There’s an epidemic taking hold of college hoops: Too many games staged early in the season are mismatches. According to FanMatch, there were 1,451 games played from the beginning of last season through December 7. Of those games, the underdog had at most a five percent chance of winning in 288 of them. In addition, there were 217 games involving a D-I team playing a non-D-I team. Overall, there were 505 glorified exhibitions played in the first four weeks of the season, which means a little more than one in every three games was decided before it started. Underdogs won 18 of these games.
College basketball struggles to make a splash when its season begins and there’s incentive to make early-season hoops more interesting to the casual fan. My idea is to turn over the first week of the season to my game generator, ScheduleMatic, which will schedule the first two opponents for every Division I team.
What’s ScheduleMatic? It’s an algorithm that finds competitive matchups among nearby teams, the types of games that generate interest among the die-hard and casual fan alike. ScheduleMatic accomplishes this by putting the 344 Division I teams in random order and then conducts an automated draft, matching nearby teams with a small difference in their ranking from the previous season. (In this case, I’ll use my own ratings, but any system will do.) In a matter of seconds, ScheduleMatic produces a complete schedule of one home and one road game for each team.
I ran ScheduleMatic based on last season’s rankings in order to provide an example of how it works. In the draft for the upcoming season, 341st ranked Alcorn State was the first team up and they drew (326) Louisiana Monroe as their home opponent, a mere 127-mile road trip for the Warhawks. Then (204) McNeese State draws (209) Houston (214 miles), (59) Seton Hall draws (65) Iona (38 miles) and so on. It works as expected until you get to the back end of the draft. Since an opponent can be selected only once, there are fewer choices for each successive team in the draft.
For example, the last team in the draft was (206) William & Mary. The Tribe was forced to host (345) Southern, which results in a 1,500-mile road trip for a not-so-competitive matchup. Not exactly what we want. A worse case is the fourth-to-last team to pick, (194) Yale drawing (259) Montana State, a less-than-optimal 3,100-mile trip for the Bobcats.
But ScheduleMatic’s algorithm includes a second part to the process that attempts to remove these undesirable games in order to keep true to our objective. This process is iterated several times as it looks for ways to eliminate the uninteresting matchups. (A process that is similar to that used to solve the traveling salesman problem like Sagarin has used to try to create geographically optimized sectionals.) Once this is complete, William & Mary’s home opponent becomes (213) Charlotte and Southern travels to (335) Central Arkansas. Yale ends up hosting (199) VMI and Montana State travels to (265) Seattle. Each team gets a better game with less travel involved.
The complete list of opponents derived from this method is below. One thing that I haven’t done here is control for opponents already on a team’s schedule since games for the upcoming season are just now being released, but that could be easily added to the process. It’s better for the transparency of the method to ignore those in this example, anyway. The relative weights of the proximity and competitiveness parameters could be adjusted, but after several attempts to tune these, I feel like the right balance has been struck.
I don’t expect the NCAA to adopt ScheduleMatic. While the NCAA does meddle in schedule to some degree, they don’t dictate specific opponents for anyone. Furthermore, it would undoubtedly make certain coaches uncomfortable having to play nearby teams that they would rather avoid. (In this case, Maryland is forced to play Georgetown. Wichita State gets to play Kansas and Kansas State.)
Nonetheless, a change like this would be good for the game. Matchups would be announced on October 1st to generate interest in the upcoming season and allow for the algortihm to account for opponents already on a team’s schedule. The first week of the season would be left open to allow these games to be easily scheduled. With ScheduleMatic, 344 compelling games are added to the first week of play, each with some doubt surrounding the outcome. Exciting finishes would be frequent and every team would have a significant test or two on which to be judged early.
One of the spoils for a surprisingly good year would be to get high-profile teams on the schedule to start the next season. Imagine the anticipation of the announcement of these games for schools like Belmont and George Mason. In this example, the reward for the Patriots’ work in 2010 is games against Syracuse and Virginia Tech, programs that otherwise wouldn’t bother playing them. Belmont gets Illinois and Vanderbilt on its schedule.
It is safe to say that if the NCAA was willing, ScheduleMatic would transform the beginning of the season. So contact your school’s coach today, and tell him to support ScheduleMatic now!
