It ought to be a founding principle of Bracketology: Although a good schedule might not get a team into the NCAA tournament, a bad list of nonconference opponents can surely keep one out.
Don't believe me? Let's review some of the more notable (and recent) nonconference duds:
• Drexel Dragons, 2011-12: The Dragons (27-6) were one of the better teams ever to miss the NCAAs. Yet they were cursed by nonconference strength of schedule, which came in at No. 222, and a heartbreaking loss in the CAA championship game against VCU (in Richmond, no less). It was the opposite of 2006-07 for Bruiser Flint's bunch, when the Dragons beat Saint Joseph's (away), Villanova (away), Syracuse (away), Temple (away) and Creighton (away) for a No. 8 nonconference schedule. That season was a real snub for Drexel; 2011-12 not nearly as much.
• Virginia Tech Hokies, 2009-10: Seth Greenberg is still blaming me for this one, but I'm not the one who scheduled "buy" games with Brown, UNC Greensboro, VMI, Charleston Southern, UMBC, Longwood and North Carolina Central. The Hokies were 10-6 in the ACC (23-8 overall), but the committee could not -- and should not -- excuse a No. 339 nonconference schedule. Only eight teams in the nation faced a worse slate that season.
• Penn State Nittany Lions, 2008-09: The Nittany Lions would go on to win the NIT, but not without a painful Selection Sunday snub. A double-overtime loss in the regular-season finale at Iowa partially erased huge wins at Michigan State and Illinois, and the Lions' fate came down to a No. 307 nonconference schedule. You know the rest, and that's why Penn State has just one NCAA appearance in the past dozen seasons.
We could go on and on with this list, but the point remains: NonConf SOS is a major, major differentiator among bubble teams. We almost certainly will see it again this March (that is, unless a few other potential "offenders" have learned their lesson).
Here are some potential bubble teams that might already have scheduled themselves out of the next NCAA tournament (2012-13 opponent RPI in parentheses):
The Hawkeyes played themselves into the NCAA conversation this past winter by going 9-9 in a brutal Big Ten. In other words, Iowa was a bubble team, meaning its No. 313 NonConf SOS was very much in play.
This should be a season for the program to schedule "up" a bit, but visits to Iowa City by UNC Wilmington (300), Nebraska-Omaha (285), Maryland-Eastern Shore (345), Abilene Christian, Fairleigh Dickinson (299) and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (203) suggest someone didn't get the memo.