more inside role, Peck is fine with that. “I hope I can get more mismatches down in the post. Score with my back to the basket. Command a double team and get others involved. That's my biggest thing. People don't think I can pass from the post. They think I'm just driving it. I hope to surprise a lot of people this year.” Peck is battling freshman Basil Smotherman for a starting forward position. “We compete hard every day,” Peck said. “He's a younger version of me, although he's a little more athletic, more guard oriented. He's going to be a great player. “Hopefully we complement each other. Spell each other. I hope to compete with him every day in practice and the best player gets to go on the floor.” Peck has strong state-of-Indiana roots. He thrived at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and was the MVP of the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star series after averaging 14.4 points and 11.1 rebounds in two games. That wasn't enough to get him a chance to play at an in-state school. He has one now, and wants to make the most of it. “Whether I start or come off the bench, I want to be productive,” he said. “I want to play to the best of my ability, finish plays, create off the dribble. Whatever the game calls for. If my shot isn't falling, play defense. If I'm on that night, score points. I really don't have a specific role. I just want to help us win.” Tonight that means beating Indianapolis. The Greyhounds return plenty of firepower from last year's 20-9 team that reached the NCAA Division II tourney for the third straight season. Returners include guard Reece Cheatham, who averaged 15.2 points last year while shooting 85.5 percent from the line. He had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists during Monday's 95-69 loss at Notre Dame. “They play hard,” Painter said. “They have a good program. It's close and it helps them out. It's a good fit for us.”