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How Missouri finalizes its hoops schedule will frame expectations

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Cuonzo Martin's choices will hint at how he balances player development, postseason aspirations, and, yes, finances entering 2017-18.

Oregon State v California Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

When the calendar turns over to June, college basketball's news cycle should whir with the creaking speed of an industrial fan.

On May 24, the deadline elapsed for underclassmen to pull their names from the NBA draft. Coaching staffs get a reprieve from rushing between sweltering gyms, squeezing into cramped rental cars and carry way too much loose cash to feed the packet racket. By now, most high-level recruits and grad transfers have found homes. As for the players, summer classes start this coming week — and with it, the chemistry experiments performed late at night during open gym sessions.

What passes for news? Unofficial visits from prospects. Updates on players working back from injury. Oh, and scheduling.

In one hour last week, a flurry of tweets gave us better clarity about Missouri's docket —€” a home-and-home series with UCF and its slate for SEC play. A week earlier, MU learned it was left on the stoop for one of 10 matchups in the Big12-SEC Challenge.

In any other year, knowing who the Tigers will face in 24 games would be interesting but far from compelling. But the 12 weeks since Cuonzo Martin's hiring have been chockablock with news. We're waiting to see when Jontay Porter announces his likely reclassification for the 2017 class, but, on the whole, the roster is fixed —€” one infused with the nation's No. 1 prospect headlining a top-five class, an impact grad transfer in Kassius Robertson, and a trio of steady veterans.

It's a reclamation project that has the sports pundit class plopping Mizzou in preseason some preseason top-25 rankings. And the hype surrounding Martin's debut season is percolated by one question: Can Mizzou end a four-year absence from the NCAA tournament.

Once again, Missouri will likely be one the nation's youngest teams. Under most circumstances, it wouldn't be shocking for Martin and his staff to hew to a conservative approach: schedule softly and allow a roster cleaved by youth and raw talent to find itself.

Michael Porter Jr.'s nine-month stopover in Columbia, though, thwarts that logic —€” not that Martin, the athletic department or (until recently) an apathetic fan base.

Rightly or wrongly, the floor starts with getting back on the NCAA tournament bubble —€” a task that hinges on the conscious decisions made right now in the sport's doldrums. How Mizzou assembles the remaining components not only dictates its viability come March, but it reveals how the program will balance capitalizing on fan interest and managing player development.

So, uh, what’s left to do?

Truthfully, not much.

When Mizzou hired Martin on March 15, it had half the non-conference fixed in place. MU opens with Iowa State, hosts Stephen F. Austin, plays three games in the AdvoCare Invitational (hopefully drawing a Big 12 contender in West Virginia) and faces Illinois in what should be a rejuvenated Braggin’ Rights tilt.

The series with UCF could be shrewd. The Knights doubled their win total in Johnny Dawkins’ first year on the bench, reached the NIT quarterfinals and jumped to 68th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings. Starting with big man Tacko Fall, they have enough returning pieces to be intriguing in an American Athletic Conference race that will include the usual suspects like Cincinnati, SMU and (now) Wichita State.

NCAA Basketball: NIT Semifinals-UCF vs TCU
Tacko Fall and UCF could be a savvy addition to Mizzou’s schedule.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Five of Mizzou's non-conference games are away from Columbia, meaning there are likely five or six more home dates still open. And that's where things could get interesting or tricky.

Even among power conference programs, locking in a marquee matchup requires shoe leather and some luck. Today, a major home-and-home may be the byproduct of several years' worth of conversations. It can be an equally byzantine process — and one with plenty of jockeying — to score a spot in a premier non-conference tournament. Increasingly, bluebloods are circumventing the process entirely, organizing amongst themselves for events like the Champions Classic.

Power conferences have tried to craft workarounds, the latest incarnations being the Big 12-SEC Challenge and the Gavitt Games, pairing teams from the Big Ten and Big East. Even then, it's likely traditional powers from those leagues will meet, a necessity for TV interest.

