Coaches can recognize weaknesses, but there is nothing that compares to another team in an actual game showing weaknesses that can get the attention of the team. Then, it is a lot easier to correct those, and make the necessary changes. You can't be good without beating good teams.
With regards to schedule, assuming you want a post-season invite, the calculus is getting the best value on your wins. A loss against a good team is not likely to benefit you at all, as is a win against a crappy team. Assuming you can predict a team's quality, if you have a 10% chance of beating the #1 team in the country, would you rather play that game, than a game with the #200 team where you have a 95% chance at a win? Similarly the downside is there for that #200 team where you hurt your resume a lot more than a loss against #1. So which would you pick? Every game's an opportunity.
On top of that, as other's have mentioned, what's best for your team in the long run, in terms of trying to improve as the season goes on? Would you be willing to forgo an early win for a game where the bar is high and you might get blown out, but your guys might get a bit better because of it? I tend to believe the vast majority of guys will play up or down to their competition, so I'd rather take more chances on good teams. Lots of programs go the cupcake route, though, as evidenced by the huge number of P5 beat-downs during the non-conf schedule.
All this assumes your AD supports your views. My understanding is that some coaches have more input on the schedule than others.
Assuming you can predict a team's quality, if you have a 10% chance of beating the #1 team in the country, would you rather play that game, than a game with the #200 team where you have a 95% chance at a win?
Yes, I would rather play that #1 team. Smashing a cupcake does absolutely nothing for a team's RPI/SOS. Losing to a powerhouse doesn't hurt it all that much, is a lot more entertaining, is certainly still a learning experience, and shoot, you may just pull off the upset.
Scheduling is a lot more complicated than those extreme cases (top teams vs. cupcakes). Playing a lot of top teams can hurt a borderline (as far as expectations) team by accumulating a lot of L's early on that dig a big hole to get out of. It is also not just the computer rankings, there are a lot of subjective factors in the selection process, and getting blown out by top teams can have a negative impact, for the committee as well as psychologically.
Extreme cases aside, there are ways you can improve you rankings, record, and tournament chances by scheduling teams that are neither "top" or "cupcakes," i.e., higher chances for a W, pretty high impact in computer rankings (e.g., RPI/SOS, etc.) A lot of schools have taken that approach, and it is often beneficial to borderline projected teams. But in our case, where the team will be ranked low and not projected to make the tournament going into the season, playing a tougher schedule is better since we have nothing to lose.
I think the non-conference schedule is a big upgrade from recent seasons, but it isn't the gauntlet some (not all) are making it out to be. Most of the cupcakes have been replaced with solid programs, but I don't think we aren't going to be playing more than 3 really high level teams.
I don't place much stock in preseason stuff, but there isn't a lot more to go on. The media outlets seem to think Gonzaga will be top 5. Then we have a chance at 2 more high level teams in Maui. After that, the P5 teams we play are mid level programs (like we are). I support that argument, not with a prediction of how the teams will be this next year, but with the average of their rankings for their last 5 seasons in KenPom. The one caveat is ND on the road. I think that should be pretty tough.
Arizona (14) or Iowa State (35)
Duke (9), Auburn (111), Xavier (27), or San Diego State (46)
Mississippi Valley State (346)
Notre Dame (41)
East Tennessee State (155)
Florida Atlantic (266)
Obviously looking backwards is very flawed, but so is everything in the preseason.
I think this is the exact schedule we need.
Best case scenario:9-2
Worst case scenario: 4-7
No clue who VC is. That said, it sounds like he's jumping the gun.
"The players that were here over the summer headed out on their break last night after Tuesday's final summer workout with the coaching staff. They're off until the school year starts on Aug. 27. That's the first day of classes. Anthony Higgs will likely get to campus at some point in the week before that. So will Samba Kane, if, of course, he'll be able to enroll. There was no definitive answer given yesterday, but Brad Underwood said he expects Kane to be on campus later this month."