How to win the schedule game

Tom Izzo is a master at using the schedule to prepare his team for March Madness runs. AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

Earning one of the 37 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament is not easy. Having experienced being on the bubble for 48 consecutive months, I understand the fine line that separates the final teams selected.

That's why I know that for all of the responsibilities a head coach has, few take on a greater importance than scheduling. Simply put, how effective you are in setting a scheduling strategy and executing against it can be the difference between leading your team to a tourney appearance and being out of the profession.

Many factors come into play in creating a schedule, including resources, location, job security and the makeup of your team and the league in which you play.

Here are the three most important things a coach must consider before building a schedule:

Step 1: Know your team

It's important to remember that when it comes to building a schedule, we're not talking about some blank slate of 31 games that we can pick for ourselves. A typical 31-game schedule, like the one I'd have at Virginia Tech, would include something like this: 18 league games, four exempt event games, two made-for-TV games, one neutral-court game and six open dates.

Of those six open games, most BCS schools need to play at least four of those at home for the athletic department to generate the revenue it needs to balance the budget -- so those are likely going to be guarantee games against lower-level conference teams (how carefully you select these opponents can be the difference between earning a bid and being left out of the tourney; more on that later). The remaining two games are likely to be home-and-home agreements.