In the beginning of the season, we debated whether the St. John’s Red Storm schedule was strong enough — or strong at all. Some liked it, others thought the scheduled lacked marquee opponents, outside of Duke and possibly West Virginia.
At the end of things, the Johnnies never faced West Virginia. And the Big East losses demolished what the Red Storm had built up in non-conference play.
But the rest of the non-conference schedule was decent, and even crafty.
Our look back at the construction of the schedule should give clues to what kinds of teams the Johnnies want to face next year, as they try to earn a winning season and make postseason play.
The non-conference strength of schedule was ranked 79th by KenPom’s metrics after the season, a bit weaker than Villanova’s, but far stronger than the “slumpbusters” of Georgetown, Rutgers, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. By NCAA’s RPI, the schedule was 43rd strongest in Division I.
The Johnnies made a schedule that included no true road games (though UCF and Grand Canyon came close) and a number of neutral site games.
Duke was Duke. Arizona State was a monster early in the season. Oregon State did St. John’s a solid by being mediocre instead of eye-gougingly horrible as they were in the previous season. Missouri turned out to be pretty good, as did Grand Canyon.
By the NCAA’s RPI Quandrant method, St. John’s (RPI: 96) played two Q1 teams (Duke, Missouri: 1-1) in non-conference play, three Q2 squads (Nebraska, Arizona State, UCF: 2-1), four Q3 teams (Iona, Oregon State, Saint Joseph’s, Grand Canyon: 4-0) and three Q4 squads (New Orleans, Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut: 3-0). Division II Molloy does not officially count for post-season consideration; the final SOS was 43.
Note that by playing a non-D1 school, the program avoided a fourth Q4 matchup in non-conference play, which would have depressed the Strength of Schedule.
By comparison, Georgetown (RPI: 164) played nine Q4 teams (9-0), one Q3 (1-0) and one Q2 (a loss to Syracuse); SOS: 351.
Oklahoma (RPI: 48), a squad that squeaked into the NCAA Tournament based in part on strong non-conference wins (2-2 vs Q1 opponents), played one Q2 game (1-0), one Q3 opponent (1-0), and six Q4 teams (6-0). Their SOS was 163.
Also for comparison, with the goal of getting a 9-9 team into the NCAA Tournament, we have the examples of Butler (a team that made the Tourney) and Marquette (a team that missed by a bit).
Butler (RPI: 41) had four Q1 non-conference games (and went 1-3 in those vs Purdue, Ohio State, Texas and Maryland), one Q2 game against Utah (a win), three Q3 games (all wins) and five Q4 games (all wins). In conference, Butler lost to Georgetown once at home, a Q4 loss. Their SOS was 132.
Meanwhile, Marquette (RPI: 57) had two Q1 games (0-2 to Purdue & Wichita State), three Q2 games (3-0), two Q3 games (a neutral-site win over VCU and a loss to Georgia), and five Q4 games (all wins). Marquette beat Georgetown and DePaul at home, but fell to DePaul on the road, a Q3 loss. Their final SOS was 157.
The upshot: don’t lose a Q3 game out of conference, and try to win a Q1 game.
In any season, the challenge is to win as many games as possible, wherever the location.
Obviously, the schedule construction did not matter. Losing to DePaul and Georgetown at home, along with some other winnable games, kept the Red Storm below the .500 mark. Not only were those winnable games, but both Georgetown games were Q4 matchups, as was the DePaul loss at home.
Having the right opponents is one thing.
Winning against them is more important.
A murderer’s row of high-major teams isn’t needed for a solid schedule. Decent neutral site games (with no cupcakes in those tournaments) do the trick. Playing beatable major conference foes on the road is helpful, too.
With the surprising wins over Villanova and Duke, the non-conference schedule would have been a strong one for post season consideration.
What will next season’s schedule of games look like?
It may be hard to replicate the number of neutral site contests again, and the Red Storm will need to travel to Duke. But a mix of a couple of cupcakes, some solid low- and mid-majors at home or at neutral sites, a good neutral site tournament and a win over a top-50 RPI team will put the Johnnies in solid position for postseason play...
...but they will need to be at least .500 in the Big East, which will give the team additional Q1 and Q2 wins.
Next year’s Big East looks to take a step back from this season’s senior-laden squads, so the Johnnies, if they have hopes of a Tournament berth, will need to schedule carefully.