The biggest thing we start hearing about around this time of the year is that certain teams are going to live and die by their conference tournament results. The biggest person to look at is the head coach of the respective school as they schedule all the games. We will compare the schedules of West Virginia against Rhode Island. Both of these programs are in likely one bid leagues this year but dealt with their early season scheduling much different.
West Virginia is currently in second place in the Big East conference with a 11-4 record one game behind South Florida. West Virginia has an overall record of 28-9 but they have a major weakness with an RPI of 104.
Lets take a look at some of the out of conference opponents the Mountaineers have played this season. They opened the season with four games in the Big East-Big Ten Challenge by playing Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, and Minnesota. The worst opponent in RPI out of those four is Northwestern who comes in 220. West Virginia had the chance to defeat Minnesota who is currently number 25 in the RPI but ended up losing the game 4-3.
The next weekend saw West Virginia travel to Coastal Carolina where they took on the host school and Tennessee. They picked up a victory over the last place SEC squad but ended up losing to Coastal Carolina.
Now we get into the real meat of the West Virgina schedule where they took on the likes of New Jersey Tech and Siena in four game weekend sets. New Jersey Tech currently has an RPI of 296 and Siena on the other hand has an RPI of 258. The rest of the out of conference schedule features teams with RPI over 100 except for a mid-week game against Kentucky who has an RPI of 40.You can check out the full schedule by clicking here.
West Virginia doesn’t play Ohio State, Kent State or Penn State just to name a few teams that have RPI much higher then some of the programs on their schedule. Columbus OH which is the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes is 3.5 hours away from Morgantown WV so it could be done for a mid-week game.
On the other hand, Rhode Island who plays in a slightly weaker conference with the Atlantic 10 currently has an RPI of 47 which puts them squarely on the bubble for an at-large berth for the NCAA Tournament. The reason why they are so high is do to the fact that they had a very tough early season schedule but were able to pick up wins over several national prominent programs.
They opened up the season with a victory at NC State in an early season tournament where they lost to Xavier and a Santa Clara program that was supposed to be respectable until injuries dismantled the team. The following weekend Rhode Island made the trip to Florida to take on Duquesne twice and Fairfield. They also took on the eighth ranked Miami Hurricanes and picked up a 3-0 victory over them. They ended the trip by beating the number 25 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 8-6.
The final weekend of out of conference play saw Rhode Island head to the Oklahoma State tournament which featured the host Cowboys and the Cal-State Fullerton Titans. Rhode Island was probably looked at by the two other squads as the whipping boy as each team was expected to pick up two wins. Guess what happened? Rhode Island played hard the entire weekend giving Cal-State Fullerton a run for their money in the second game of the weekend between the squads before losing 4-3. The final game of the weekend saw Oklahoma State drop a 4-3 decision to the Rams.
The tough start to the schedule seemed to really help the Rams during conference play as they have started out with a 12-2 record and in first place in the Atlantic 10 with a 1.5 game lead over Dayton.
Coach Jim Foster stated the following about how he likes to schedule such tough opponents.
I have always believed that you play against the best competition you can find and it’s something we are going to continue to do. I think it makes you more prepared for conference play and is a great gauge of where you are at as a ball club.
I tend to agree with Coach Foster’s assessment on scheduling teams. We know that Rhode Island has been able to find quality opponents especially early in the year by putting the team in some hostile environments see Oklahoma State and Miami (FL). If Rhode Island makes the NCAA Tournament this season then we will see how well thsoe early season matchups helped the team as I would expect them to make some major noise with their strong pitching staff.