Team Home Opponent Road Opponent Air Force New Mexico St. Northern Colorado Akron Wright St. James Madison Alabama Missouri UAB Alabama A&M Kennesaw St. Florida A&M Alabama St. Chattanooga South Alabama Albany Siena Wagner Alcorn St. Louisiana Monroe Howard American William & Mary Loyola MD Appalachian St. NC Asheville Tennessee Tech Arizona San Diego St. Nevada Las Vegas Arizona St. Northern Colorado Northern Arizona Arkansas Tulsa South Dakota St. Arkansas Little Rock Southern Illinois Drake Arkansas Pine Bluff Central Arkansas Louisiana Monroe Arkansas St. Miami OH Tulane Army Fordham New Hampshire Auburn Tennessee Tech Western Carolina Austin Peay Lipscomb St. Louis Ball St. Bradley Evansville Baylor Missouri St. Texas El Paso Belmont Vanderbilt Illinois Bethune Cookman Florida Gulf Coast Stetson Binghamton Colgate Niagara Boise St. Montana Oregon Boston College Connecticut College of Charleston Boston University Northeastern Harvard Bowling Green Wake Forest Elon Bradley Loyola Chicago Ball St. Brigham Young Utah St. San Diego St. Brown Lafayette Sacred Heart Bryant Hartford Marist Bucknell Drexel North Carolina St. Buffalo Rhode Island Canisius Butler Michigan St. Missouri Cal Poly Nevada San Jose St. Cal St. Bakersfield San Diego Sacramento St. Cal St. Fullerton Eastern Washington Pepperdine Cal St. Northridge Loyola Marymount Lamar California St. Mary's Santa Clara Campbell NC Wilmington Liberty Team Home Opponent Road Opponent Canisius Buffalo IUPU Fort Wayne Central Arkansas Southern Arkansas Pine Bluff Central Connecticut Holy Cross George Washington Central Florida North Carolina St. South Florida Central Michigan St. Francis PA Southeast Missouri St. Charleston Southern Georgia St. Southern Illinois Charlotte Mercer William & Mary Chattanooga Missouri Kansas City Alabama St. Chicago St. Western Illinois SIU Edwardsville Cincinnati Florida St. Michigan Clemson West Virginia Florida Cleveland St. Kent St. Oakland Coastal Carolina South Carolina Davidson Colgate Dartmouth Binghamton College of Charleston Boston College Miami FL Colorado New Mexico Texas A&M Colorado St. Iowa Iowa St. Columbia St. Francis NY Stony Brook Connecticut Wisconsin Boston College Coppin St. Towson Navy Cornell DePaul Quinnipiac Creighton Iowa St. Nebraska Dartmouth Fairleigh Dickinson Colgate Davidson Coastal Carolina NC Asheville Dayton Murray St. Indiana St. Delaware Florida Atlantic Saint Joseph's Delaware St. NJ Inst of Technology Samford Denver Wyoming Texas San Antonio DePaul Illinois St. Cornell Detroit IUPUI Long Island Drake Arkansas Little Rock Virginia Military Inst Drexel Princeton Bucknell Duke Ohio St. West Virginia Duquesne Seton Hall Virginia Commonwealth East Carolina Hofstra Furman East Tennessee St. James Madison Wright St. Eastern Illinois North Carolina A&T Northern Illinois Eastern Kentucky Western Kentucky Youngstown St. Eastern Michigan Niagara Jacksonville St. Eastern Washington UC Davis Cal St. Fullerton Team Home Opponent Road Opponent Elon Bowling Green Georgia St. Evansville Ball St. Middle Tennessee Fairfield Harvard Providence Fairleigh Dickinson Marist Dartmouth Florida Clemson Florida St. Florida A&M Alabama A&M Georgia Southern Florida Atlantic Jacksonville Delaware Florida Gulf Coast Florida International Bethune Cookman Florida International Stetson Florida Gulf Coast Florida St. Florida Cincinnati Fordham New Hampshire Army Fresno St. UC Santa Barbara San Francisco Furman East Carolina Southern Methodist Gardner Webb The Citadel Savannah St. George Mason Syracuse Virginia Tech George Washington Central Connecticut Western Michigan Georgetown Georgia Maryland Georgia UAB Georgetown Georgia Southern Florida A&M South Carolina St. Georgia St. Elon Charleston Southern Georgia Tech Marshall Wofford Gonzaga Washington St. Washington Grambling Texas Pan American Houston Baptist Hampton North Florida Winthrop Hartford Monmouth Bryant Harvard Boston University Fairfield Hawaii Pacific Oregon St. High Point NC Greensboro North Carolina Central Hofstra Rider East Carolina Holy Cross Youngstown St. Central Connecticut Houston Stephen F. Austin McNeese St. Houston Baptist Grambling Prairie View A&M Howard Alcorn St. MD Baltimore County Idaho Utah UC Santa Barbara Idaho St. North