In college basketball, there is perhaps nothing more important for a school’s NCAA Tournament resume than the strength of its non-conference schedule.
Look no further than last season’s Louisville Cardinals, who despite a 29-5 regular season record, received a number four seed in the NCAA Tournament because of its weak non-conference schedule.
Then you have the mid-major schools who face an arduous task.
Do they beef up their non-conference schedule with major conference powerhouses at the risk of racking up losses? Or instead, do they ignore the quality of teams and schedule games against similar mid-major schools where they’ll have a chance of accumulating wins that’ll make their overall record better?
For the mid-major programs that reach the NCAA Tournament, one of the perks of making it is that the ability to schedule more challenging non-conference games becomes easier.
This will be the case with the Jaspers, according to CBS Sports reporter Jon Rothstein. Manhattan will have a much stronger non-conference schedule in 2014-2015 than in 2013-2014.
On April 22, Rothstein tweeted that Manhattan would play at Florida State, Pittsburgh, and Massachusetts, host Harvard and George Mason, and face Fordham at the Barclays Center.
The Manhattan athletic department would not confirm nor deny the report from Rothstein, stating that things tend to change when scheduling games.
However, Manhattan will definitely face Florida State and Massachusetts as part of the 2014 Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament. Draddy will also host Harvard or George Mason if they do indeed face-off.
Manhattan’s 14-15 non-conference schedule: at Florida State, at Pitt, at UMass. Fordham (Barclays Center). Home vs. Harvard + George Mason.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) April 22, 2014
In 2013-2014, Manhattan had a respectable non-conference schedule, highlighted by wins against a La Salle team who made the 2013 Sweet Sixteen and an SEC school in South Carolina. Other notable opponents included George Washington, who made the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Columbia, and Hofstra.
However, on paper, the 2014-2015 non-conference schedule looks like it will pose a much tougher challenge for Manhattan.
The team will take on a Florida State team that reached the semi-finals of the 2014 NIT Tournament, losing to the eventual champions Minnesota in overtime.
The Seminole’s will be returning leading scorer Aaron Thomas, but will lose leading rebounder Okaro White and leading three-point shooter Ian Miller who will graduate this spring.
In Massachusetts, Manhattan will see a team that reached the round of 64 in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
However, Massachusetts will undoubtedly be a much different team, as they will lose three fifths of their 2013-2014 starting lineup, who will all graduate. Their biggest loss is that of their best player Chaz Williams, who led the team in scoring, assists, steals, and three-pointers made.
If Rothstein’s report is accurate, and Manhattan does indeed play at Pittsburgh, it will be the toughest opponent it will face in the regular season.
The Panthers, who reached the round of 32 in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, will lose standout players Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson, but if there’s one thing they’ve proven over the years, it is that they are consistent.
Going back to 2002, the Panthers have made the NCAA Tournament every single season with the exception of 2012, so expect them to be good once again in 2014-2015.
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the reported bunch is the home game against Harvard.
Harvard has been one of the most consistent mid-major schools in college basketball over the last three years, making the NCAA Tournament three seasons in a row. In last season’s appearance, the team upset No. 5 seed Cincinnati, and nearly pulled off an upset in the round of 32 against Elite Eight bound Michigan State.
For 2014-2015, the Crimson will be without key contributors in Brandyn Curry, Laurent Rivard, and Kyle Casey, who will all graduate, but will replace them with a highly touted recruiting class in Chris Egi and Andre Chatfield.
George Mason and Fordham are not expected to be NCAA Tournament-caliber teams next season, but two wins against Atlantic 10 schools can’t hurt Manhattan’s resume.
In 2013-2014, Manhattan played nine non-conference games. The lack of standout opponents hurt its chances of getting a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, which ultimately proved costly for the team. It received No. 13 seed in a year where three out of the four 12 seeds upset the five seed, and two of the four 11 seeds upset the six seed.
Had Manhattan had a more lavish non-conference schedule, and had either won or played closely against those stronger opponents, they might’ve been one of the 11 or 12 seeds who were victorious at the NCAA Tournament.
Seeding will be important for them next season as the team has lofty expectations, set mostly upon them by their head coach Steve Masiello.
In an article for the New York Post on March 21, Masiello said, “I think, where we are right now, in the next four years, we could get to two Sweet 16’s. That’s how I feel. We’re right there. We’re on the cusp.”
The non-conference schedule has yet to be finalized, so the team will still have time to search for more opponents. Look for Manhattan to complete its non-conference schedule with a couple of games against mid-major schools that won’t be as challenging.