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Early Look at Virginia 2012-2013 Basketball Schedule Reveals Compelling Matchups, Fewer "RPI-Killers"

When the ACC announced next season's ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchups, revealing a UVA trip to Wisconsin, another piece of Virginia's 2012-2013 scheduling puzzle was discovered. And at first glance, the out-of-conference section of the schedule looks to be substantially more challenging than the one UVA went 13-1 against last year on the way to an NCAA Tournament bid.

Though Virginia finished last season with a 22-8 regular season record, including a 9-7 performance against a difficult ACC schedule, fans still were uncomfortable with the team's selection hopes because of a weak OOC schedule. UVA competed against the 227th-toughest non-conference in the nation, which led criticism from pundits and even rival coaches.

Last season's scheduling failures weren't all about a lack of quality wins; the Hoos picked up a huge victory against Michigan, solid wins against Drexel and George Mason, and tough road victories at Oregon and LSU. The main problem stood with the bottom half of the schedule, which included too many matchups against the most fattening of the nation's "cupcakes," inflating the team's computer numbers.

Luckily, Tony Bennett appears to have made correcting this problem a focus. After last season, he acknowledged the issue, according to David Teel:

"I think we played enough quality games," Bennett said during a season-ending gabfest with reporters. "We talked about this in our head coaches' meetings at the ACC in the spring about when you schedule you have to be careful, and a lot of it's projecting so it's hard to know for sure how teams will be, but not having too many real low RPIs.

"We talked about, I think the number is 250 or below. It's OK to have two or three of those. We might have had five. It might have worked out that way, and some were really low, the mid-threes or something. When you have those, (they) can really pull you down."

Actually, Virginia played, and defeated, six opponents ranked below 250th: Nos. 272 Winthrop, 277 Seattle, 311 Towson, 320 Maryland-Eastern Shore, 337 Longwood and 343 South Carolina State.

Here's a look about what we know about next year's schedule, as compared to last year's. I matched last year's RPI and KenPom data with next season's announced opponents. Note that we will have 4 games as part of the Preseason NIT, for which opponents are not yet known. Additionally, the ACC has expanded the in-conference schedule from 16 to 18 games, which will cannibalize two out-of-conference matchups. Teams are allowed to schedule 28 games, but the Preseason NIT counts as an exempt tournament, which only counts as one game. Thus, UVA could potentially play up to 31 games this year (or 13 outside the ACC).

2011-2012 Opponent RPI KenPom 2012-2013 Opponent RPI (Previous) KenPom (Previous)
Michigan 14 29 @ Wisconsin 23 5
Drexel (neutral) 64 41 NIT (NY)* 45 29
@ Oregon 67 50 NIT (NY)* 45 29
George Mason 82 106 @ George Mason 82 106
@ LSU 84 97 (extra ACC Game)** 83 63
TCU (neutral) 114 156 @ (extra ACC Game)** 83 63
Drake (neutral) 133 145 Tennessee 86 61
Wisconsin-Green Bay 148 180 ODU (neutral) 103 99
Winthrop 272 256 NIT Home game*** 145 144
@ Seattle 277 222 NIT Home game*** 145 144
Towson 311 338 @ Wisconsin-Green Bay 148 180
Maryland-Eastern Shore 320 331 ???
Longwood 332 342 ???

SC State 343 344 ???

*Mean data for the 8 announced teams (of 12) that could be in UVA's "pod" - for more on Preseason NIT, try this.
**Median data from last year's final ACC rankings
***Median data among Michigan, Pittsburgh, and Kansas State, the other Preseason NIT hosts (and likely opponents in NY)

While teams' previous performances are obviously not perfect predictors of future success, they should be decent measures for our purposes of where each program currently stands. For the games where I used averages, there is still quite a spread over which RPIs could fall; let's just fudge this one and assume that our matchups will be close to the "typical" matchup.

One of the most glaring early priorities for Virginia is avoiding an upset against two lesser opponents at home in the Preseason NIT. If UVA wins both, the team will get a trip to Madison Square Garden and two likely games against NCAA tournament teams. With a loss, Virginia will play two games against teams with middling RPIs instead.

There are plenty of factors that go into designing a schedule that don't tend to be forefront in the minds of fans. These may be recruiting promises (trips close to home for Joe Harris in Seattle and Paul Jesperson in Green Bay?), revenue factors, and court availability. While acknowledging these occur, let's take a look at how the schedule looks from a few purely "committee-based" goals:

(1) Chances for "marquee" wins

Last year, beating Michigan at JPJ sent Virginia to the NCAA tournament - the Hoos came up short against Duke, UNC, and FSU, but that non-conference victory was enough to prove to the committee that Virginia could actually beat elite teams. This year, the Hoos will have chances again, though not the same great one on their home court. The games at Wisconsin and against Michigan/KSU/Pitt at MSG (if we make it) will be big opportunities to make statements. A matchup against ascending Tennessee could give Virginia that chance in Charlottesville if the Vols put it together next season.

(2) Strong road wins

While winning at Wisconsin would obviously put Virginia on the map in this category, many a brave soul have tried and failed in the Kohl Center. Luckily, the @GMU date will be a prime time to win on the road too. No real other opportunity to impress in the out-of-conference, so UVA may have to defeat the Badgers or do its road work within the ACC.

(3) Avoiding bad losses

Last year, UVA had one of these out-of-conference against TCU in the Virgin Islands. Not only did this game go down as a sub-100 RPI defeat, but it prevented a future matchup in the Paradise Jam Tournament against Marquette. Once again, the pressure will be on in the preseason tournament against lesser opponents, as mentioned above. Luckily, this time the games will be in Charlottesville rather than makeshift courts in the ballrooms of Caribbean resorts. (Yes, I am bitter). The 3 or 4 unscheduled games will likely be against opponents that will fall into the "should-win" category. We should win those too.

(4) Don't play the "RPI-killers"

When Towson, Eastern Shore, Longwood, and South Carolina State stepped on the court at John Paul Jones Arena last season, UVA's RPI immediately plummeted. Even a blowout win (or a squeaker in the case of Towson...) couldn't stop the bleeding. As stated above, with a strong arsenal of quality opponents already on the schedule, Tony Bennett and Co. will likely fill out the slate with games against lesser competition. And with more road dates on the calendar this year than last year already, those will likely be at home. Availability and price of "guarantee games" makes a dip into the RPI 250+ tempting and perhaps inevitable. If the team does whatever it can to minimize dates with the RPI-killers, it should be in good shape headed into the ACC part of the calendar.

From a scheduling and RPI perspective, there are still existing unknowns, but the Hoos appear to be in better position to play against a tough out-of-conference schedule. At the very least, the expanded ACC slate and a few compelling OOC matchups should have fans on the edges of their seats all year and a young Wahoo team getting some quality experience early on. We'll know the full makeup of the 2012-2013 Virginia Basketball schedule later this summer and will have plenty of thoughts on it upon its release.