As you may have noticed, next year's Cal Basketball schedule was released on Monday . Unlike football, where we basically know the schedule several years in advance, basketball teams schedule much more on a year-to-year basis. Sure, there are annual tournaments (such as the Golden Bear Classic) that Cal participates in every year, and of course there are still the home-and-home agreements that big schools will make with each other to guarantee that each will get home games, but, by and large, the non-conference portion of the schedule is a bit of a surprise every time it comes out.
As a fan, I have certain scheduling preferences, which may or may not agree with the philosophy of the coach actually doing the scheduling. I of course like home games, but I like them against interesting opponents. Nationally-recognized opponents are of course great, but local mid-majors are also fun to have on the schedule. Tournaments are great, especially when they lead to some nationally-televised games on ESPN. I like to see a challenging (though not brutal) non-conference slate, something that will prepare our team for the rigors of the Pac-10. I don't like playing terrible teams just to get a guaranteed win, and I'm not interested in seeing Cal beat up on a team I've never heard of. A quick rule of thumb: if I don't know what state a team is from, I'm probably not interested in seeing Cal play them.
With that in mind, I'm here today to hand out scheduling grades. Of course, I know that many of these games were committed to before Montgomery became the head coach, so for the purposes of this exercise, I'll simply be grading the 'scheduler', whoever that may have been.
*all RPIs listed here come from Ken Pomeroy .
Nov. 15 - Pacific Tigers (21-10 last year, 4th in the Big West; RPI last year : 140; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 114)
I like this as an opening game -- a local, decent mid-major. This is a game that Cal should be able to win, but it's not a guaranteed blowout. In general, you don't want to play a toughie every time out, especially for an opening game coming off a disappointing season, and if you're going to play a lower-profile opponent, make it a local one that still generates some interest. Grade: B
Nov. 20 - Texas Pan American Broncos (18-13 last year, 1st among independents; RPI last year : 278; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 297)
Nov. 24 - North Carolina A&T Aggies (15-16 last year, 4th in the MEAC; RPI last year : 234; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 286)
I'm going to consider these two games together because they're both part of an as-yet unnamed tournament that the Bears will be participating in. And let's face it; these games suck. I have no interest or even knowledge about either team (I had to look up both team's mascots and conference affiliations). Neither team has any track record of being either good or relevant. While the Bears will use these games to experiment with lineups and get used to their new coaching staff, they'll almost certainly take an RPI hit while doing it.
However, I'm going to grade these games lightly because of the fact that they're part of a tournament, one that gets the Bears a shot at two much better teams the following weekend. Grade: C-
Nov. 28 - UNLV Runnin' Rebels (27-8 last year, 2nd in the Mountain West; RPI last year : 24; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 55)
Nov. 29 - Florida State Seminoles (19-15 last year, 7th in the ACC; RPI last year : 60; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 75) -- or -- Cincinnati Bearcats (13-19 last year, 10th in the Big East; RPI last year : 118; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 89)
These two games (both part of the To Be Named tournament) will be played in Las Vegas. I like these games. UNLV is a very good mid-major that will be a be tough test (especially since they have a home-court advantage), while either FSU or Cincinnati would be a comparable opponent from a major conference. I doubt that a win over any of these teams will prove to be a major scalp, but they're good opponents, and if this tournament is run well at all, the Bears will get some good TV exposure from these games. Grade: A-
Dec. 3 - DePaul Blue Demons (11-19 last year, 12th in the Big East; RPI last year : 158; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 93)
Did you even know that DePaul was in the Big East? I know, they've got so many teams for basketball, it's hard to keep track. In any case, they're a major conference also-ran; not a great opponent, but not a bad one either -- last year was the first one of the past 4 where they didn't finish in the top 100 in RPI. Not an exciting matchup by any means, but it might turn out to be a good game. Note also that this is a return game for a game played at DePaul 2 years ago. Grade: B-
