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Buffalo Bulls Basketball schedule should set an example for the Mid-American Conference

If the MAC wants to get back to being a two bid league they cannot keep scheduling as they have been.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Why has Buffalo suddenly started winning big games in Cleveland? Why have the Bulls put together two very solid games in the NCAA tournament as double-digit seeds?

I postulate it has been a move to aggressive scheduling by Buffalo, which has both helped the perception of UB's 20-win seasons and hardened the team for big games.

When you cut your teeth out of conference on Duke and Iowa State, in front of hostile and huge crowds, you're not going to be shaken in Cleveland by Akron or those fans. Is it any wonder Hamilton had ice in his veins for that winning shot?

Even the Cleveland Plain Dealer's MAC guy, not typically a man with great things to say about the Bulls, realized the truth.

Buffalo sets standard for Mid-American Conference basketball (photos) | cleveland.com
Yes, the MAC finished the regular season as RPI No. 10 out of 32 conferences in the country. But it has become increasingly clear, to truly be "a major conference in basketball" the league needs to climb at least three more notches, or it might as well be 20th or 30th. Because, in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, 10th for the MAC is really no different.

...

The 10-8 shows just how tough the conference really was. But the 7-6 non-conference has a message, too. Old Dominion (Conference-USA), St. Joseph (Atlantic 10), St. Bonaventure (Atlantic 10), Duke (ACC), Iowa State (Big 12) and VCU (Atlantic 10) were all on the schedule. All but St. Bonaventure were played on the road. All but Old Dominion (Conference-USA) were NCAA-bubble teams considered for the NCAA Tournament. All but ODU played in multi-bid conferences. All but ODU and St. Bonaventure got in, with the Bonnies generally considered among the 'last four out.'

The problem with RPI is that it's a number calculated from a formula. And like all mathematical formulas you can game it if you're smart. A lot of schools do that. They produce fine RPI numbers by stacking up on mediocre road opponents and winning those games.

The MAC had three top 100 RPI teams. The Bulls, Ohio Bobcats, and Akron Zips finished 91, 81, and 34 respectively. Among those schools only Buffalo had strength of schedule among the top 100 teams in Division I Hoops, mainly because UB did not only pick one or two marquee payday games. They added to the Duke and Iowa State pay outs games with St. Joseph's, Saint Bonaventure, and VCU.

The team was still coming together then and lost all of the games but it hardened them and, coincidentally, also kept their RPI respectable.

Buffalo Opp RPI Ohio Opp RPI Akron Opp RPI
Duke 20 St. Bonaventure 30 Villanova 4
St. Joseph's 21 Tulsa 58 Iona 77
Iowa St. 23 Florida St. 83 UCSB 98
St. Bonaventure 30 Marshall 128 Green Bay 114
VCU 37 Tennessee St. 148 Marshall 128
Vermont 126 Jackson St. 210 Arkansas 133
Old Dominion 140 Fla Gulf Coast 216 S. Carolina St. 205
Canisius 222 Norfolk St. 221 Lipscomb 269
Montana St. 260 UC Riverside 267 Cleveland St. 278
Delaware 274 Cleveland St. 278 Bethune-Cookman 290
Binghamton 299 AR Pine Bluff 310 Charleston Southern 298
N.C. A&T 340 Coppin St. 326
Top 25 3 0 1
Top 50 5 3 1
Top 100 5 3 3
200+ 5 6 6

If you are in the BigEast, AAC, the A10, or any the power five conferences then you can count on enough marquee foes in-conference to earn a spot on the bubble. The MAC is not there yet. To be fair Buffalo did not beat any of those top 100 teams but the experience benefited Buffalo during the conference.

Given what Akron did on the road in the NIT I have no doubt that they, with UB's schedule, could have won more than two top-100 games. And even if they had dropped them they would have benefited from the experience.

UB was a young team fraught with offseason turmoil. Nobody would have blamed them for stacking up with a bunch of cupcakes, like NIU and Ball State did. But the Bulls resisted the temptation to fill up on a junk food schedule. Even if it meant a "meh" out of conference record.

I hope UB tries to schedule like this again. The Bulls should be a better team next November than they were at the beginning of this season.

NIU and Ball state sum up part of the MAC's problem. They are examples, but not the only examples, of MAC teams settling for a shiny 20-win season built on weak opponents.

NIU Opp RPI BSU Opp RPI
Ohio St. 74 Valparaiso 49
Wright St. 146 Pepperdine 129
Idaho 189 Indiana St. 171
South Dakota 197 IUPUI 188
Missouri 223 S. Carolina St. 205
Florida Intl. 270 E. Kentucky 211
CSU Northridge 281 Eastern Illinois 271
Ill. Chicago 346 Bradley 306
Chicago St. 349 Longwood 323
Alabama A&M 331
New Orleans 343
Chicago St. 349
Top 100 1 1
200+ 5 8
300+ 1 5
DII 4 1

What possible reason can a Division I school have to play four Division II games? During the middle of your non conference slate? I'm not a fan of any Division II games but I do see the value in a home court tuneup to get students into the season.

UB played two this year, one was an exhibition before the season started and the other was the first game. Not ideal but at least they were not scattered around our schedule.

If I were king of MAC basketball here is how I would dictate teams schedule up.

Note these are guidelines. I understand you cant predict where a team will finish in a given season but their recent history should give a good idea.

One or two bigger name opponents with huge arenas and a willingness to buy games

This does not mean you have to hunt around for a top-10 team, merely one with a big stage. NIU had the right idea with Ohio State as did UB with Duke and Iowa State. One or two of these teams which typically finish among the top 50 and have a large, loud arena.

Three or four games against good teams from good conferences

Buffalo hosted Saint Bonaventure and came within a hair's breadth of pulling the upset. They also went on the road to Saint Joseph's.

There are 30+ NCAA Division I conferences and MAC teams should be scheduling two or three games with the better teams in the top half of those conferences.

Three or four games versus other respectable top 200 RPI teams.

I was going to suggest top 150 teams but in reality there is not a lot separating 149 from 199. Usually you're looking at teams with a win total in the mid- to high teens the previous year and who return some talent.

Three or four games against regional or state rivals regardless of their RPIs.

This would be UB playing Canisius, Niagara, Albany, Binghamton, or Stony Brook. In terms of your resume none of these teams add to your resume, save maybe Stony Brook, but it's good for the fans and community.

The media in Western New York has all but officially declared that UB and Saint Bonaventure are the two teams worth following. The two schools have owned Niagara and Canisius for the past 15 years and rendered the MAAC schools barely relevant.

That's good for Buffalo as they start to push the other two schools out of the papers and press, filling it instead with Blue and White, and means they can get away with a bit more of a rotation of rival games.

At most *one* DII game

And preferably have it be an exhibition before the season starts. There is just no reason to schedule more than one.

In total that would somewhere between 10-13 games plus an exhibition, and the schedules would give every MAC team a shot at some signature wins, wins which could help the MAC champion with seeding, get them on the bubble, or get a MAC team an a- large bid to the NCAA or NIT.

All we have to lose is a hollow 20+ win record.