A trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands to play in the 2014 Paradise Jam may make or break Seton Hall's improved non-league schedule for the 2014-15 season. The Pirates will prepare for their trip to the Virgin Islands with a season-opening tuneup against a depleted Mercer Bears roster at Prudential Center on November 16th.
It appears undeniable that Kevin Willard added some strength to a 2013-14 non-conference schedule that was ultimately unattractive to fans and detrimental to Seton Hall's RPI and strength of schedule (SoS). However, the non-league slate still may not hold enough weight to impress the NCAA selection committee without a strong performance at the Paradise Jam.
Winning against an inexperienced Nevada team is imperative for Seton Hall to ensure 1) facing Clemson in the second round and 2) avoiding a disastrous tournament bracket path that would likely include Nevada, Gardner-Webb, and Old Dominion/Illinois State/Weber State. The Wolf Pack lose a ton of scoring and experience from a middle of the pack 2013-14 squad, but have perhaps obtained the most "ready now" talent via recruiting of any retooling low/mid-major on Seton Hall's schedule. Our comprehensive preview of Nevada will be published in late-July, a week after our Mercer preview is posted.
A date with NCAA-hopeful Clemson is 100-percent the matchup needed for Seton Hall in the second round because the alternatives aren't pretty. A Gardner-Webb upset of Clemson in the first round would be exciting, but could ultimately hurt Seton Hall, even assuming Seton Hall advances. But that is one of many unlikely scenarios that we won't explore.
Here are some scenarios that are likely to come to fruition based on how Seton Hall performs over the first two games (I've ranked the field in order: Clemson/LSU, Illinois State, Old Dominion, Nevada, Weber State, Gardner-Webb to streamline the possibilities):
1) L - L: Nevada, Gardner-Webb, (Weber State)
2) L - W: Nevada, Gardner-Webb, (Old Dominion)
3) W - L: Nevada, Clemson, (Illinois State)
4) W - W: Nevada, Clemson, (LSU)
Scenario one is a worst-case scenario with game three likely to be a poor opponent; an NCAA bid is probably out of the question if Seton Hall isn't capable of beating Nevada and Gardner-Webb. Scenario two is what would likely play out if Seton Hall falls to Nevada but rebounds in round two, while scenario three (third place game) is notably tougher due to an all-important opening round win. The last possible situation is a best-case, where Seton Hall plays the three toughest opponents possible, including two NCAA-likely schools. Winning the first two games and just playing against, but not necessarily beating, Louisiana State would work wonders for schedule strength and RPI.
So why exactly is Seton Hall's showing at the U.S. Virgin Islands so imperative for the overall schedule? For starters, the schedule is stronger, but not worlds above last season's slate. Here is a comparison of projected RPIs for the 2014-15 schedule compared to final numbers for the 2013-14 schedule, which proved to be slightly worse, but accurate, compared to what I originally projected:
(+ indicates chance to move up a bracket, (-) indicates chance to move down a bracket)
(1) RPI 1-50 (great schedule): @ Wichita State
(2) RPI 51-100 (good schedule): George Washington, @ Georgia (+)
(2) RPI 101-200 (neutral): Rutgers (-), @ USF (-)
(2) RPI 201-250 (bad): Nevada, Saint Peter's (-)
(3) RPI 251+ (terrible): Mercer, Mount St. Mary's, Maine
(* - worse than projected, ^ - better than projected)
(1) RPI 1-50 (great schedule): Oklahoma (26)
(1) RPI 51-100 (good schedule): @ Mercer (82)
(1) RPI 101-200 (neutral): @ Rutgers (194)
(4) RPI 201-250 (bad): Kent State (214*), Eastern Washington (228^), Saint Peter's (231^), Va Tech (248*)
(6) RPI 251+ (terrible): Lafayette (259**), FDU (269), Monmouth (293), LIU-Brooklyn (299**), Niagara (302*), NJIT (308)
On the surface, the main difference between the two schedules is just five RPI 201+ opponents during 2014-15, whereas there were a whopping ten schools that finished with an RPI of 201 or worse during 2013-14, effectively acting as a SoS ball and chain. With Rutgers and South Florida currently undergoing program renovations, they are safe bets to land in the RPI neutral zone (many low high-majors finish here), but are also a threat to drop below 200 as Rutgers moves to the gauntlet that is the Big Ten, official today, and USF faces massive roster turnover. To the contrary, it is also important to note the lack of home games, just six compared to last season's nine, which will help boost schedule strength since half of Seton Hall's games won't be played at home. This also ensures that more than half of the Pirates' total games this season will take place away from home.
With that in mind, a potential RPI 201+ total of 7 opponents (if Rutgers and USF struggle) could be made worse if Seton Hall finds Gardner-Webb and/or Weber State in their path at the Paradise Jam. Furthermore, Illinois State and Old Dominion both project in the RPI 150-250 range right now and don't look to do anything but hurt the Pirates' schedule strength should they clash.
After posting a final non-conference strength of 314th last season, a strong Seton Hall performance in the Paradise Jam could be the difference between finishing with a SoS somewhere in the mid-100s, or easily in the 200-250 range. To compare, here are some non-conference SoS numbers from all NCAA bubble-in teams last season: Iowa (186), Stanford (51), Dayton (101), Nebraska (107), Arizona State (236), Saint Joseph's (146), Providence had they lost to Creighton (195), Brigham Young (4), North Carolina State (108), Xavier (89), and Tennessee (42).
Is it safe to say Seton Hall wants to finish their season with an SoS closer to 150 than 250?
The Paradise Jam could be the difference.