When word came down that Missouri was left on the stoop for this year's Big 12-SEC Challenge, it wasn't a surprise. Still, it's a missed opportunity. Instead of a potentially beneficial matchup handed to them in late January, Martin, his staff and an associate athletic director will keep working the phones.

Sure, Martin retains a degree of freedom in sculpting the schedule. Whether he has much flexibility is another matter.

Who can they call?

Looking to the NCAA selection committee for guidance doesn't bring clarity. Past committee chairs are broken records: We take each team on its own. We want to see road games. Or neutral floor games against decent teams.

The 10 members in the room understand athletic directors and coaches don't have perfect foresight. A game that looked good in the summer may not be by the middle of the season. What matters, though, is trying to arrange high-quality matchups.

Keep in mind, too, the SEC has its own guideline for members: the three-year average RPI for a program should be better than No. 175. The league instituted the recommendation —€” there's no enforcement mechanism —€” a year ago with the implicit message that you couldn't schedule teams mired in prolonged stretches of mediocrity.

Using the SEC's cutoff is a handy way to cull the field of teams Mizzou could seek out. Playing around in Excel reveals 175 programs meet the conference's parameters, or half of the Division I membership. Now, if we're talking about quality opponents, those who own an average RPI better than 100, there's still a degree of flexibility. Roughly 40 of those schools are outside the Power Five structure. For example, UT-Arlington, which is out of the Sun Belt, finished 40th in the ratings last season and sports an average RPI of 109th —€” metrics that compare favorably to schools like Penn State or Arizona State.

As a handy reference tool, we've embedded the Google spreadsheet so you can compare teams.

