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Life is all about perspective.
And the view from the top for San Diego State – the team that has held claim to Mountain West hoops supremacy more often than any other program in the 21-year history of the league – is not one that the rest of the league shares.
Further evidence of that came this week when the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Mark Zeigler broke news that the league’s athletic directors, working off the advice of the men’s basketball coaches, voted 7-4 last week to move to a 20-game league schedule, starting in two years for the 2022-23 season.
“Extremely disappointed that the rest of the league wanted to go to 20 games,” SDSU Athletic Director John David Wicker told Zeigler. “We’ll just have to figure out how to deal with that.”
UNM voted in favor of the 20-game schedule, which will eliminate the unbalanced 18-game format currently in place for the 11-team league in favor of a true round-robin format in which every team plays each other twice. The format also changes for women’s basketball.
SDSU, Nevada, UNLV and Air Force had the four opposing votes.
As the voting indicates, the Aztecs are in the minority on what is best for the league.
But that doesn’t mean they are wrong about what’s best for SDSU, one of two teams (UNLV the other) that have proven capable of getting good nonconference games. For some reason, good teams are more willing to play in November and December in the recruiting hot beds and locales of southern California and Sin City over trips to Laramie, Wyoming; Logan, Utah; Fresno, California; and to the always-welcoming atmosphere the Pit provides in Albuquerque.
Among the bullet-point cases for the 20-game format:
• A true round robin for the league in which every team plays every other team creates balance.
• Most league members can’t schedule nonconference games as easily as SDSU and UNLV.
• The stats show this move will help the schedule strength of the league as a whole based on historical scheduling of every team in the league.
In the seven seasons the MWC has been in its current 11-member format, only 10 times (out of 77) has any team’s overall strength of schedule dropped by playing MWC games, according to KenPom.com’s metrics, which don’t even take into consideration non-Division I games the teams play.
In fact, the average KenPom ranking of a MWC opponent is 91 points higher per season when you include league games compared to just nonconference scheduling.
On the other hand …
Success might be better determined in college basketball by making the Big Dance. And to do that, teams need to find more quality games in November and December to hang their hats on. And that flexibility to do so is taking a hit, which is SDSU’s main gripe.
Aztecs coach Brian Dutcher noted in October before this past season that in the league’s history, only three times has it been a one-bid conference. One of those, however, was when the Aztecs won the league by three games in 2016, but lost in the MWC tournament and didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
“I sit there and say, ‘What if we would have won two more conference games? Would that have put us in the tournament?’ I don’t know,” Dutcher opined. “… I don’t know if two more conference games at the end of the season is going to get (the selection committee) to say, ‘We’re going to get three Mountain West teams in.'”
Then again, SDSU, which won 30 games this past season and would have been at least an at-large team had an NCAA Tournament been played, ended up with a league-high six opponents in nonconference play that were either non-D-I or rated by KenPom.com 250th or worse, not exactly proving more flexibility will always equal teams using those slots to play big-time opponents.
At the end of the day, or season, the only real formula that matters is this: Win more nonconference games.
Since 2014, there have been five at-large teams from the MWC. Their win totals entering the tournament: 29, 29, 27, 26 and 25.
WHY NOW? Lobos coach Paul Weir told the Journal he understands SDSU’s case for why 20 league games is a bad idea for the MWC, but also understands why it helps the league overall and why he and AD Eddie Nuñez ultimately voted for the move. More importantly, Weir said, was he doesn’t understand why the league would even vote on the matter right now at all.
“With everything going on in college athletics, why would we vote on this right now for a schedule change two years from now?” Weir said. “Why not wait to see what college athletics and finances and everything else looks like six months from now? Or even three months from now? We might all have a very different perspective on scheduling then. It didn’t seem necessary to even do this vote right now for the (2022-23) season.”
GRADS: UNM athletics will have a virtual graduation ceremony Saturday. For Lobo hoops, the four graduates from this past season’s team are Carlton Bragg (he walked already in December before finishing up a class early in the spring semester), Vance Jackson, JaQuan Lyle and Corey Manigault.