Walfish: New scheduling norm for UMass still conducive to success

  • UMass coach Matt McCall motions to his team as it plays Nevada on Nov. 23 in Las Vegas. The schedule UMass athletics director Ryan Bamford and McCall have put together this season is the path the Minutemen must take in this era of college basketball. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 7/19/2019 8:05:39 PM
Modified: 7/19/2019 8:05:27 PM

By now most fans have realized that the era of UMass playing anyone, anytime, anywhere is long gone.

In reality, it takes a lot for a mid-major such as the Minutemen to play a nonconference basketball schedule filled with major programs, even if the success had been flowing more than just one NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999. Only one program can really shoulder that load — Gonzaga — and that is largely due to Mark Few not making a money grab and headed to a bigger, more prestigious job early in his tenure.

But the schedule UMass athletics director Ryan Bamford and coach Matt McCall have put together this season is the path the Minutemen must take in this era of college basketball.

The high-major programs fall into three categories now: the ones that are too good to play a home-and-home with UMass, the ones that are too afraid of what a loss to UMass might mean to its tournament hopes and the ones that UMass can schedule but might not be good enough to matter on Selection Sunday. That is the dilemma Bamford and McCall face as they try to piece together a set of games for November and December.

Which is exactly why Bamford’s decision to tie basketball games to football contracts is the best strategy the Minutemen have to satisfy both requirements. UMass is able to get its money from a road football game, book a home-and-home with a top-tier opponent in basketball and the opposing school is able to save a little bit of money to book that guaranteed home football game their fans really don’t care about.

Which brings us to this year’s batch of 13 basketball games UMass will play during the nonconference portion of the schedule. More specifically, the stretch between Nov. 23 and Dec. 4.

In those 12 days, the Minutemen are guaranteed to play three Power Five opponents and potentially a fourth in Arizona State. If they don’t play the Sun Devils, the game against St. John’s is still bigger than the other nine games on the plate for UMass.

It is the type of stretch that will make or break the Minutemen’s NCAA Tournament at-large hopes moving forward. It is unlikely UMass makes a run for the postseason this season with such a young, inexperienced team, but this year’s schedule is a sign of the future. UMass can still be relevant on Selection Sunday with schedules that look like this year’s slate.

The games like Central Connecticut State (Nov. 16) and Rider (Nov. 20) are a cost of playing in the multi-team events, but opportunities to bank wins — which we all know is vital to capture the committee’s attention as a mid-major. The regional games like Maine (Dec. 20) and UMass-Lowell (Nov. 5) are good to pad the home slate, and once again provide some competition against which UMass should be favored.

But what many fans overlook on the schedule are the games against regional programs who are perennial contenders in their own mid-major conferences. There are three opponents that fit that bill this year: Harvard (Dec. 7), Northeastern (Nov. 12) and Yale (Dec. 11).

It is true that a win over any of these opponents probably won’t go down as UMass’ best if the Minutemen make the NCAA Tournament again. But a loss in these games isn’t a bid-crushing defeat either, which contrasts it from the other non-high major games on the schedule.

These contests are the answer to an era in which most mid-level high-major teams won’t schedule UMass in a conventional home-and-home. They are games that will matter in the flawed NET rankings but not be a huge hit if the result isn’t a positive one.

The scheduling landscape will likely change starting next season with new bylaws set to be voted on in January or April that would alter the multi-team event format. These types of tournaments would be restricted to two or three games, thereby eliminating one if not both of the guaranteed home games that are tacked on as part of these events.

But regardless of how UMass proceeds within the new rules, the philosophy Bamford has in regards to scheduling does set up UMass for success. This year’s schedule is an example of how the administration has balanced giving the Minutemen multiple chances for quality wins with finding opponents that won’t hinder UMass’ profile regardless of the result.

It’s not about the name on the jersey, it’s about the quality of opponent. And in that respect, UMass is on the right path with its schedule.

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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