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Talk hoops all year long in Luke Winn's blog, a journal of commentary, news and reader-driven discussions about the college game.
8/28/2006 06:52:00 PM

Texas A&M Is Not Scared Of You (anymore)

Luc Richard Mbah A Moute
Acie Law and the Aggies are top-10 material -- with a schedule to match.
Bill Frakes/SI
Dead for a week (of late-summer vacation), the blog has been revived. The first order of business, after scanning the scant college hoops news from the past seven days, is to offer a bit of praise to coach Billy Gillispie and Texas A&M. Usually it is not particularly worthwhile to pay attention to the Aggies until January, when they emerge from a cakewalk against schools with RPIs the size of O-linemen's weights to begin the Big 12 schedule. Last season A&M went 10-0 by playing every game in November and December at home, with the best opponent being Big Ten near-doormat Penn State and the worst being Savannah State, one year removed from going 0-28.

This December, the Aggies are overcompensating for their cupcake past ... by running through an eight-day gauntlet:

Dec. 2 vs. Pacific, which has made three straight trips to the NCAA tournament. (Final '05-06 RPI: 88)
Dec. 5 at LSU, which was in the Final Four … and beat A&M in the second round. (RPI: 13)
Dec. 9 in Anaheim, Calif., "at" UCLA, which was the national runner-up. (RPI: 9)
(Average RPI: 36.7)

Before you call him a masochist, Gillispie makes it clear that he didn't intentionally slate the Final Four teams back-to-back. A&M had the home-and-home series with LSU first, and then the Wooden Classic and the Bruins came knocking. "When that opportunity arose, we said, 'It's not perfect,' but we took it," Gillispie explained Monday.

What the Aggies accepted, for their new schedule, is absurdly more difficult than what they opened December with in 2005-06:

Dec. 3: Win over Penn State. (Final '05-06 RPI: 106)
Dec. 7: Win over North Texas. (RPI: 200)
Dec. 10: win over Grambling State. (RPI: 282)
(Average RPI: 196.
D-I rank of overall non-conference strength of schedule: 240.)

Although Gillispie asserts, vehemently, that A&M's philosophy hasn't changed -- "we do whatever it takes to prepare our team to play well in conference" -- there's a significant reason the Aggies are now willing to get their hands dirty before the New Year: They'll enter 2006-07 with a top-10 caliber team. I put the Aggies at No. 9 in SI's ultra-early rankings on the night of the title game. I suspect the AP will slot them at least in the top 15.

A&M has reached the point, finally, where a light prance to 10-0 isn't going to prepare them for much of anything. Kudos to Gillispie for recognizing it. As he said, "When you have more experience" -- like senior guard Acie Law and junior forward Joseph Jones, both pro prospects -- "you're able to play a more difficult schedule."

Readers: Which teams do you excuse for playing cushy early slates, and which do you criticize? I went and dug up -- from kenpom.com's sortable data -- the weakest non-conference schedules played by BCS-conference teams in '04-05 and '05-06. A&M ranked second and 12th, respectively. The repeat offenders in the top 10? Virginia Tech (third, both times); and Ole Miss (10th and sixth). Baylor would likely have been one, had its non-con schedule not been wiped out due to NCAA sanctions. And the most interesting figure of all? The fact that Florida -- your national champs -- played the seventh-easiest slate in the nation. It goes to show you just how unsure of his young team Billy Donovan really was.

Weakest in 2004-05               Weakest in 2005-06
Rk. Team SOS Rk. Team SOS
1. Baylor 329 1. Florida State 316
2. Texas A&M 320 2. Oregon State 312
3. Virginia Tech 312 3. Virginia Tech 290
4. West Virginia 269 4. Boston College 282
5. Notre Dame 267 5. Colorado 271
6. Pittsburgh 262 6. Ole Miss 270
7. N.C. State 259 7. Florida 253
8. Kansas State 257 8. Penn State 248
9. Arkansas 249 9. USC 245
10. Ole Miss 237 10. Nebraska 242
12. Texas A&M 240
posted by Luke Winn | View comments (21) |


Posted: 10:29 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Kind of more a question than a comment:

I see that 3 out of the top 4 are from the ACC. Do we excuse teams from a perenial powerhouse conference from playing a hard out of conference schedule? Recently, it seems that we have not been, seeing that the ACC was no longer sending the most teams to the NCAA's, even despite adding several teams to the conference. Should teams like Florida State and Virginia Tech, who have been good teams, tournament worthy teams I think, try to load up their out of conference schedules like a lot of mid-majors in order to offset the fact that they will always lose several games in conference?