Average NCAA Basketball RPI

School 2015 RPI 2016 RPI 2017 RPI Average
School 2015 RPI 2016 RPI 2017 RPI Average
Kansas 5 1 4 3.333333333
Villanova 6 2 3 3.666666667
North Carolina 9 5 1 5
Kentucky 3 10 2 5
Duke 1 15 10 8.666666667
Virginia 7 3 19 9.666666667
Arizona 4 28 5 12.33333333
Oregon 27 4 7 12.66666667
Louisville 19 16 11 15.33333333
SMU 18 14 16 16
Gonzaga 8 37 6 17
West Virginia 22 11 20 17.66666667
Baylor 17 27 9 17.66666667
Notre Dame 10 24 22 18.66666667
Iowa St. 16 20 21 19
Xavier 28 8 27 21
Maryland 14 13 38 21.66666667
Wisconsin 2 36 30 22.66666667
Michigan St. 15 12 47 24.66666667
Wichita St. 12 41 29 27.33333333
VCU 21 38 26 28.33333333
Dayton 29 25 36 30
Butler 30 53 13 32
Purdue 62 17 18 32.33333333
Miami (FL) 47 7 44 32.66666667
Cincinnati 36 55 12 34.33333333
Providence 25 32 61 39.33333333
Utah 13 9 96 39.33333333
Florida 69 45 8 40.66666667
St. Mary's (CA) 77 29 17 41
Iowa 40 26 83 49.66666667
San Diego St. 26 30 99 51.66666667
Georgia 45 59 54 52.66666667
Michigan 79 58 23 53.33333333
UCLA 39 110 14 54.33333333
Indiana 63 19 81 54.33333333
Valparaiso 57 31 78 55.33333333
Seton Hall 103 23 46 57.33333333
California 93 22 63 59.33333333
Texas A&M 68 18 93 59.66666667
BYU 44 67 73 61.33333333
Arkansas 23 134 28 61.66666667
Oklahoma 20 6 162 62.66666667
Syracuse 67 40 86 64.33333333
South Carolina 97 73 24 64.66666667
Florida St. 110 75 15 66.66666667
Davidson 42 69 89 66.66666667
Vanderbilt 88 71 42 67
Pittsburgh 78 54 74 68.66666667
Ohio St. 38 78 92 69.33333333
Illinois St. 53 118 39 70
Rhode Island 61 122 31 71.33333333
Boise St. 43 101 70 71.33333333
Akron 124 44 55 74.33333333
Ole Miss 58 98 68 74.66666667
Iona 55 85 84 74.66666667
George Washington 80 35 109 74.66666667
Stanford 34 87 105 75.33333333
UConn 81 33 121 78.33333333
Temple 33 68 134 78.33333333
UNI 11 66 158 78.33333333
UNCW 151 52 33 78.66666667
Yale 66 43 127 78.66666667
Texas 51 34 156 80.33333333
Georgetown 24 103 115 80.66666667
Alabama 86 79 82 82.33333333
Kansas St. 108 89 53 83.33333333
Belmont 100 97 58 85
Tulsa 50 70 139 86.33333333
Richmond 64 125 72 87
Middle Tenn. 152 77 34 87.66666667
St. Bonaventure 127 46 91 88
Colorado 118 49 101 89.33333333
Buffalo 31 91 149 90.33333333
New Mexico St. 107 112 56 91.66666667
South Dakota St. 84 39 152 91.66666667
Oklahoma St. 56 180 41 92.33333333
Colorado St. 37 171 69 92.33333333
Georgia Tech 147 51 79 92.33333333
Creighton 157 94 32 94.33333333
William & Mary 99 72 112 94.33333333
Illinois 74 151 60 95
Monmouth 178 60 51 96.33333333
North Carolina St. 32 119 138 96.33333333
Princeton 194 47 49 96.66666667
UC Irvine 96 65 130 97
Old Dominion 41 116 135 97.33333333
Louisiana Tech 48 129 116 97.66666667
Northwestern 130 117 48 98.33333333
Southern California 198 61 37 98.66666667
SFA 35 62 206 101
Chattanooga 113 56 137 102
Clemson 106 127 75 102.6666667
Albany (NY) 104 108 106 106
Marquette 145 111 67 107.6666667
Tennessee 102 142 80 108
Fresno St. 184 64 77 108.3333333
Arizona St. 90 109 126 108.3333333
Texas-Arlington 180 107 40 109
Penn St. 109 121 104 111.3333333
Georgia St. 54 177 106 112.3333333
North Dakota St. 94 133 110 112.3333333
Wake Forest 143 154 43 113.3333333
Green Bay 60 115 166 113.6666667
Northeastern 91 114 140 115
Memphis 89 140 119 116
Virginia Tech 221 80 50 117
Vermont 181 126 45 117.3333333
Kent St. 85 128 142 118.3333333
LSU 65 95 195 118.3333333
Texas Tech 185 50 122 119
Stony Brook 112 63 186 120.3333333
Evansville 82 92 192 122
TCU 136 181 52 123
Oakland 171 105 102 126
La.-Lafayette 123 145 114 127.3333333
Bucknell 139 178 66 127.6666667
Wyoming 72 186 128 128.6666667
Minnesota 101 264 25 130
Harvard 59 187 145 130.3333333
Houston 242 90 62 131.3333333
New Mexico 175 137 87 133
