The Hokies’ low seeding was a surprise and not easy to explain outside of one big reason that had kept most projections from having the Hokies higher than a 7 or 8 seed, their extremely weak non-conference schedule.
The Hokies’ non-conference strength of schedule was ranked 307th which is simply awful and actually the worst non-conference strength of schedule in the three years of the Buzz Williams era according to ESPN. The Hokies only faced 1 RPI top 50 team, 4 RPI top 100 teams, and 6 RPI top 200 teams. While it’s hard to avoid facing a few teams outside the RPI top 200, the Hokies definitely could have put together a much-better non-conference schedule that fans definitely want to see.
Playing teams like Maine and High Point to start the season isn’t a bad idea as teams are just starting to get their legs back under them, but playing that level of opponent deep into December just doesn’t make sense. On top of that, you also can schedule a preseason game and have one or two of those closed-door scrimmages to help get your legs under yourselves before the start of the season.
What killed the Hokies’ non-conference schedule is how they played six teams outside the top 200 of the RPI with none of those teams being from conferences that usually produce more than one or two teams that may be in the RPI top 100 or even top 150.
These type of games have also driven down attendance for early-season games in Cassell Coliseum due in part with how these games come against small programs that are not really recognizable by many casual Hokie fans, making buying a ticket much more of a stretch especially when you can simply find the game on WatchESPN.
The Selection Committee has also clearly decided to make strength of schedule an important metric with a 15-loss Vanderbilt being higher on the S-Curve than Virginia Tech while a 29-6 Illinois State was left out of the NCAA Tournament despite going 17-1 in the MVC. The difference was that Vandy played America’s toughest schedule while Illinois State had a weaker schedule keeping them out with the Hokies’ weak schedule pushing VT down the S-Curve to a 9 seed.
While I absolutely believe that the Selection Committee is overemphasizing strength of schedule as a whole, it’s clear that strength of schedule will continue to be an important metric, and that should affect the Hokies’ approach to non-conference schedule.
First, Virginia Tech needs to start scheduling tougher teams along with a road game or two mixed in with that. Road games will almost always help strength of schedule and usually will come against a quality opponent as the Hokies will do next year when they travel to Oxford to take on Ole Miss. In the future, the Hokies should always make one road trip like this regardless of whether VT is at home or on the road for their ACC-Big 10 Challenge game.
Secondly, Virginia Tech needs to play fewer games against teams in the sub-200 games and hen they do, they should play teams that are more recognizable and appealing to Virginia Tech fans for most of those games.
For example, Virginia Tech should host Radford every single year but after travelling to Radford last year, the Hokies surprisingly left the Highlanders off their schedule. This should be a game that happens every year with making this the season opener annually for both schools in Cassell Coliseum not being a bad idea. VT should also look at playing other regional programs like Liberty, VMI (who VT played this year), JMU, William & Mary, Norfolk State, and East Tennessee State while also maybe playing a scrimmage against a lower division local program like Roanoke College.
Third, Virginia Tech needs to add more mid-tier games against teams from conferences like the Atlantic-10, AAC, C-USA, MVC and others. There are plenty of schools in those conferences that would love to add a game against a team from the ACC along with these teams presenting solid opportunities for potential home-and-home matchups.
For example, it only makes sense for Virginia Tech to be playing at least one or two of the many nearby teams in these conferences every year whether that be VCU, Richmond, George Mason, Old Dominion, George Washington, Davidson, or Charlotte along with maybe facing some teams from farther away like Memphis, Temple, or Illinois State whose coach put out a “Twitter ad” looking for better non-conference games after having a weak non-conference schedule keep them out this year.
ACC BIG 10 BIG 12 SEC PAC 12 BIG EAST. It's me again. Looking 4 home & home next year. Pls call me 4 chance 4 QUALITY road win, top 33 RPI pic.twitter.com/zYAZpR3kJn
— Dan Muller (@DanMuller) March 13, 2017
These teams want to play these games and playing on the road in places like Washington D.C., Richmond, Norfolk, or Charlotte would be quite appealing to alums in those markets while games like this would give Virginia Tech’s schedule more depth and help significantly improve their strength of schedule. There may even be some opponents of this quality who would be okay with no guarantee of a return home game for travelling to Cassell Coliseum.
Lastly, Virginia Tech did do a good job adding a power school like Ole Miss to their schedule, but they should continue to add at least one to two games against teams like that in addition to playing in a tournament and their ACC-Big 10 Challenge game.
Most years, Virginia Tech is likely to play about 11-12 non-conference games. With those 11-12 non-conference games, we should have the ACC-Big 10 Challenge game, 2-3 early season tournament games, 2 games against other power 5 programs, 2-3 games against A-10, AAC regional schools, and about 3-4 games against other schools including 2-3 of those coming against local smaller programs like Liberty, JMU, and Radford.
This type of scheduling would allow the Hokies to have a top 100 non-conference strength of schedule and create games that not only would fans be more excited about, but would also boost that non-conference strength of schedule metric and help the Hokies’ resume a lot to get a better seed than the 9 seed this year that has them set up for a very difficult road to get to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.