CHICAGO — There may be more cream puffs appearing on major college basketball team's schedules than in pastry shops in the coming months.
Stung by the experience of Louisville in this month's NCAA tournament selection process, other schools are looking carefully at their schedules.
The defending NCAA champion Cardinals played a monster schedule. The theory was that playing the strongest teams possible would prepare the Cardinals for the NCAA tourney while impressing the tournament committee.
It backfired. Louisville is watching the tournament on television this month.
Before the NCAA expanded its tournament field to 64 teams, many schools played easy schedules in December before conference play began. But when the field expanded and TV money was waiting in the wings, better matchups were made.
"I'm going to have rethink my schedule," Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins said. "If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't have had us play the same type of killer schedule we had late in the year."
Georgia Tech slid into a losing streak at the end of the season. Although the Yellow Jackets received an NCAA bid, they found themselves doubting their ability.
"Our confidence was low. You don't want to get into the tourney without any confidence or momentum," Cremins said.
Coach Jim Valvano of North Carolina State, whose team had win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament to qualify for this year's field, told a national cable audience he was considering more "cream puffs" from now on. The Wolfpack, a good club, had so many tough games in and out of its conference that it did not have a good enough record to gain an NCAA bid without winning the ACC tournament.
Notre Dame's Digger Phelps, a proponent of tough scheduling, says it isn't as important who you play but where you play the games.
"I'm convinced us playing a lot of tough road games at Vanderbilt, Kansas and the like helped us," Phelps said. "It got us ready to play in tough places in the tournament."
Unlike football schedules which are made up to a decade ahead of time, college basketball schedules are usually made on a yearly basis. Few agreements go beyond a two-year, home-and-home deal. As a result, changes can be made on relatively short notice.
With the Final Four ahead in New Orleans, many coaches and athletic directors will gather in official and unofficial discussions.
What is likely is some serious rethinking about the philosophy of scheduling.
While big intersectional TV matchups are good recruiting tools and character builders if you win, the experience of Louisville this year will be on the minds of every major Division I coach.
Is it better to soften the schedule to both build up confidence and numbers in the victory column? Or is it better to stay with the toughest schedule better and hope a sympathetic NCAA tournament committee understands that those 12 or 13 losses were against the top teams?
The release of next year's schedules should go a long way in telling the direction college basketball is headed for the rest of the 1980s.