Dec. 7 - at Missouri Tigers (16-16 last year, 10th in the Big XII; RPI last year : 117; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 105)
This is another return game, this time for the Big XII/Pac-10 Hardwood Series, which, while poorly promoted, I still feel is a good idea, and I like the exposure that the TV deals generate. Missouri's not a fabulous opponent, but they are, once again, not awful. Besides, if the Bears want a higher-profile matchup for next year's series, they're going to have to do better than finishing 9th in the Pac-10. Since the actual pairings are determined by the conferences, I'm only going to grade the 'scheduler' on getting Cal into this series, which I like very much. Grade: A
Dec. 10 - at Utah Utes (18-15 last year, 6th in the Mountain West; RPI last year : 96; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 104)
Yet another return game; indeed, you might remember the Bears losing at home to Utah last year on a last-second shot. Then again, judging by the crowd at that game, you might not. It's a decent opponent, and you gotta play 'em at their place if you want to get 'em in your house, but I'm not enamored with this game or anything. Should be good for the RPI if the Bears can win, and a few good road tests are always a good idea. Grade: B
Dec. 20 - Nevada Wolfpack (21-12 last year, 1st in the WAC; RPI last year : 74; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 37)
Nevada has been a consistently good program over the last few years, and they've got a bit of history with the Bears, beating them 2 years ago in the Pete Newell Challenge, but falling at home last year. Mark Fox is a very good coach, and I expect another good game this year. Definitely an opponent worth keeping on the schedule for the foreseeable future. Grade: A-
Dec. 22 - Colgate Raiders (18-14 last year, 3rd in the Patriot League; RPI last year : 170; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 239)
I absolutely hate this game. I see no point whatsoever. I have no idea who Colgate is, or where they are from; as far as I'm concerned, we're playing a toothpaste company. They're not good, it's not an interesting matchup, it won't help the Bears RPI, and honestly, I'll bet our starters would get a better game from our second team. Why are we bothering? The only purpose I can see for a game like this is to get another home game to sell to season ticket holders. Grade: F
Dec. 27-28 - Golden Bear Classic - Portland Pilots (9-22 last year, 7th in the WCC; RPI last year : 298; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 242) -- and -- Dartmouth Big Green (10-18 last year, 6th in the Ivy League; RPI last year : 300; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 281) -- or -- Air Force Falcons (16-14 last year, 5th in the Mountain West; RPI last year : 173; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 92)
Once again, an underwhelming field has been assembled for the Golden Bear Classic. Portland is your classic opening-round chump; I don't like it, but how would it look if the Bears lost in the opening round of their own tournament? Dartmouth is just as bad, another RPI killer, so Cal had better hope that Air Force wins their opening round game too. Of course, Air Force is a past champion of the Golden Bear Classic, defeating the Bears 49-44 in 2003 in what was quite possibly the least entertaining basketball game I have ever witnessed. 'Brutal' doesn't begin to describe that offensively-challenged debacle. I am still Jack's utter disinterest . Grade: D
Jan. 14 - San Francisco Dons (10-21 last year, 5th in the WCC; RPI last year : 273; Avg. RPI last 4 years : 177)
After two weeks of conference play, the Bears take the opportunity of a gap in the schedule during the Stanford week to get one last non-conference game in. I like the idea of playing San Francisco, generating some local interest, and I like the idea of getting an extra game in during the Stanford week, but for some reason, putting them both together doesn't thrill me. Perhaps it's because the Dons aren't very good. Yeah, that's probably it. I'd like this game more in November; in January, it kind of draws a 'meh'. Grade: C
Overall, it's not a great schedule. There are definitely some good games on here, but there are no great games; there's no big-name team that Cal would probably lose to, but if they were to win, it would be instant validation and national recognition. Most of the best games are on the road; hopefully they'll lead to some TV exposure, which would partially make up for a pretty underwhelming home slate. Throw in as many as 5 teams that had RPIs greater than 200 last year, including the always-disappointing Golden Bear Classic, and you've got yourself a pretty lackluster non-conference schedule. Overall Grade: C+