On Bama's Basketball Schedule

There are basically two theories when it comes to scheduling non-conference basketball games. When Alabama basketball was rebuilt into a national contender in the 1970s under Coach C.M. Newton, one of the Newton scheduling trademarks was to play tough teams. "You have to beat the best to be the best," he said. This year's Crimson Tide basketball schedule reminds of that philosophy.

One of Newton's assistants was Wimp Sanderson, who scoffed at the notion of playing a hard schedule. And when Sanderson became Alabama's head coach, the non-conference schedule was down-graded.

It should be pointed out that there have been very strong programs where the theory is to play a difficult schedule and very strong programs where the easy schedule is the rule. Like most things in athletics, there is more than one way to be successful. As an obvious example, both Newton and Sanderson had championship Alabama teams.

Mark Gottfried played for Sanderson, but Gottfried subscribes to Newton's Theory when it comes to scheduling. At least that has been the case since Alabama's basketball team was denied an NCAA Tournament berth a few years ago, a year in which the NCAA Basketball Tournament Selection Committee (like many NCAA committees, chaired by a lightweight thinker) decided to make an example of Alabama's weak non-conference schedule. Gottfried probably thought that schedule made sense for a team made up primarily of sophomore-level players, and that has been a working theory for many, many schools over the years. But being denied the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament was a severe method of altering that mindset.

This year's Alabama team is certainly rebuilding, yet the schedule is one that any veteran team would consider challenging. But it may be that a rebuilding team benefits much more from a difficult schedule than from the breather schedule most rebuilding teams have.

If the NCAA Selection Committee elects to punish another team this year, look for it to be a Southern team. And right now the likely poster child would be Auburn, a veteran team which played seven ridiculously easy home games to start the season. (When Auburn went on the road for the first time, playing in the same Las Vegas event with Alabama Saturday night, the Tigers suffered a 13-point loss at the hands of underdog UNLV.)

When a team plays a cupcake schedule, it does several things. One, it pads the record of the head coach, who made the schedule. That's because, Two, almost regardless of what players are in action, the stronger team is going to win. And that leads to Three, that the coach doesn't really know which players will perform in the heat of battle when conference play begins. =p=Gottfried has already made subtle changes in the Alabama line-up. He has also discovered ways to maximize the roster despite a lack of depth at some positions. For instance, Antoine Pettway is Bama's only true point guard, but Demetrius Smith, and even Earnest Shelton, have had to perform in critical situations. When those situations arise in Southeastern Conference play, as is inevitable, Gottfried will know what to expect, and so will the players.

While the NCAA Selection Committee is likely the primary source of Gottfried's scheduling theory, the unintended consequence may include a team that has a few more non-conference losses, but which is prepared to play at the highest possible level later.

And among the winners are Alabama basketball fans, who are watching an over-achieving team play entertaining games.


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