• ODU coach cites unbalanced conference schedule
  • Wonders how committee will evaluate teams
  • CAA schedule complicated by expansion
Old Dominion basketball coach Blaine Taylor engaged in some veiled, mostly accurate NCAA tournament lobbying this week for his Monarchs.

And his points apply to only the Colonial Athletic Association but also the ACC and other large (bloated?) conferences.

Despite a lofty national ranking of 29 by CollegeRPI.com, ODU is tied for third in the CAA, two games behind co-leaders George Mason (23 RPI) and Virginia Commonwealth (53). Add Hofstra (94), Drexel (52) and James Madison (95) to the mix, and the CAA has six top-100 RPI teams for the first time.

"One of the things I have a hard time putting a finger on is you have all these good teams but they're not playing each other very much," Taylor said Monday. "It's kind of a (concern) to me how people will view us from afar because we've got two (teams) tied for first, and we're in mid-February and they haven't played each other yet, and they're only going to play each other once (Mason plays at VCU on Feb. 15). So that's kind of puzzling. …

"It's kind of hard to figure out who's who. You certainly have to give credit to Mason and VCU for what they've done. … I just don't know how people are going to value the unbalanced schedule."

"People" is Taylor's code for the NCAA tournament selection committee. With by far the CAA's best non-conference resume, Taylor's Monarchs are well-positioned to earn a coveted at-large NCAA bid should they not win the league's tournament and accompanying automatic NCAA invite. But in case committee members and keyboard jocks haven't noticed, Taylor is reminding them of how difficult ODU's schedule is.

"For some reason VCU and George Mason elected not to play one another (twice a year) and with their proximity and history, that's something I've never really gotten an answer to," he said.

True, while ODU plays VCU and Mason home-and-home every season, the Rams and Patriots play home-and-home only twice every six years. But Taylor knows why.

When the CAA became a 12-team conference with the addition of Georgia State and Northeastern in 2005-06, the league abandoned the traditional double-round robin – 22 conference games are untenable -- and adopted a rotating schedule. Each school, based in large measure upon its requests, was assigned five permanent partners to play twice annually, accounting for 10 conference games.

That left every school with six remaining CAA rivals. To account for eight additional league games, each team plays two non-permanent rivals twice and the other four once. The two you play twice rotate every other season.

So ODU's permanent partners are Mason, VCU, JMU, William and Mary and Georgia State.

VCU'S are ODU, JMU, William and Mary, Georgia State and UNC Wilmington, a much better program when the schedule rotation was adopted than now.

Mason's are JMU, ODU, Delaware, Northeastern and Wilmington.

It must be stressed that all five of a school's preferred partners couldn't be granted. Otherwise, who would have chosen outliers such as Georgia State and Northeastern?

Are any of the CAA's six top-100 teams disadvantaged this season? Well, here's how many games they play against one another:

Mason: Four home, four road.

VCU: Five home, three road.

ODU: Three home, five road.

Hofstra: Four home, three road.

Drexel: Four home, four road.

JMU: Four home, five road.

So Taylor is correct. This season, mostly by chance, ODU's conference schedule is more treacherous. But not drastically so, and if the NCAA selection committee is diligent, that detail will not be lost amid the myriad data it considers.

"I don't really have an answer, and I'm certainly not trying to put the burden on anybody," Taylor said when I asked about possible solutions. "The league's trying to do the best it can rotating things."

Indeed, the current schedule rotation ends this season, and permanent partners may be adjusted prior to 2011-12.

Bottom line: With the NCAA field expanded by three teams to 68 and the CAA having its best season ever, at least two, and perhaps an unprecedented three, league teams could make the NCAA tournament, especially if ODU, VCU and Mason perform well in the BracketBusters games Feb. 18-20.

As mentioned at the top, the CAA is hardly alone among conferences difficult to evaluate because of an unbalanced schedule.

For example, seven ACC teams have winning conference records, five losing. How often do the top seven face one another?

North Carolina has 10 such games, but six are at home. Boston College has nine, but six are on the road. Maryland has five home, four away, while Duke, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State have four and four.