Texas Southern 115 182 103 133.3333333
UAB 122 81 199 134
Saint Joseph's 179 21 203 134.3333333
Winthrop 206 131 71 136
Washington 120 82 210 137.3333333
Long Beach St. 117 84 213 138
Auburn 132 179 107 139.3333333
Toledo 76 184 164 141.3333333
A&M-Corpus Christi 203 93 132 142.6666667
Nebraska 155 164 111 143.3333333
Nevada 307 96 35 146
Lehigh 176 165 97 146
Hofstra 183 57 198 146
Ohio 236 86 117 146.3333333
Wofford 49 202 189 146.6666667
FGCU 160 196 88 148
St. John's (NY) 52 245 148 148.3333333
Eastern Mich. 148 120 178 148.6666667
Murray St. 46 171 231 149.3333333
Coastal Caro. 131 144 174 149.6666667
Massachusetts 83 174 194 150.3333333
UNC Asheville 248 132 76 152
Eastern Wash. 73 228 155 152
Central Mich. 70 169 218 152.3333333
IPFW 215 74 171 153.3333333
Oregon St. 133 48 287 156
East Tenn. St. 192 220 57 156.3333333
Utah St. 146 147 182 158.3333333
High Point 91 152 233 158.6666667
Sam Houston St. 95 192 193 160
CSU Bakersfield 301 124 59 161.3333333
New Hampshire 196 163 125 161.3333333
La Salle 105 238 143 162
Grand Canyon 279 88 124 163.6666667
Western Ky. 114 157 225 165.3333333
Ga. Southern 111 244 144 166.3333333
UT Martin 135 204 160 166.3333333
Morehead St. 199 100 201 166.6666667
UNLV 116 146 239 167
UC Davis 71 279 153 167.6666667
Col. of Charleston 303 138 65 168.6666667
Montana 144 147 216 169
Loyola Chicago 87 237 184 169.3333333
San Francisco 186 226 100 170.6666667
UTEP 75 215 223 171
East Carolina 220 83 214 172.3333333
Mississippi St. 216 153 151 173.3333333
Siena 269 123 129 173.6666667
James Madison 158 106 257 173.6666667
UC Santa Barbara 98 99 324 173.6666667
La.-Monroe 125 104 294 174.3333333
Wright St. 266 141 118 175
Western Mich. 137 209 179 175
Marshall 292 130 108 176.6666667
South Dakota 212 200 120 177.3333333
Pepperdine 149 135 250 178
Towson 285 156 94 178.3333333
Hawaii 159 76 300 178.3333333
UCF 258 219 64 180.3333333
Saint Peter's 238 213 95 182
Washington St. 162 217 169 182.6666667
Weber St. 260 113 177 183.3333333
Gardner-Webb 154 208 188 183.3333333
George Mason 225 203 123 183.6666667
Bowling Green 121 206 228 185
North Florida 168 167 221 185.3333333
Southern Ill. 274 136 147 185.6666667
UALR 276 42 241 186.3333333
Furman 294 176 90 186.6666667
Canisius 169 225 168 187.3333333
Radford 150 190 224 188
Columbia 201 102 264 189
Mt. St. Mary's 187 247 136 190
Boston U. 200 185 187 190.6666667
Northern Ill. 188 143 242 191
Indiana St. 177 170 234 193.6666667
Rider 140 246 197 194.3333333
Omaha 299 149 141 196.3333333
Elon 264 162 163 196.3333333
Santa Clara 211 249 131 197
Mercer 209 193 196 199.3333333
Oral Roberts 156 155 290 200.3333333
Eastern Ky. 142 216 252 203.3333333
NJIT 134 183 293 203.3333333
Ball St. 289 159 175 207.6666667
Boston College 161 248 220 209.6666667
Fairfield 300 150 183 211
Norfolk St. 167 218 248 211
DePaul 197 201 237 211.6666667
Incarnate Word 173 166 301 213.3333333
UNCG 310 233 98 213.6666667
Fordham 240 188 215 214.3333333
Milwaukee 210 173 260 214.3333333
Northern Ky. 263 296 85 214.6666667
Texas St. 233 241 172 215.3333333
Holy Cross 202 236 208 215.3333333
N.C. Central 129 315 205 216.3333333
Loyola Marymount 268 223 159 216.6666667
Duquesne 223 161 266 216.6666667
Rutgers 182 293 176 217
Portland 166 250 245 220.3333333
North Dakota 308 221 133 220.6666667
Denver 234 194 236 221.3333333
IUPUI 257 191 217 221.6666667
Manhattan 174 229 262 221.6666667
Tennessee St. 341 160 165 222
Western Caro. 219 175 273 222.3333333
Cleveland St. 128 277 263 222.6666667
Idaho 267 199 204 223.3333333
Hampton 226 158 286 223.3333333
Navy 250 214 207 223.6666667
Arkansas St. 278 284 113 225
American 138 227 310 225
San Diego 164 302 212 226
Charlotte 204 231 244 226.3333333
