Non-conference scheduling in college basketball is often some mix of art and science, with proportions that often aren’t clear when contracts are signed.
NC State was in an unusually awkward spot last offseason, as Mark Gottfried was at the time happy to rant about at length; the bottom line is that State had a difficult time finding opponents willing to fill out the schedule after the Gott Man pulled another one of his late recruiting rallies.
Loyola-Chicago was one of the schools willing to give the Wolfpack a home game, but that agreement also came with a return trip. That is far less common in college hoops than it is in college football, and hey, give Loyola credit for working that leverage. They managed to get a power conference team to consent to a road trip to their home court. That’s not easy to do.
And as Loyola head coach Porter Moser lamented on ESPN Chicago 1000 AM this week, it’s also almost certainly not going to happen, because circumstances what they are—coaching change and all that—NC State is going to buy its way out of that game.
Moser didn’t talk specifics, but based on what he did say, it’s pretty clear NC State is backing out.
Let me preface this by saying that I sympathize with Moser’s position, because none of this is fair. Money buys leverage that his school will never have. That’s just how college basketball works. Whether NC State plays that game or not probably has no bearing on how Kevin Keatts’ first season as head coach ends.
But if you haven’t already learned this from State’s football scheduling during Dave Doeren’s first few seasons, you should see it now: they’re going to schedule as soft as they can while the program needs whatever superficial bump appears necessary.
That means you don’t schedule above your weight class when you can help it, and it means, um, adjusting in those areas where you can make changes.
When NC State began assembling its non-conference schedule for this season, the program was at a point where the (previous) coaching staff felt like they were building toward a peak season. State is locked into the Battle 4 Atlantis preseason tournament, for example, which is a stacked field that includes Villanova, Arizona, and Purdue. There was never any getting out of that.
You don’t sign up for that challenge unless you’re confident it will help you down the road, and the previous staff felt like the program would be competitive enough to accept whatever setbacks might come from playing in that tournament. Those coaches have all been fired and probably would have been fired even if they’d had a time machine. Things change quickly.
Is there value to playing in that event for a program with a new head coach and roster now imperfect and made of mismatched parts? Maybe, but probably not. There’s certainly no value in a road trip in November or early December to Loyola-Chicago. The Pack can’t do anything about that tournament, but it can go ahead and accept a little egg on its face in nixing a road game at a mid-major for, shall we say, a more positive rebuilding experience.
That’s the mode State’s in at this point, and while it’s not exciting, it’s what State feels is necessary to create recruiting momentum and build confidence within the roster. Being pragmatic usually isn’t fun. It definitely does no favors for a good mid-major that is looking for some name-brand wins to help in March.
We live in a cold world defined by self-interest; it’s just not typically so brazenly on display as it is in something as meaningless as sports. When you do combine those things, you get this.