I say this because, growing up in the Durham and going to UNC, I see how hard these teams have to play in their own conference, and can't imagine them having to play a full season of games like that without hitting the wall with exhaustion or injuries.

Any thoughts?
Posted: 11:49 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Gillispie, simply put, is a STUD!

Gig'em Aggies!
Posted: 12:25 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
i don't see any MVC teams on there.
Posted: 2:07 AM   by Blogger UncleLar
"i don't see any MVC teams on there."

And you shouldn't because the list consists of only BCS leagues which doesn't include the MVC.

Had the MVC been included you would have seen

Evansville #259
Indiana St #266
Posted: 7:24 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
billy gillespie is the best thing that has happened to a&m in a long time. bcg has turned a&m into a basketball school, and i hope we can keep him for a very long time.....

plus, he's got one of the strongest recruiting classes in the nation coming in.

i sure wish the football team had the same mentality.....bcg wants to play anyone...
Posted: 9:28 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
You ACC guys are all the same - always looking for some backhanded way to say your league is better than everyone else's. Get over it. You're no better than all the rest of the big conferences - a few blue-bloods, a lot of mid-range teams that can get hot, and a couple of stinkers. That's college basketball today.

As for scheduling, I'm can't stand a bunch of cupcakes on the front end - whether its your Tarheels or my Jayhawks doing the scheduling. I can understand playing an in-state school or two to get the rivalries going and providing the smaller program a nice paycheck - but when it's ten Cupcakes, it's no fun for the fans. Those games should be half-price!
Posted: 10:38 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Texas A&M will be pretty good this year, no doubt, but i think the team to beat will be Kansas, not only in the Big 12, but in the entire country. Flordia and UNC will be good too, but Kansas, with all of those McDonald All Americans, with a easy schedule to match, should make the final four with no problem.

The problem will be Bill Self. With all of that talent, the final four is the only way he can escape shame if they do lose. The pressure is on you Bill Self.......what you gonna do?
Posted: 10:47 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
It depends on the team. Last year, Florida was very young and needed to play together and have some success, hence the easy schedule. This year they play Kansas and Ohio State among others b/c they are more seasoned.
Posted: 10:57 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Schedule strength is not nearly as important in basketball as it is in football. The Auburns (read: Pittsburgh) of basketball will always make it in the field of 65. They play anywhere from 8-12 extremely tough games a years in conference alone.

Isn't it better, if you are a borderline team, to have a 9-1 soft schedule than a 4-6 tough one? Remember what happened to Indiana a few years ago?
Posted: 11:03 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Completely unbelievable that Aggies will be merely tolerating the football season until basketball finally gets started. Gillispie is a miracle worker, and hopefully will be an Aggie legend for decades.
Posted: 11:14 AM   by Anonymous Wander
Schools are welcome to schedule whoever they want to, they just need to accept the consequences of this scheduling. So, if you want to load up on easier schools because you think that's in the best interests of your team, fine, but don't complain if you're on the bubble in March and the committee leaves you out - I'm looking at you, Florida State.
Posted: 11:15 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Texas A&M is the most likable team in the conference and in the "great" state of Texas. It's a great story if they can keep their coach, produce more stars, and win more NCAA games.

