Conference USA — like most mid-major conferences — has struggled to land more than one team in the NCAA tournament in recent years.
C-USA hasn’t accomplished that feat since 2012 — and hasn’t had a team as a single-digit seed since Memphis did in 2013.
The conference, though, is determined to change that this year.
Instead of releasing the full slate of conference games months in advance — like every other conference in the country has done for years — C-USA will just schedule out the first 14 conference games.
Then, they’ll seed the teams and match up the best teams against one another for the final four games of the season.
“We’re going to play 13 games and your travel partner twice, which would be Western Kentucky for us,” Marshall coach Danny D’Antoni told the Herald-Dispatch. “Then they are going to seed the schools. If you finish in the top five, No. 1 through No. 5 will play each other for the next four games to get 18 games.
“Like, if you’re No. 1 you will play No. 4. And you’ll play, I think, No. 4 and No. 3 at home and then travel to No. 2. … There are four games in that five-team slot. No. 1 will play No. 5 and No. 4, I think. And No. 2 and No. 3 will come to No. 1.”
This, in theory, will boost the top teams’ strength of schedule and Rating Percentage Index — both things the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee weighs heavily at the end of the season. As mid-major conference schools typically don’t have as strong of conference schedules as Power Six schools do, and typically miss out on the high-end early-season tournaments, they usually only have one option to make the Big Dance: win their conference tournament.
Getting these guaranteed big games at the end will not only provide some entertaining games — as it’s set up like a mini-tournament — but it should prevent teams that are on the bubble from dropping out of contention due to poor scheduling or a random, bad loss.
“You fall into a pod,” D’Antoni told the Herald-Dispatch. “Then what happens is if you’re in the top five, your RPI is not going to be lowered by playing somebody at No. 230 and a chance of getting beaten — especially at their place. You eliminate that. And, again, you have a chance at playing schools with higher RPIs.”
C-USA is known for being innovative, too. Last season, the league became the first to play multiple basketball games at the same time during the conference tournament — similar to how an AAU tournament runs.
Now, the results aren’t guaranteed. But if it works out, and C-USA ends up landing multiple teams in the NCAA tournament next year, who knows? Maybe this will become a trend across other mid-major conferences.
At the very least, it’s worth a shot.
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