Inside Preps: The Art of Scheduling
Thu. February 28, 2013 at 11:55 a.m. | By Bill Kemp
By BILL KEMP
The Bartow and Winter Haven basketball teams are not waltzing into The Lakeland Center after rolling over a schedule filled with cupcake competition.
Both head coaches penciled in the toughest regular-season schedules available, took some lumps along the way, and are now experiencing prep basketball's biggest payback — a trip to the Final Four.
The art of scheduling is one of the key components to postseason success in any sport. But for some reason, it seems more vital in preparing for basketball's one-and-done tournament structure.
"If you want to be the best, then you have to play the best," said Bartow head coach Terence McGriff, who maintains that if his team didn't play No. 4 Tampa Prep this season, his Yellow Jackets would not be at the Final Four.
"If we don't schedule the Mosaic (Stinger Shootout) tournament, then we don't play Friday afternoon. … A tough schedule keeps my good teams humble."
Winter Haven head coach Tyrone Woodside is on the same page. Not only did the Blue Devils entertain a strong schedule, they confronted six of MaxPreps.com's top 50 ranked Florida teams, which should have them geared to face No. 5 Pine Forest of Pensacola at 1:30 p.m. today.
"I purposely scheduled at Boone, at (Tampa) Jesuit, at Lake Wales, Gibbs and Brandon," Woodside said. "All those teams made it to regionals. Of my nine losses, eight of them won district, and that includes IMG Academy. I don't know if they do strength of schedule in high school, but we had an absolute monster schedule."
These two master-scheduling chefs agree they couldn't care less about regular-season records. It's all about the end results.
"It's like the NBA playoffs. Once the playoffs start, no one really cares what happened before that," said Woodside, whose team lost its last five regular-season games last season before making a dramatic postseason run to the Final Four. "Last year, we lost to Tampa Prep and they won the state championship and we went to The Lakeland Center. This year we lost to Tampa Jesuit and they are currently ranked fifth or sixth in the country."
Woodside has an understated 70-62 five-year career record at Winter Haven — 21-9 this season — but he now has two trips to the Final Four on his resume. McGriff may only sport a .583 winning percentage after 11 years at Bartow, but he has pushed three teams into the Final Four and won a state championship. There are a lot of coaches out there with .700 or better career records who have never held up the big trophy.
"Some coaches want wins, I don't care," McGriff said. "I know we play as difficult a schedule as we can. We've had plenty of success and plenty of struggles with it and we could have had a better record. The main thing is to stay healthy."
Woodside created his own personal scheduling think tank by watching debates on ESPN and conferring with college coaches like Davidson's Bob McKillop and Alabama's Anthony Grant.
"A lot of it is just being a sponge and processing and watching a lot of the specials on Sports Center on the art of the scheduling, when they used to make a big deal about the big schools not scheduling the mid-majors. Most of it I learned watching March Madness," Woodside said. "When I would go visit Coach Anthony Grant, I would sit there and talk to him about recruiting and scheduling."
Bartow faces Pompano Beach Blanche Ely — the defending Class 7A state champion — at 4 p.m. Friday, a task that should normally intimidate any team. But the Yellow Jackets have already tangled with Class 1A No. 8 Whitefield Academy (Mableton, Ga.), Class 4A No. 29 Crisp County (Cordele, Ga.) and Wenonah (Birmingham, Ala.) ranked No. 23 in the country during a three-day span in December.
That sounds like pretty solid preparation. McGriff said he thinks about scheduling constantly.
"Yes, year round."