Putting together a nonconference schedule is already a difficult task for coaching staffs. This is especially true for schools that have had recent success both in nonconference and conference play.
Take Stephen F. Austin, for example. Why would any team in America want to play the Lumberjacks? Wins over Duke and Baylor among others recently. And they even went toe-to-toe with the 2021-22 national champ Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in December.
Utah Valley, New Mexico State, Grand Canyon. Do you think lower-tier Power 6 schools or even high mid-majors are lining up to play these schools? In a state with just seven Division I basketball teams, Utah Valley gets one maybe two games a year against in-state competition. This will discount the four games the Wolverines will play against Southern Utah and Utah Tech in WAC play.
It is the middle of July and some coaches around the WAC are still looking to schedule their first Division I nonconference home game.
And now, per a report from Matt Norlander of CBS Sports, the emphasis on non-conference scheduling just became extremely significant.
Norlander Report – Seeding Changeup
According to the report, the WAC will become the first conference to seed its tournament based on advanced analytics.
Scoop—@WACSports is doing the unprecedented: Its basketball tournaments' standings/seedings will be determined not by league record, but by a KenPom-created formula that utilizes the NET and will reward teams wins and losses. A college sports first. Story: https://t.co/pryiZDhPf4
— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) July 11, 2022
WAC Commissioner Brian Thornton and Associate Commissioner Drew Speraw came up with the idea. In part, the plan takes into account the entire season rather than just what happens in conference play.
“The goal (is) ultimately to protect the highest résumé with the highest seeds,” Thornton told CBS Sports. “As we were coming up with this strategic plan from a basketball standpoint — which was one of my big tasks when I came here — nonconference scheduling always came up. … And ultimately, it becomes very hard to penalize people for what you’re able to do from a nonconference scheduling standpoint.”
It is a risk/reward-type of plan. If a WAC team plays a tough opponent and wins, it will receive more statistical credit than if it plays a weaker opponent (and also wins). Conversely, if a WAC team plays a tough opponent and loses, it will not be dinged as harshly as if it plays a significantly weaker opponent and loses.
In this scenario, it makes sense. It makes a win over Grambling State meaningless in the grand scheme of things. But a loss to Stanford or even Gonzaga may actually give a team credit.
Had this plan been in place in 2021-22, Utah Valley would have been the 5-seed instead of the 7-seed due to its wins over BYU and Washington. GCU would have been the 2-seed. Sam Houston, which had wins over NMSU, GCU, Stephen F. Austin, and swept Abilene Christian would have been the 7-seed despite having the same record as GCU.
All of this is based off an algorithm that Thornton and Speraw got from analytics guru Ken Pomeroy. Here is the basic concept. It merely introduces win/loss merit to bring more nuance to the WAC’s standings ledger. The concept rewards teams for scheduling well (and winning) and dings them for scheduling poorly (and losing).
Here is a breakdown from Norlander’s article.
Based on Pomeroy’s algorithm, a win over the top-ranked team would be awarded thusly:
Road win: +.978 points
Neutral win: +.960
Home win: + 930
A loss against the No. 1 team doesn’t carry nearly as much negative weight as a loss to a team in the 200s or 300s. A loss to No. 1 by a WAC team equates to:
Road loss: -.022 points
Neutral loss: -.040
Home loss: -070
But a home loss to a team ranked 300? That would be -.862, a much heavier hit. All of these pluses and minuses will be tallied day by day and reflected in the league’s official standings page. The higher the number, the better the seed.
The NCAA Net rankings are updated every day. So, in this regard, WAC teams will know where they stack up in seeding for WAC Vegas on a daily basis.
“It can be transparent because we can see exactly what each point value is worth,” Speraw said. “Whereas a win versus whoever — you may gain or lose points in the NET based upon a game in February that you play against a bad opponent — you may be winning, you go down two spots (in the NET). In this in this scenario, winning is still winning. It still provides you a positive momentum forward, regardless of the opponent.”
Is this an effort to make the WAC a 2-bid league? Perhaps. And perhaps considering the WAC has not been a hostile league in terms of its tournament champion over the past decade, this new formula could change that. New Mexico State has won all but three WAC tournaments since 2009-10. CSU Bakersfield, GCU and Utah State are the only other schools to win a WAC Tournament in that time.
It remains to be seen how this new formula for seeding the WAC Tournament will play out. But, one thing is for sure – the bar was raised to put together a significantly better nonconference schedule than in years’ past.