MU’s basketball schedule a step in the right direction

Sports Commentary

Maybe it took a warning from the conference office. Maybe it took enough fans complaining. Or maybe it was just the way it worked out this year.

The reason isn’t as important as the fact. The University of Missouri has appeared to make a concerted effort to ramp up its non-conference home basketball schedule.

The schedule, unveiled last week, includes home games against UCLA and West Virginia. It includes the annual game against Illinois in St. Louis and a game at North Carolina State. Missouri also will play a game against Hawaii at the Sprint Center in Kansas City and games in Las Vegas against Northwestern and Nevada.

The important thing to note in all of this is there are games at Mizzou Arena that matter. For the first time since 2010, a team from a major conference will visit Missouri in non-conference play.

It may seem simple, but to have a Big 12 and Pac-12 school coming to Columbia next year is huge for a fan base that has suffered through absolutely dreadful non-conference home games the last two years. Remember Mercer, Binghamton, Niagara or any of the other string of sub-300 RPI teams that have rolled through Columbia in the past couple of years?

While Missouri might be trying to fit in with the Southeastern Conference when it comes to culture, it fits in just fine when it comes to scheduling home games.

The SEC was notably bad when it came to scheduling last year, and it likely hurt the league when it came time to hand out NCAA Tournament bids. Just three teams made it in the field of 68, including Mississippi, which was a bubble team until it won the SEC Tournament.

Five SEC teams (South Carolina, Mississippi State, Auburn, Mississippi and LSU) had non-conference strength of schedules ranked below 200. Missouri, while bad at home, played a decent schedule away from Mizzou Arena and ranked 81st overall according to

So it should come as no surprise the SEC brass decided it would review its institutions’ non-conference schedules. There has not been any word what this monitoring process will involve, but the fact the conference says it’s watching may make teams attempt to schedule some tougher competition.

With those from above watching, it’s safe to say South Carolina’s strength of schedule will be better than 321 this season.

In Missouri’s defense, putting together a tough non-conference schedule is not an easy thing to do and there is certainly a risk-reward to doing so. Stacking the deck with winnable games comes at the price of a low RPI, but can almost guarantee an average team 20 wins per season.

Playing tough teams comes with the risk of fewer wins, but quality wins are possible when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.

The Tigers were hamstrung a little bit when it came to scheduling after Mike Anderson left for Arkansas two years ago. Frank Haith was left to piece together a schedule at the last minute while getting acclimated to his new team. That can’t be an easy thing to do.

And scheduling big home games appears to be a problem across the board in college basketball. Kansas, which routinely plays a tough non-conference schedule, had just one team from a power conference play last season in Lawrence (Colorado). Duke’s only home game against a power-conference team was with Ohio State.

Gone are the glory days when teams such as Iowa, Gonzaga, Indiana, Purdue, Virginia or Maryland — to name a few — routinely came to Columbia.

For Missouri, this is a step in the right direction. It’s tough in these times to sell tickets, especially when a good portion of the fan base lives in Kansas City and St. Louis. I’m sure season-ticket holders will feel a little better about getting to watch a couple of big-time programs before SEC play rolls around.

The Tigers are set to play in the Maui Invitational next season and have a home-and-home series with Arizona beginning in 2015.

And remember the Big 12-SEC Series is in its infancy. Maybe that could spark a future game against Kansas. Now that would be a gigantic step in the right direction.


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