In the spring of 2011, Eric Reveno or then AD-Larry Williams or somebody at the University of Portland decided it was time for the men's basketball team to challenge themselves a little more in out-of-conference play. In the previous three seasons, Portland played decent-but-not-elite non-conference schedules, ranking 154th, 88th and 120th strongest in the country.
In 2011-12, possibly taking a page from the faux-narrative of older brothers Long Beach St. and Gonzaga getting better by notoriously scheduling up, Portland put together the eighth-toughest non-conference schedule in the country (Gonzaga's ended up the 74th most difficult that season, BYU's the 140th, everyone else was sub-
Portland sandwiched its 2011-12 OOCSOS nicely between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Howard Bison. And what could be more delicious, Coach Reveno assuredly thought, than a Kansas Bison sandwich?
But this sandwich tasted depressing. The most successful game of Portland's entire campaign last season was the one where they went to Rupp Arena and lost by only 24 points to the eventual national champions. They lost to Rick Majerus's revitalization project in St. Louis, and at the Chiles Center against perpetually-not-bad teams like Ohio and Montana. Washington and Washington State beat them. Nevada and UC Santa Barbara were both essentially a pair of top-100 defeats. None of these losses were closer than 10 points. Most were between 20 and 30.
The line of thinking here was that it didn't matter if Portland came into WCC play at approximately 0-97. The Pilots were hungry to challenge themselves - much like they were literally hungry at O'Hare Airport yesterday when they stormed a Wolfgang Puck's for nourishment and Wolfgang had to come out in a floppy hat and tell them to knock it off - because getting used to tough opponents in November and December would increase their chances of success in the conference's trenches, against the San Diegos and the Pepperdines, maybe even against one of the conference's big three.
This was a laudable plan, but it did not achieve the results the school was hoping for.
The Portland Pilots went 3-13 in conference and finished eighth. The team won three games last year against teams not named Santa Clara. That's not just in conference; its throughout the entire season. And Santa Clara was a raging bad-luck-worse-decisions dumpster fire of a college basketball team during the 2011-12 campaign.
This season's OOC in the WCC is eerily similar to last year's. Portland, Gonzaga and BYU, will again have the three toughest out-of-conference schedules in the league.
Depending on how neutral court games work out and how accurate pre-season predictions are, San Francisco's and Saint Marys' will follow them in difficulty.
Here's what the three most-likely toughest OOC skeds are looking at (all rank KPom):
|Toughest WCC Out-of-Conference Schedules|
|vs. 19 Kansas State||@ 1 Kentucky||neu. 17 Notre Dame*|
|vs. 20 Baylor***||vs. 18 UNLV||@ 20 Baylor|
|@ 43 Oklahoma State||@ 21 New Mexico||neu. 51 Florida State|
|neu. 44 Davidson*||@ 56 Ohio||@ 62 Iowa State|
|vs. 54 Illinois||neu. 79 Virginia Tech*||vs. 79 Virginia Tech|
|vs./neu. 58 West Virginia x2*||neu. 92 Colorado State||vs. 98 Utah State|
|@ 64 Butler||@ 95 Washington State**||vs. 103 Montana|
|neu. 77 Clemson|
|@ 95 Washington State|
* Potential matchup, dependent upon tournament results
** Washington State is especially special because it gets three guaranteed whiffs of the conference, including a travel date to Pepperdine. For that game, please plan on burning your eyes accordingly
*** Baylor, San Diego St., Virginia Tech, St. Louis, Mississippi and Tulane are among the many exotic locales that could get double WCC action, which is a disturbingly sexual way to end a basketball sentence
As you can see, Portland is basically doing last season's strategy all over again; Eamonn Brennan from ESPN ranked the team's OOC schedule a 10 out of 10 in difficulty, which presumably means that it's very difficult. Possible events: New Mexico will hold them to roughly 45 points. UNLV-post-Dixie-disaster will run them silly. The Kentucky game will just be a blur of explosions and white players crying.
But these results are faits accompli, pre-ordained sacrifices on the altar of the league slate and bolstered AD budget. So will the plan benefit Portland's in-conference play like it's supposed to? Or, like last year, will the team still win a negligible number of league games?
On one hand, the Pilots' 2011-12 average margin of loss against non-conference foes (17.6 pts) was 2.3 points higher than WCC foes (15.3 pts), and the WCC results were skewed high by outlier 39-point and 34-point tarnishings at the hands of Gonzaga and USF. Portland lost four WCC games by five points or less, the most of any team in the league. The Pilots are simply looking to improve over last year. In order to do that, they need to win four regular season conference games or more. Some adjustments in late-game situations can help Portland win a few of those nail-biter situations if they re-present themselves this season, and hopefully ergo, win more than three games.
On the other hand, two of last year's three regular-season WCC wins came at the hands of Santa Clara. Those games are by no means given wins this season - with the return of healthy Marc Trasolini, shifty Evan Roquemore and sober Kevin Foster, Portland might never beat Santa Clara this year. When you factor in the Pilots' roster movements, the case gets less than shiny. Two of the team's four most significant possession contributors (meaning POS>24%), Nemanja Mitrovic and Tim Douglas, are gone. They are replaced by four freshmen that no one knows a damn clue about, but more than likely won't anchor the team.
The key to this whole exercise is determining how UP's four core returning guys, Thomas van der Mars, Ryan Nicholas, Kevin Bailey and Derrick Rodgers, have improved over the off-season, and how they improve as the season goes along. Last year Portland found themselves getting outmanned in late-game situations. That
could've been due to coaching, raw talent ability, or luck. But it happened.
This is the second year in a row Portland has an elite non-conference schedule.
Let's see if the team's in-conference results differ from last season.
Will Green writes about WCC basketball. You can crucify him or tell him about interesting new college basketball things @Zagacious on Twitter.