- Joe Lunardi, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
If not all wins are created equal, the same goes for losses -- even in November, and especially for teams with limited opportunities to make a national splash.
Rhode Island's loss at Pittsburgh on Monday, in the first game of the season, was a strong showing for the Rams. But that won't matter a bit if four months from now Rhody comes up short in the "quality wins" category. This circumstance is hardly unique to URI, of course, but the Rams have been a poster child for the "limited results, limited opportunity" dilemma in recent years.
Last season, for instance, Rhode Island faced just one nonconference opponent that ended up making the NCAA tournament. The Rams defeated Oklahoma State in that contest but went 0-5 against NCAA teams in the Atlantic 10, which pretty much negated their 23 wins overall.
In 2008-09, Rhody won 22 times but could claim only automatic qualifiers VCU and Akron as NCAA-bound nonconference victories. Go back one more season, and URI didn't even play an NCAA team in the nonconference portion of its schedule. Throw in an 0-3 record against A-10 tourney teams in the 2007-08 campaign, and the men's basketball committee easily discarded another 20-plus win season.
The moral of the story is to leave nothing to chance and put real, live NCAA-level wins on your résumé. The most reliable way to do that is to give yourself the maximum number of opportunities. This might not be an issue in the big-time leagues, in which opportunity knocks all throughout the conference season, but among true mid-majors -- or in down years at the A-10/Mountain West level -- the rare breakthrough moments must be seized.
All of which explains why Pitt's win Monday night wasn't nearly as significant as Rhode Island's loss. The Rams face only one more projected NCAA team in the nonconference portion of its schedule -- Jan. 3 at Florida -- so unless URI outperforms its fifth-place ranking in the A-10 preseason poll, its at-large fate now has been, in all likelihood, predetermined. It's not fair, obviously, but this reality will be extremely difficult for the Rams to overcome.
These teams are in line to suffer a similar fate, unless they seize the rarest of nonconference opportunities and/or fashion an automatic NCAA bid come March:
Joe Lunardi examines the significance of Rhode Island's loss to Pitt and highlights a few teams that need to capitalize on the few chances they have for marquee wins.