Missouri St. 237 235 211 227.6666667
Robert Morris 153 290 240 227.6666667
Missouri 218 224 253 231.6666667
Detroit 208 198 289 231.6666667
Rice 245 278 173 232
Tennessee Tech 288 139 274 233.6666667
Saint Francis (PA) 193 263 246 234
Wagner 295 168 243 235.3333333
Eastern Ill. 170 271 265 235.3333333
Houston Baptist 290 234 185 236.3333333
Army West Point 235 212 267 238
Sacramento St. 141 276 298 238.3333333
Air Force 246 222 249 239
Colgate 195 239 291 241.6666667
Saint Louis 273 207 247 242.3333333
Miami (OH) 231 195 302 242.6666667
Samford 306 253 170 243
Loyola Maryland 272 257 200 243
LIU Brooklyn 256 254 222 244
Lipscomb 275 270 190 245
Tulane 214 232 292 246
South Ala. 271 240 229 246.6666667
Cornell 230 242 269 247
Pacific 252 265 226 247.6666667
Cal Poly 205 243 296 248
Southern U. 228 197 319 248
Penn 265 279 202 248.6666667
Charleston So. 163 297 296 252
Troy 312 295 150 252.3333333
UMKC 293 288 181 254
USC Upstate 207 323 232 254
Utah Valley 309 274 180 254.3333333
Lafayette 119 326 320 255
Austin Peay 316 189 261 255.3333333
Jacksonville St. 302 311 154 255.6666667
Delaware St. 213 345 209 255.6666667
Portland St. 221 283 268 257.3333333
Liberty 347 260 167 258
Dartmouth 190 281 305 258.6666667
UMES 191 307 279 259
St. Francis Brooklyn 165 273 348 262
Bryant 189 320 280 263
Lamar 224 337 230 263.6666667
Fairleigh Dickinson 313 210 271 264.6666667
Northern Ariz. 126 333 335 264.6666667
Quinnipiac 229 298 270 265.6666667
Sacred Heart 244 256 299 266.3333333
Appalachian St. 243 262 295 266.6666667
Bradley 280 304 219 267.6666667
Drexel 251 251 309 270.3333333
Northwestern St. 172 344 303 273
FIU 217 269 337 274.3333333
Youngstown St. 296 272 256 274.6666667
South Fla. 277 230 317 274.6666667
UMass Lowell 262 255 308 275
San Jose St. 336 299 191 275.3333333
Alcorn 348 252 227 275.6666667
Seattle 270 285 272 275.6666667
New Orleans 327 343 161 277
Northern Colo. 241 305 287 277.6666667
South Carolina St. 321 205 307 277.6666667
Montana St. 323 258 255 278.6666667
UTSA 232 347 258 279
UC Riverside 239 268 330 279
Kennesaw St. 320 259 259 279.3333333
UMBC 346 338 157 280.3333333
Brown 249 309 285 281
Jackson St. 317 211 322 283.3333333
North Texas 227 294 338 286.3333333
Delaware 255 275 332 287.3333333
Alabama St. 254 266 342 287.3333333
Hartford 247 292 327 288.6666667
Campbell 324 308 235 289
Ill.-Chicago 297 346 238 293.6666667
Niagara 287 318 276 293.6666667
CSUN 286 282 313 293.6666667
Cal St. Fullerton 315 289 278 294
Fla. Atlantic 305 301 282 296
Nicholls St. 322 316 254 297.3333333
Drake 259 322 316 299
Savannah St. 330 286 282 299.3333333
Southeast Mo. St. 282 342 275 299.6666667
Prairie View 261 334 306 300.3333333
Southeastern La. 331 332 251 304.6666667
Marist 319 321 277 305.6666667
Western Ill. 328 267 325 306.6666667
Howard 253 328 339 306.6666667
Southern Miss. 283 312 331 308.6666667
VMI 284 317 329 310
Jacksonville 339 287 305 310.3333333
SIUE 291 306 334 310.3333333
Citadel 325 324 283 310.6666667
Abilene Christian 326 325 284 311.6666667
McNeese St. 281 341 314 312
Idaho St. 342 261 340 314.3333333
Binghamton 332 303 312 315.6666667
Ark.-Pine Bluff 298 310 345 317.6666667
Stetson 335 300 328 321
Presbyterian 314 313 346 324.3333333
Coppin St. 311 327 336 324.6666667
Maine 338 314 323 325
Longwood 318 319 343 326.6666667
Southern Utah 304 336 341 327
Bethune-Cookman 344 291 347 327.3333333
Texas RGV 334 335 315 328
Morgan St. 337 329 326 330.6666667
Central Ark. 349 339 311 333
Chicago St. 333 348 318 333
Mississippi Val. 345 330 333 336
Alabama A&M 329 331 351 337
Grambling 351 350 321 340.6666667
N.C. A&T 340 340 350 343.3333333
Central Conn. St. 343 351 344 346
Florida A&M 350 349 349 349.3333333

