After six consecutive seasons of only producing one NCAA Tournament team, Conference USA is altering its scheduling format in an effort to land multiple teams in the big dance.
The new scheduling format now features a grouping system that pits teams in similar standing against each other for the final four games in conference play.
“With the goals to improve seeding and increase the number of teams that advance to the postseason, we viewed this as a great opportunity to enhance our top teams’ resumes by providing them additional quality games within their conference schedule,” C-USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod said in a press release. “Non-conference scheduling will continue to be a priority, but this will provide a real-time analysis to create competitive matchups for teams and their fans.”
Traditionally, each team in the conference would play a set 18-game conference schedule predetermined before the season. The conference schedule would also consist of nine home games and nine road games.
In this year’s league schedule, each C-USA team will play every team in the league in addition to a couple of matchups with a “travel partner” in the first seven weeks of conference play. That will consume 14 games of the conference schedule.
At the conclusion of the seven weeks, each team will be assigned to a group based on the C-USA standings at that time. One group will have the top 5 in the C-USA standings, the next group will have teams 6-10, and the final group will consist of teams 11-14.
The teams will play within their respective group for the final four games, and the C-USA Tournament will be seeded with the top 12 teams in the conference after the group period. Teams won’t be able to finish above or below the designated seeding of its group in those final five games.
Last season, both WKU and Middle Tennessee State had superior conference records compared to some NCAA Tournament teams, such as Texas A&M and Oklahoma. MTSU even won the C-USA regular season title, and MTSU, Old Dominion and WKU all finished within two games of each other in the conference standings. But Marshall, a team that finished fourth in C-USA in the regular season, was the only team to make the NCAA Tournament after winning the conference tournament.
Head coach Rick Stansbury is unsure to what extent this change will have and if it will help more C-USA teams get into the NCAA tournament.
“You ask me at the end of the season how it works out, I could give you a better feel for it,” Stansbury said. “I understand what they’re trying to do. Trying to improve the RPI of the top three or four teams in the league. Is that enough to help that second team get in? All I know is that second team better play the kind of schedule you need to play.”
C-USA hasn’t put multiple teams into the NCAA Tournament since 2012, when Memphis, a former C-USA member, won the conference tournament and Southern Mississippi still received an at-large bid.
Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at 502-648-7190 and [email protected] Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.