Football's Selection Sunday is here, and it's a good reminder that strength of schedule matters. It matters for whether teams make their tournaments, it matters for seeding, and it helps signal to onlookers which teams are formidable and which are feasting on cupcakes.
Penn women's basketball has only played eight games — only a month into the season, it is far too early to make sweeping pronouncements about quality. That is especially true when the limited quantity of data coincides with a lack of quality data. The games the Quakers have played thus far are essentially meaningless.
Of Penn's eight games, seven have been against teams they were heavily favored to beat. They've won all seven of those games. The lone exception, an underdog trip to power-conference Duke, was also a lopsided outcome — but in the wrong direction.
To be fair to the Quakers, they have preformed well against the opponents they've scheduled. Penn has the 16th-best average margin of victory in the nation and the fifth-best defense in terms of average points allowed. The Quakers have won five games by more than 25 points and all seven by double-figures. There's not a single stat that doesn't provide additional evidence of complete and total dominance.
There is, however one glaring hole if you dig a little deeper: strength of schedule. Penn's opponents have just a .330 win percentage, putting Penn in the fifth percentile nationally — 335th out of 351 Division I teams.
This easy schedule suggests that we really don't know that much about this team.
We haven't seen how Penn will fare in a close game or in must-win high-stakes situations. We have one data point to extrapolate from when it comes to determining how the Quakers will play against superior talent, and it isn't pretty. Princeton ranks above Penn in most ranking measures; how will Penn react to an opponent of that caliber?
What we do know is that the Quakers are a cut above the list of mostly local nonconference opponents they've played and will continue to play until the Ivy season begins in January.
The most difficult nonconference game Penn has left to play is probably Temple, and the Quakers beat the Owls by nine a year ago. Just one future nonconference opponent has a winning record: Drexel. Penn will even play winless D-II foe Chaminade in a game that will be incredibly lopsided, to put it mildly.
We also know that freshman guard Kayla Padilla is the real deal. Padilla is leading the team in scoring and minutes by a wide margin and is already Penn's go-to option with star junior Eleah Parker's production being down so far this year. Padilla provides a significant scoring threat from the outside as well as on cuts to the hoop, an option that should alleviate pressure on Parker down the stretch.
Beyond that and a limited idea of how coach Mike McLaughlin views his rotation, Penn has showed very little. The Quakers are still Ivy favorites, along with Princeton, and there's a strong chance that Penn doesn't lose again until they meet the Tigers.
It's even reasonably likely that Penn ends the season with four losses or fewer. That would be a remarkable feat of consistency, but it also reflects the relatively easy road the team chose for itself. Even in a hypothetical four-loss season (losses would come at Duke and thrice against Princeton), the NCAA Tournament selection committee might be reluctant to take a 25-4 Penn team as an at-large bid. In that scenario, Penn would have no top-tier wins all season.
The result is that while no individual nonconference game matters much, Penn cannot afford to lose to an inferior opponent. It's one thing to have no impressive wins, but it's much worse to have an embarrassing loss.
On that front, there's no visible reason for concern: Penn just posted a 40-point win over Stetson.
THEODOROS PAPAZEKOS is a College senior from Pittsburgh and Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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