Dakota Norfolk St. Illinois Belmont Kansas Illinois Chicago Liberty Texas Arlington Illinois St. Winthrop DePaul Indiana Morehead St. Missouri St. Indiana St. Dayton Valparaiso Team Home Opponent Road Opponent Iona St. John's Rutgers Iowa Northern Iowa Colorado St. Iowa St. Colorado St. Creighton IUPU Fort Wayne Canisius Miami OH IUPUI Wisconsin Milwaukee Detroit Jackson St. Tennessee Martin Troy Jacksonville South Florida Florida Atlantic Jacksonville St. Eastern Michigan Texas Southern James Madison Akron East Tennessee St. Kansas Illinois Wichita St. Kansas St. Wichita St. Michigan St. Kennesaw St. Mississippi Valley St. Alabama A&M Kent St. Virginia Cleveland St. Kentucky Texas Pittsburgh La Salle Quinnipiac Rider Lafayette Sacred Heart Brown Lamar Cal St. Northridge North Florida Lehigh Pennsylvania Siena Liberty Campbell Illinois Chicago Lipscomb Middle Tennessee Austin Peay Long Beach St. Stanford UCLA Long Island Detroit St. Peter's Longwood Norfolk St. NJ Inst of Technology Louisiana Lafayette McNeese St. Southeastern Louisiana Louisiana Monroe Arkansas Pine Bluff Alcorn St. Louisiana St. Southeastern Louisiana Stephen F. Austin Louisiana Tech Northwestern St. Texas St. Louisville Xavier North Carolina Loyola Chicago Oral Roberts Bradley Loyola Marymount UC Irvine Cal St. Northridge Loyola MD American NC Wilmington Maine Massachusetts Northeastern Manhattan Maryland Eastern Shore Monmouth Marist Bryant Fairleigh Dickinson Marquette Michigan Northwestern Marshall Mississippi Georgia Tech Maryland Georgetown Penn St. Maryland Eastern Shore MD Baltimore County Manhattan Massachusetts Yale Maine McNeese St. Houston Louisiana Lafayette Team Home Opponent Road Opponent MD Baltimore County Howard Maryland Eastern Shore Memphis Mississippi St. Morehead St. Mercer Western Carolina Charlotte Miami FL College of Charleston Seton Hall Miami OH IUPU Fort Wayne Arkansas St. Michigan Cincinnati Marquette Michigan St. Kansas St. Butler Middle Tennessee Evansville Lipscomb Minnesota Oakland Tennessee Mississippi Southern Mississippi Marshall Mississippi St. Texas Tech Memphis Mississippi Valley St. South Carolina Upstate Kennesaw St. Missouri Butler Alabama Missouri Kansas City Northern Illinois Chattanooga Missouri St. Indiana Baylor Monmouth Manhattan Hartford Montana Portland Boise St. Montana St. Utah Valley Seattle Morehead St. Memphis Indiana Morgan St. Wagner Mount St. Mary's Mount St. Mary's Morgan St. Towson Murray St. St. Louis Dayton Navy Coppin St. St. Francis PA NC Asheville Davidson Appalachian St. NC Greensboro Troy High Point NC Wilmington Loyola MD Campbell Nebraska Creighton Washington St. Nevada San Francisco Cal Poly Nevada Las Vegas Arizona Utah St. New Hampshire Army Fordham New Mexico Southern California Colorado New Mexico St. Northern Arizona Air Force Niagara Binghamton Eastern Michigan Nicholls St. Tulane Tennessee St. NJ Inst of Technology Longwood Delaware St. Norfolk St. Idaho St. Longwood North Carolina Louisville Purdue North Carolina A&T North Carolina Central Eastern Illinois North Carolina Central High Point North Carolina A&T North Carolina St. Bucknell Central Florida Team Home Opponent Road Opponent North Dakota South Dakota Idaho St. North Dakota St. Western Michigan Wisconsin Green Bay North Florida Lamar Hampton North Texas Rice Texas Christian Northeastern Maine Boston University Northern Arizona Arizona St. New Mexico St. Northern Colorado Air Force Arizona St. Northern Illinois Eastern Illinois Missouri Kansas City Northern Iowa Valparaiso Iowa Northwestern Marquette Xavier Northwestern St. Texas Southern Louisiana Tech Notre Dame Washington Wisconsin Oakland Cleveland St. Minnesota Ohio Wisconsin Green Bay Robert Morris Ohio St. Pittsburgh Duke Oklahoma Southern Methodist Oral Roberts Oklahoma St. Texas El Paso Tulsa Old Dominion Richmond St. John's Oral Roberts Oklahoma Loyola Chicago Oregon Boise St. Portland Oregon St. Hawaii Pacific Pacific Oregon St. Hawaii Penn St. Maryland Villanova Pennsylvania Saint Joseph's Lehigh Pepperdine Cal St. Fullerton UC Irvine Pittsburgh Kentucky Ohio St. Portland Oregon Montana Portland St. Seattle UC Riverside Prairie View A&M Houston Baptist Texas A&M Corpus Chris Presbyterian Savannah St. The Citadel