I won't go so far as to offer up a hypothetical slate. You can come up with 1.3 billion combinations, assuming MU is scheduling five games, from the pool of 175 squads. I'm sure any of us could put together a solid mix.

What the spreadsheet does is reveal the respective trend of each team. Which programs are rising? Which ones are waning? Which are stable? Iowa State, which is slotted as No. 10 seed in Joe Lunardi's way-too-early bracket for 2018, has typically finished inside the RPI top-25. Even if they regress this season, the odds are they'll still count as a quality opponent. By contrast, Stephen F. Austin, which dominated the Southland with Underwood on the sidelines, slid to 206th last season from 62nd in 2016. Yet the Lumberjacks sport an average RPI of 101.

None of us can predict how the schedule will look, but we can get a pretty good idea about its relative quality. But as to the underlying calculus, we'll have to wait.

As always, tradeoffs occur. Perhaps you schedule a road game at power conference program to expose a young roster to an environment that mimics what they'll see in SEC play. A preseason tournament is a test run for what life may be like in March:€” games on short turnarounds with quick scouts. And if you're scheduling at home, do you schedule a proven mid-major such as Belmont or Valparaiso —€” games that boost your SOS —€” or bring in a power conference foe that will entice a casual fan to show up to Mizzou Arena on a Tuesday in early December?

Split-personality scheduling

Iowa v Tennessee
At Tennessee, Martin didn’t hesitate to schedule tough opponents, helping talented rosters with players like Josh Richardson, left, vie for the NCAA tournament.
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

To divine Martin's scheduling philosophy, it's useful to look at his tournament-caliber rosters in his previous stops at Tennessee (2012-13 and 2013-14) and Cal (2015-16 and 2016-17) for insights. Rather than clarity, we see a contradiction.

Let's start at UT, segmenting the Volunteers' opponents over two seasons using Ken Pomeroy's ratings:

  • Nos. 1-25: 2-3
  • Nos. 26-50: 1-2
  • Nos. 51-100: 2-2
  • Nos. 101-200: 4-1
  • Nos. 201-300: 4-0
  • Nos. 301-plus: 4-0
  • Overall: 17-8

Additionally, I've included the location of games against opponents in the top 100:

  • Home: 3-2
  • Road: 0-4
  • Neutral: 2-1
  • Overall: 5-7

Proactive is how I'd describe Martin. The Vols finished 52nd and 33rd nationally in non-conference SOS, according to KenPom. Half of their opponents were top-100 teams, and a majority of those matchups were in hostile gyms or neutral floors. UT sought out Virginia, Wichita State and Xavier for home-and-homes, traveled to Georgetown, and hosted NC State.

