Created on Thursday, 08 November 2012 02:58 Written by Jasper Wilson, Assistant Sports Editor
With the start of basketball season upon us, the time has come for students to assume their place inside the Pete and spur their Panthers on to victory against such powerhouses as the Kennesaw State Owls.
The Kennesaw State Owls that won a mere three games last season? Yeah, those Owls. Joining the Owls as Pitt’s willing victims in the category of “guarantee games” — one-game contracts that involve compensation for the weaker school — are schools such as Delaware State and Howard. The latter is known as the alma mater of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison more than it is known for its current sporting prowess.
The first two months of this season will test spectators’ attention spans — if they decide to show up — because many victories with wide margins should occur. Kennesaw State has only been a Division I program since 2005.
The Oakland Zoo has a built-in system to discourage students from passing on the non-marquee games and to reward those who attend.
Loyalty points increase the likelihood of receiving a ticket when the demand is greater than the supply, i.e., during conference play. Students earn two points when they attend a game during which the Zoo isn’t full and one point when it is according to the description listed in the student tickets section of my.pitt.edu.
Detroit assistant coach Jay Smith and Kennesaw State assistant coach Jimmy Lallathin declined to release details regarding the compensation their programs will receive from Pitt.
But what about the other fans who have no incentive to attend these games, such as the season ticket holders? Last year’s average home game attendance within the first two months of the season — counting the City Game — was approximately 8,741 people, although at times it seemed like much less. The Pete has a seating capacity of 12,508 people for basketball games.
For a fan, the nonconference schedule belonging to the Pitt men’s basketball team this year isn’t exciting. But head coach Jamie Dixon knows what he’s doing, and according to Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, “he’s the best coach in the country at it.”
In his article “Scheduleball: Colorado State, Pitt exploit weaknesses of RPI,” Winn singled out Dixon as a master manipulator of the nonconference scheduling process.
“Pitt’s Jamie Dixon is rarely lauded for his scheduling — if anything, the knock on him has been that he doesn’t schedule hard enough when he has an elite team — but here, he looks shrewd. He’s the best coach in the country at consistently turning a mildly efficient [Non Conference Strength of Schedule] into a respectable NCSOS in the eyes of the RPI [Ratings Percentage Index], and thus, the [NCAA tournament selection committee].”
RPI is a formula that combines a team’s winning percentage, its opponent’s winning percentage and its opponents’ opponent’s winning percentage.
This creative navigation of a complicated system is great if you’re Dixon or a member of the actual team. But without difficult or at least intriguing home games on the schedule, spectating becomes boring.
Last year the atmosphere at the game against midmajor school and eventual NCAA tournament team Long Beach State was markedly better because of the game’s level of competition — a 86-76 defeat. This brought out the Zoo’s full effort in a way that the 89-56 season opener against Albany — also a midmajor — didn’t.
Of the teams Pitt will face at home before opening Big East play, only two teams — Detroit and Lehigh, given that it defeats Robert Morris — potentially made it to the NCAA tournament this past March. Two more, Bethune-Cookman and Robert Morris, made it to their conference championship games.
According to Pitt’s ticket office, the student ticket process will be the same for the Robert Morris and Lehigh games, making for three competitive games that students can see in person.
As Winn shows in his article, Dixon has mastered the art of “scheduleball.”
“‘In scheduling, the NCAA is gonna look at RPI. So I care about RPI,’” Dixon is quoted as saying in the Sports Illustrated article.
One more quality Southeastern Conference opponent should’ve come to Pittsburgh as part of the Big East-SEC Challenge since Pitt travelled to Tennessee in 2011. But Pitt was excluded from the competition this year and didn’t receive notice of this until June 1. By that time it was difficult to find a replacement game of similar caliber, according to athletic director Steve Pederson.
“We were led to believe we had a home game all along. At no point were we told that we wouldn’t get a home game. They’ve put us in a difficult spot,” Pederson said to ESPN in a June 1 article. “We went on the road last year, and there was a clear assumption that if we went on the road that we would get a return.”
As such, the cumulative record of Pitt’s nonconference home opponents last season was 161-165, including the City Game at Consol Energy Center against Duquesne, which is technically a neutral site. But fans still have the ability to watch the game in person — it’s a home game.
Pitt faces Fordham and the winner of the Lehigh-Robert Morris game as part of the National Invitational Tournament season tipoff. If they win these games, the Panthers will probably play Michigan, Virginia or Kansas State in New York City over Thanksgiving break. These three are likely NCAA tournament teams, according to ESPN’s bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Watching the team play quality opposition on TV will do nothing but make people yearn for the start of conference play, especially with this year being the last time Pitt will compete in the Big East and considering the talented teams — Syracuse, Notre Dame and Marquette included — coming to campus in 2013.
Let the wait begin.