Princeton Rutgers Drexel Providence Fairfield Rhode Island Purdue North Carolina Texas Quinnipiac Cornell La Salle Radford South Carolina St. Toledo Rhode Island Providence Buffalo Rice Sam Houston St. North Texas Richmond Virginia Commonwealth Old Dominion Rider La Salle Hofstra Robert Morris Ohio St. Bonaventure Team Home Opponent Road Opponent Rutgers Iona Princeton Sacramento St. Cal St. Bakersfield UC Davis Sacred Heart Brown Lafayette Saint Joseph's Delaware Pennsylvania Sam Houston St. Texas Christian Rice Samford Delaware St. South Carolina Upstate San Diego UC Riverside Cal St. Bakersfield San Diego St. Brigham Young Arizona San Francisco Fresno St. Nevada San Jose St. Cal Poly Weber St. Santa Clara California Stanford Savannah St. Gardner Webb Presbyterian Seattle Montana St. Portland St. Seton Hall Miami FL Duquesne Siena Lehigh Albany SIU Edwardsville Chicago St. Southern South Alabama Alabama St. Tennessee Martin South Carolina Vermont Coastal Carolina South Carolina St. Georgia Southern Radford South Carolina Upstate Samford Mississippi Valley St. South Dakota Southeast Missouri St. North Dakota South Dakota St. Arkansas Texas Tech South Florida Central Florida Jacksonville Southeast Missouri St. Central Michigan South Dakota Southeastern Louisiana Louisiana Lafayette Louisiana St. Southern SIU Edwardsville Central Arkansas Southern California Texas A&M New Mexico Southern Illinois Charleston Southern Arkansas Little Rock Southern Methodist Furman Oklahoma Southern Mississippi Tennessee Mississippi Southern Utah Texas St. Utah Valley St. Bonaventure Robert Morris Wisconsin Milwaukee St. Francis NY Stony Brook Columbia St. Francis PA Navy Central Michigan St. John's Old Dominion Iona St. Louis Austin Peay Murray St. St. Mary's UCLA California St. Peter's Long Island Vermont Stanford Santa Clara Long Beach St. Stephen F. Austin Louisiana St. Houston Team Home Opponent Road Opponent Stetson Bethune Cookman Florida International Stony Brook Columbia St. Francis NY Syracuse Temple George Mason Temple Villanova Syracuse Tennessee Minnesota Southern Mississippi Tennessee Martin South Alabama Jackson St. Tennessee St. Nicholls St. Western Kentucky Tennessee Tech Appalachian St. Auburn Texas Purdue Kentucky Texas A&M Colorado Southern California Texas A&M Corpus Chris Prairie View A&M Texas Pan American Texas Arlington Illinois Chicago Wake Forest Texas Christian North Texas Sam Houston St. Texas El Paso Baylor Oklahoma St. Texas Pan American Texas A&M Corpus Chris Grambling Texas San Antonio Denver Wyoming Texas Southern Jacksonville St. Northwestern St. Texas St. Louisiana Tech Southern Utah Texas Tech South Dakota St. Mississippi St. The Citadel Presbyterian Gardner Webb Toledo Radford Western Illinois Towson Mount St. Mary's Coppin St. Troy Jackson St. NC Greensboro Tulane Arkansas St. Nicholls St. Tulsa Oklahoma St. Arkansas UAB Alabama Georgia UC Davis Sacramento St. Eastern Washington UC Irvine Pepperdine Loyola Marymount UC Riverside Portland St. San Diego UC Santa Barbara Idaho Fresno St. UCLA Long Beach St. St. Mary's Utah Weber St. Idaho Utah St. Nevada Las Vegas Brigham Young Utah Valley Southern Utah Montana St. Valparaiso Indiana St. Northern Iowa Vanderbilt Virginia Tech Belmont Vermont St. Peter's South Carolina Villanova Penn St. Temple Virginia Wofford Kent St. Virginia Commonwealth Duquesne Richmond Team Home Opponent Road Opponent Virginia Military Inst Drake Yale Virginia Tech George Mason Vanderbilt Wagner Albany Morgan St. Wake Forest Texas Arlington Bowling Green Washington Gonzaga Notre Dame Washington St. Nebraska Gonzaga Weber St. San Jose St. Utah West Virginia Duke Clemson Western Carolina Auburn Mercer Western Illinois Toledo Chicago St. Western Kentucky Tennessee St. Eastern Kentucky Western Michigan George Washington North Dakota St. Wichita St. Kansas Kansas St. William & Mary Charlotte American Winthrop Hampton Illinois St. Wisconsin Notre Dame Connecticut Wisconsin Green Bay North Dakota St. Ohio Wisconsin Milwaukee St. Bonaventure IUPUI Wofford Georgia Tech Virginia Wright St. East Tennessee St. Akron Wyoming Texas San Antonio Denver Xavier Northwestern Louisville Yale Virginia Military Inst Massachusetts Youngstown St. Eastern Kentucky Holy Cross