They were robbed by LSU in the tournament in '06. It could have been A&M taking down Duke. Let's hope they get a better seed this time. Go Aggies!
Posted: 11:48 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Sigh, the mid-majors do love to whine. All basketball programs want the same thing--a balanced schedule. They want tough games to hone their skills, but they don't want to be overwhelmed. Non-BCS conference teams have to schedule tough non-conference schedules because the competition is so weak in their own conference. The same is not true of the BCS conferences. The most accurate reflector of your schedule is the WHOLE strength of schedule.
I went to the same site as the blogger and re-sorted by overall strength of schedule. The LOWEST ranked schedule of any power conference team (Pac 10, Big 10, ACC, SEC, Big East, Big 12) was Oregon State at #118. That means all 70 teams in those conferences were in the top 118 in terms of schedule. There is no shame in not beating your brain in with a non-conference schedule when your conference schedule is plenty tough.
I honor the mid-majors and think they have closed the gap to a large degree, but their fans have no standing to make any criticism on this point.
And you Texas A&M fans, your RPI was 44th. It just doesn't make a big difference when you get that low. Do not delude yourself into thinking seeding jobbed you out of a national title. I hate Florida, but they were clearly the best team in the tournament this year.
Posted: 11:49 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
I'm not suggesting that you did this on purpose but for the 2006 non-conference SOS you left out 3 BCS teams (USC at 245, Nebraska at 242, and Georgia Tech at 241) that were ranked lower than Texas A&M. And for the 2005 rankings you excluded repeat offender Oregon State at 317.

However, you are correct that Texas A&M and Billy Gillispie deserve credit for scheduling tougher non-conference opponents.
Posted: 1:25 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Depending on the outcome of this year's football season, I may be starting a petition to have Billy Gillespie put in charge of both the basketball team and the football team and just hope for the best. Hell I don't think he could do any worse than last year.

Posted: 2:41 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Today during a pc when asked what was the first advice our football OC gave the new DC, he said "Don't play golf with Gillispie for money"; classic!
Posted: 3:04 PM   by Blogger UTDLev
Let's also point out Gillespie is willing to travel. Contrast that to our current national team head coach (who is doing a great job there, by the way). It is an embarrassment that Duke (and Coach K) refuses to leave the East coast outside of the once every two year trip to the Big 10 for the Big 10-ACC Challenge.
Posted: 3:56 PM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Once A&M dominates the big 12, the Aggies are going to party like Snatch at an OCH Happy Hour. Billy G is building a monster in College Station. Billy G has them working like Techsan02 delivering pizzas during the Super Bowl to get ready for the run this season.

Rebuilding in '05 and champions in '06
Posted: 4:29 PM   by Blogger Luke Winn

we fixed the original error ... which puts A&M at 12th on the new, 05-06 list. thanks for the heads-up.
Posted: 2:37 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
[quote]And you Texas A&M fans, your RPI was 44th. It just doesn't make a big difference when you get that low. Do not delude yourself into thinking seeding jobbed you out of a national title. I hate Florida, but they were clearly the best team in the tournament this year.[/quote]

no one said they would be national champs, he was just stating that LSU beat A&M in Round 2 with a crazy 3 pointer from way outside with a 6-8 guy right in his face.

he was just merely pointing out that if A&M had in fact held on, it would have been them in the sweet 16 with a chance to upset duke, not LSU
Posted: 9:26 AM   by Anonymous Anonymous
Nice article..but you neglected to mention another tough game on their schedule. That's right, I'm talking about the Winthrop Eagles. Every year they knock off a BCS school on the road. Last Year it was Marquette and the Vols hit a miracle shot at the buzzer to nip Winthrop in the tourney. They are returning 4 starters and 8 of 10...including Craig Bradshaw, the starting center for New Zealand in the WBC last week, Torrell Martin, 6'5" athletic shooting guard who is 2 time All-Conference and will be the preseason conference player of the year. They also have their best recruiting class ever enrolling this Fall. They have to travel far and wide to get a game. UNC, Maryland, Miss. St, Wisconsin and A&M..consider yourselves warned. My hope is for A&M or Wisconsin to go down as they highly rated and a win against Winthrop will help their RPI. Don't get me started on the BCS refs who like to make "home cooking" calls to benefit the big boys.