Bama learns nonconference lesson

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In 2011, the University of Alabama basketball team was on the outside looking in when the NCAA tournament field was selected. The Crimson Tide's non-conference schedule was found to be lacking and coach Anthony Grant's squad was sent off to compete in the NIT despite winning 21 games and going 12-4 in the SEC.

In 2012, the message was received loud and clear by Grant and the rest of the Alabama coaching staff. The Tide beefed up their non-conference schedule and positioned the program for a postseason berth. Instead of going to tournaments against the likes of Seton Hall, Iowa and St. Peter's, as they did a season before, Alabama competed in the Puerto Rico Tipoff against Maryland, Wichita State and Purdue.

Alabama started strong and used its money wisely.

The so-called "guarantee" games -- in which lower-tier programs are paid in exchange for a presumed defeat -- that UA squandered in the 20009-10 season were put to better use. Instead of bringing in Lipscomb and Pepperdine, the Tide got an NIT team in Dayton and an NCAA tournament team in Detroit.

"You have to be very critical with who you buy," Alabama assistant coach Tony Pujol said. "I think it hurts you when you buy teams that have an RPI in the 300s."

Alabama also did its homework.

Rather than seek out only marquee opponents, Alabama looked for competitive teams with potentially high RPIs. The coaching staff also takes into account the roster of every team they might face.

"My thing is you have to do your research on what kind of team they are," Pujol said. "Wichita State -- that's a top-25 team in the country. When you go to get your guarantee games, you have to look at teams that should be the best teams in their league.

"You have to do your research on what type of team is coming back, and Coach [Grant] does that. He'll say, 'Let's look at the roster. Let's look at what they did last year. Let's look at what they have coming back.' "

The result of the scheduling strategy paid off last season. Despite finishing with a similar record as their previous season, Alabama's RPI shot up 20 spots from 60th to 40th overall, and the Tide made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.

Coming off the thrill of a tournament berth, Alabama is ready to repeat last season's scheduling success.

"I think there's no other way of doing it," Pujol said, frankly. "You have to put yourself in a good position."

This coming season, the Tide are slated to participate in the 2K Sports Classic in Madison Square Garden against Purdue, Villanova, Oregon State and others. Alabama will also face Dayton and VCU during the regular season.

As of Wednesday, the 2012-13 schedule wasn't quite complete. But rest assured that while the finishing touches are being placed on the 30-game schedule, all the factors are being carefully considered so disappointments like 2010 don't repeat themselves.