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The upside and downside of the St. John’s men’s basketball schedule

Soft as snow, but warm inside?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Preview David Wallace-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball season is near, and the release of the men’s hoops schedule got people all kinds of excited, plotting the ways to enough wins that Chris Mullin’s team would break through to the NCAA Tournament.

The schedule did have critics.

On Facebook, one of our regular readers and commenters took issue with the idea that the Red Storm schedule - released last week - was a good one, noting the lack of marquee opponents and the middling records of the major-conference foes that the Johnnies will definitely play.

Certainly, it is far better than the home-cooked, W-thirsty slop Rutgers put out.

But on second thought, taking into account the way the Ratings Percentage Index, the numerical rating that helps the NCAA Selection Committee pick the 36 at-large teams for the NCAA Tournament, is the schedule strong enough to get the Johnnies into the March Madness mix?

We dig into the way the NCAA quantitatively selects at-large teams to find out.

How the RPI works

First, let’s discuss the mechanics of the RPI. Feel free the skip this section, but it’ll make more sense if you do the reading.

A team's RPI is an index that includes:

  • the team's winning percentage against all opponents (pretty clear - what percentage of games were won?)...
  • a team's opponents' winning percentage ((were the teams St. John's played the kind of teams that win a lot of games?) and...
  • the winning percentage of opponents' opponents (did St. John's beat teams with a lot of wins over low-level teams?)

The opponent winning percentage and opponents' opponents winning percentage are the Strength of Schedule.

While winning games is the key for any team, winning games in a tough schedule can give an edge to a team that is realistically vying for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

As an extra factor to promote better non-conference games, while home wins are great, road wins count more. Road wins and neutral site wins are golden, home losses are a terrible thing to taste. Numerically, a neutral site game counts as 1 win/ loss, where a road win counts as 1.4 wins or 0.6 losses, and a home win counts as 0.6 wins and a home loss hits hard, counting as 1.4 losses.

Put together, a good schedule has chances for neutral-site and road wins, chances for big home victories and, as a sneaky kicker, involves guessing which lesser-known mid-major teams will have a strong record with some choice wins - elevating the St. John's schedule at the end of the year in retrospect.

The high-level points:

  • So playing a low/mid-major that runs through its conference/ end up conference winners is good.
  • Playing a mid-major that defeats a few high-major teams is also good.
  • Playing high-majors that struggle but still reach a winning record is solid.
  • Beating a team with a bad record and bad opponents can hurt the final RPI.
  • Losing to a good team can sometimes help.

With that in mind, how does the St. John's Red Storm schedule rate?

The positives

The travel miles on this schedule are excellent.

Lots of road games and neutral site contests will be a boost for postseason hopes.

The Advocare Tournament isn't Battle 4 Atlantis and it's not Maui. And some of the teams in the fold are pretty mediocre.

But there are chances for solid wins - West Virginia should be a top-15 team. UCF is the kind of team that could take its conference or at least be a fringe NCAA squad. Long Beach State could be decent.

Missouri has imported three top-50 talents, including the possible #1 pick in the draft. The Tigers could be a surprisingly good team by February, and Oregon State could also improve.

There is some upside in the game choices.

Arizona State could be better in a competitive Pac-12 than last year's 15-17 record. This will be considered a neutral-site game, most likely.

Iona, in a mid-tier conference by RPI strength, will have four or five solid top-200 teams as competition in the MAAC. The Gaels continue to schedule aggressively, with Albany, Syracuse, Yale and Rhode Island on their schedule. This will likely be considered a home game (in Madison Square Garden, so that would make sense), but the Iona matchup could be a neutral-site contest, since both teams are from the area.

Grand Canyon is in the same boat, with the added benefit of being a team that expects to win its conference this season. This will be considered a road game, most likely.

Saint Joseph's struggled last season but plays in a solid conference - and should be better. This will be considered a neutral-site game, most likely.

The negatives

Frosted cupcakes

A few cupcakes are good for a team that returns 68% of their minutes but will be integrating at least three important newcomers in Marvin Clark, Justin Simon and Sid Wilson to improve the offense and defense. Three cupcakes are ok. But a win over Molloy (Division II) is an empty practice win, since wins over non-Division I opponents don't count.

New Orleans was solid - in the NCAA First Four last year - but also graduated four seniors and are likely to be worse, in a low-rated conference.

Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut are both low-level teams with losing records in the low-rated NEC.

Playing multiple opponents that could struggle.

Nebraska, Arizona State and Oregon State could all bounce back - but each could be very bad in their conference. To be fair, the opponents' opponents' winning percentages could be off the charts for those teams, but the way the RPI is calculated, the opponent's winning percentage carries a lot of weight.

In summation...

This schedule is strong on upside, but if some of the teams continue to struggle this season, the non-conference RPI for the Red Storm will suffer - as will the team’s postseason prospects in comparison to some other squads.

Fortunately, the Big East is strong enough that a solid showing (let’s say, .500) in the league should be enough to bring the Johnnies to at least the NIT, if not the NCAA.

The Johnnies definitely have their eyes on postseason play this year. If they were in search of easy wins, Molloy could have been accompanied by some MEAC and SWAC teams like Delaware State, a low-level Big West squad like Cal State Northridge, a Southland program like Incarnate Word.

Those names are highlighted, as you might guess, because the upshot of all of this is that for the Red Storm, the first priority is actually winning the games.

A great schedule means nothing after a 7-6 non-conference schedule. This schedule should get the team wins - if they can cover some of the deficiencies that popped up in losses to Incarnate Word two years ago, in the loss to Delaware State and in the struggles against Cal State Northridge.

This year’s schedule should give Chris Mullin’s side a running start.

But to get to any postseason play, the team will also need to improve within Big East play, where the Red Storm were 7-11.

This schedule is not good enough to overcome a 7-11 Big East record to get to the NCAAs - few schedules are. But if the team is really post-season ready, 10-3 - or better - is needed from this collection of games.