Context matters, too. Martin needed to schedule tougher in those seasons. His tenure at UT overlapped a period of historic weakness for the SEC. In 2013, the conference finished behind the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West in KenPom's ratings. Five SEC programs finished worse than 100th, paced by Mississippi State (209th) wallowing under Rick Ray and Auburn (255th) failing to flourish with Tony Barbee. The SEC landed just three schools in the 68-team field that season, with its tournament champion in Ole Miss only notching a No. 12 seed.

While the conference's coaches touted its bonafides during conference calls, the metrics spoke at a higher decibel level. In 2013-14, the SEC went 8-26 against RPI top-50 teams, according to CBS Sports, and 17-23 against fellow Power Five schools. With the conference at its nadir, hunting for tough out-of-conference matchups was a necessity for Martin. Who knows? Perhaps the Volunteers 35-point drubbing of Virginia, which bushwhacked the ACC for the regular season crown, helped them squeak into a tournament where they pulled off a run to the Sweet 16.

And it's what makes his apparent course correction in Berkeley so jarring.

Let's now review the caliber of the Golden Bears' non-conference opponents in Martin's final two seasons:

  • Nos. 1-25: 0-2
  • Nos. 26-50: 1-1
  • Nos. 51-100: 2-3
  • Nos. 101-200: 7-0
  • Nos. 201-300: 7-0
  • Nos. 301-plus: 2-0
  • Overall: 19-6

Once more, here's where they played top-100 teams:

  • Home: 2-1
  • Road: 0-1
  • Neutral: 1-4
  • Overall: 3-6

Without a doubt, Cal under-scheduled. It's not only that they finished 139th and 226th in non-con SOS for those respective years, either. Among their 65 peers in power conferences, those slates ranked No. 44 and No. 40. Not only did Martin's teams eschew high-quality opponents, but they barely left their state's borders. The only made two road trips — a visit to Wyoming and a transcontinental trek to visit Virginia. The only top-50 team they hosted was Saint Mary's, which only had to commute 13 miles.

And it wasn't as if Cal's was devoid of talent. Upon arriving, Martin inherited former blue-chippers Jabari Bird (No. 32 overall in 2013) and Tyrone Wallace (No. 87 in '12) from a retiring Mike Montgomery. In 2015, he scored a coup by landing post Ivan Rabb and wing Jaylen Brown, plugging in two top-10 talents for a solid nucleus. When Wallace graduated and Brown was picked third overall by Boston in last June's NBA draft, the drop off wasn't steep. Instead, Martin plugged in point guard Charlie Moore (No. 55 in 2016) and a quality asset in UK transfer Marcus Lee.

However, Martin's schedules didn't reflect the caliber of the roster at his disposal.

Granted, we can also gin up some plausible theories behind the diluted schedule.

First, Cal's location isn't ideal. How many coaches will drag an elite team —€” one with options closer to home — across multiple time zones? Few. What are the incentives? Will a game in the Bay Area move the needle? Is it a fertile recruiting territory where the visiting program wants exposure? Again, not so much.

Next, its location and modest fan support — the highest Cal has finished in attendance over the past decade is 42nd —€” may not be enticing for marquee neutral floor games or premier non-conference tournaments.

Still, the implications of soft scheduling were clear. Last season, Cal's lone quality win outside the Pac 12 Conference was on a neutral floor over Princeton, which finished 58th in KenPom and won the Ivy League. While Cal went 10-8 in the Pac 12, seven of those losses were to Ken Pom top-50 opponents. (They were 5-8 against the RPI top-100.) When it came time for the selection committee to weigh Cal's 21-12 record, there wasn't much heft to throw around.

