Judging by the poll results and the comments on my post from last week regarding basketball scheduling, many of you are dissatisfied with Cal's current non-conference schedule. I would share that sentiment. However, as has been pointed out, much of this year's non-con schedule is the previous coach's doing, whereby existing tournaments and home-and-home agreements are being honored. Perhaps in a couple years, as Mike Montgomery gains more freedom on the schedule, we'll see better/more exciting non-conference matchups.
With that in mind, I've gone back and done a little research into Stanford's past schedule archives in an attempt to answer the questions, "What does a Mike Montgomery non-conference basketball schedule look like?" and, "Based on how he scheduled at Stanford, can we expect things to change at Cal?" All told, I looked at the last 8 years of Monty's tenure on The Farm, the '96-'97 season through the '03-'04 season, which is as far back as Stanford's online records go. Here's what I found:
Major Tournaments - Quite a few, actually. In 8 years, the Cardinal played in the pre-season NIT (twice), the Coaches v. Cancer Classic, the Puerto Rico Shootout, the BB&T Classic, the Big Island Invitational, and the Great Alaska Shootout. That's a major tournament almost every year.
These tournaments are a big plus for me; not only do the participating teams get some national TV exposure with these games, but many of Stanford's most appealing non-conference matchups (at least from a fan's perspective) came during these tournaments, including games against Duke, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Memphis, Iowa, Maryland and Xavier.
Minor Tournaments - Given Stanford's proximity to Santa Clara, it's no surprise that the Cardinal participated in the Santa Clara-hosted Cable Car Classic three times. Though hardly a great tournament, Stanford did face off against Rhode Island in 1997, a team that would eventually go on to the Elite Eight (where they lost a rematch against Stanford). To my knowledge, the Golden Bear Classic has never hosted any team that ever went to the Elite Eight.
Also, Stanford hosted its own minor tournament, the Stanford Invitational, 4 times during the 8 years studied. By all indications, it was just as lame as the Golden Bear Classic is now, hosting such powerhouses as New Hampshire, Davidson (before they were good), Sacred Heart, Belmont, Portland State, Montana and Richmond. I will point out, however, that Stanford did manage to get Georgia Tech to participate one year, in exchange for playing a "neutral site" game against GT the previous year (The Delta Airlines Classic for Kids). I will also point out that Stanford managed to do something else Cal has never done: lose in the opening round of its own tournament, which happened in 2002 when they were edged by Montana.
Neutral Site Matchups - Most of the Big Boys don't want to play true road games (they might lose!!), so other than tournaments, the best way to get good games is to play in a neutral site matchup, such as the Pete Newell Challenge. Stanford also participated in a lot of these. In the eight years surveyed, played in the Newell event 6 times, facing off against national powerhouses such as Duke, Michigan State, and Gonzaga (twice). They also participated in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim 3 times, meeting Georgia, Auburn, and Kansas in that event, some truly marquee games. Elsewhere, they met Purdue in the John R. Wooden Tradition, Texas in the Classic 4 Kids in Chicago, BYU in the Las Vegas Showdown, Georgia Tech in the aforementioned Delta Airlines Classic for Kids, and Manhattan in the Sacramento Shootout. All told, that's 14 games in 8 years, a brisk clip of nearly 2 marquee neutral-court matchups per year.
Home-and-Homes - I found 10 of these during the eight years surveyed; the overall list is rather unimpressive: San Diego, San Diego State, Connecticut, Nevada, Pacific, Long Beach State, New Mexico, UC Irvine, Rice, and UNLV. For the most part, these are decent mid-majors, and, depending on the year, most of them might have been a very tough game. However, other than the series with UConn (which I absolutely love, BTW), there isn't a single matchup here that, as a fan, would get me excited. During the '01-'02 season, Long Beach State was the marquee home game; the year before? New Mexico. If Cal is hoping to sell me season ticket packages in the future, they're going to have to offer me some more interesting competition than that.
Home Games - Of course, Stanford also has enough standing to demand home games from minor teams without having to return the favor. Now, these games are never going to be good, and only rarely will they even be competitive. I know why they're on the schedule (home games to sell tickets, easy games to boost the win total), but I don't have to like them, and I don't. I only ask that their number be limited to one or two per year. For the most part, Monty scheduled these games with teams in California; matchups such as Sac State, UC Davis, SF State and Saint Mary's all have some sort of appeal. However, I can't for the life of me think of a good reason for Stanford to host teams like Lehigh, Florida International, and Southern Utah (twice!). Those game suck just as much as the Colgate game sucks on Cal's schedule this year.
Anyway, I added up all of the games from the eight years studied, and averaged them out; here's what a typical Mike Montgomery 11-game non-conference schedule looks like:
Major Tournament (2 or 3 games)
Minor Tournament - Golden Bear Classic (2 games)
Neutral Site Matchups (2 games)
Home-and-Home w/ Mid-Major (2 or 3 games)
Home Games w/ Low Major (2 games)
Going forward, the Pac-10 / Big XII Hardwood Series game will probably take the place of one of the neutral site games, because it is against a 'BCS Conference' opponent, even though the games are technically home-and-home matchups.
From a competitive standpoint, this sort of schedule is better than what Cal has been playing in the past. There are more games against tough opponents than Braun almost ever scheduled, and there's quite a potential for quite a few TV games.
However, from a season-ticket holder standpoint, this schedule still sucks. Almost every good game on Monty's schedule during his last 8 years was away from home; the games against UConn and Georgia Tech were the only two 'BCS Conference' teams to play on the Farm. His last year at Stanford, '03-'04, the Cardinal's non-conference home slate consisted of Sacramento State, UNLV, Florida International, Southern Utah, and Harvard. Neutral-site games against Kansas and Gonzaga helped the RPI and the national exposure, but did nothing for the season-ticket holder.
Anyway, I think that's what we can expect from our basketball schedule in the near future. It's still not ideal, but it's better than it has been, and to be truthful, much of it is not our coach's fault; some high majors are refusing to play road games at all anymore, and the sort of schedule outlined above is pretty much typical in college basketball nowadays. If we the fans don't like it, I can only think of one way to make our voices heard: don't attend games we don't care about.