Now that Martin is in Columbia, it's natural to wonder which approach he deploys moving forward and whether it's manifested this season.

The SEC is stronger now than when Martin left. Programs have invested, made smart hires and the likes Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama are landing top-10 recruiting classes.

He's also in closer proximity to quality opponents, whether they hail from the Big 12, Big Ten or (to a degree) from the Big East. Oh, and his boss used to be one of the guys vetting teams trying to score an invite to the dance, which should help Martin understand what his schedule needs to do.

How’s that phenom working out for you?

2017 McDonald's All American Game
Michael Porter Jr. headlines an elite recruiting class, but Mizzou has to balance developing that talent with NCAA tournament expectations.
Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Before I finish up, I'll say this: Sam Snelling already skewered the idea that Michael Porter Jr. is destined to emulate one-time LSU phenom Ben Simmons.

We all know how Simmons' lone season in Baton Rouge unfolded. It went rather poorly. We learned about his (totally understandable) indifference to attending class, which left him out of the running for the Wooden Award. There were murmurs about poor chemistry in the Tigers' locker room. Upon declaring the NBA draft, Simmons didn't blanch offering his opinion on the NCAA's spirit of amateurism.

And what did LSU get out of the deal? They made an extra $406,000 in ticket revenue. They missed the NCAA tournament. And the trajectory of the program wasn't altered. It's why Will Wade is in Baton Rouge, and we don't have Johnny Jones to kick around anymore.

Still, it's important to remember the financial stakes tethered to Porter's likely nine-month stay in Columbia, and the schedule put together is a reflection of the program's intention and ability to capitalize on it.

What gets lost in the debate surrounding blue chippers like Simmons, Washington's Markelle Fultz and North Carolina State's Dennis Smith Jr. blazing their respective paths, is that the programs they chose did little in the way to capitalize on their presence.

It's all well and good for LSU to put Simmons front and center, but LSU's non-conference schedule ranked 179th nationally. Sure, Fultz felt the love and loyalty from Washington's staff, but the Huskies didn't dot their schedule (No. 220) with challenging matchups. In fact, their lone high-profile tilt —€” a 27-point drubbing at Gonzaga — only served to confirm that Fultz was treading the same path as Simmons in a season where he couldn't lift UW out of mediocrity. And plenty of postmortems.

The parameters framing the struggles of Simmons, Fultz and Smith are unique to each of their programs. What was common, however, was youth and a schedule that seemingly insulated them. Take a look at the respective non-con SOS for each:

  • LSU (2016): No. 179
  • Washington (2017): No. 220
  • N.C. State (2017): No. 321

As we saw with Martin's teams at Cal, a soft non-conference slate leaves little in the way of wiggle room when you're chasing an at-large bid. In trying to insulate a talented but green roster, you shrink the margin for error that comes into play.

Not only do weak schedules hamper your odds at a potential at-large bid, but they don't make for compelling TV, either. While audience segments are fracturing and cable TV is grappling with cord cutting, live games remain a prime vehicle to draw more exposure. But that hinges on Porter and MU appearing in compelling games.

A quick review shows that neither Simmons, Fultz nor Smith appeared in a non-conference game carried by ESPN, CBS or Fox. None of them, in fact, appeared on those networks until January, when conference play began and the season was halfway done. Often, you had to flip the channel to ESPN2, ESPNU, FS1 or a conference-affiliated network to see them in November or December. Even then, the trio appeared on just 13 times in games broadcast on national networks.

No doubt, Porter will be fodder among sports' pundit class. His highlights will pop up on Twitter. And national writers will parachute in Columbia for features. Ultimately, though, the NCAA tournament is the premier showcase for one-and-done talent. Which circles back to the imperative to build a schedule that can maximize the program's odds of showing up when the bracket is revealed.