College Sports

To chase NCAA bids, C-USA will shuffle basketball schedule -- with season in progress

Conference USA is changing the way it schedules its basketball season to match top teams in the final weeks, hoping to improve their RPI and make being more than a one-bid league for the NCAA tournament not such a stretch.
Conference USA is changing the way it schedules its basketball season to match top teams in the final weeks, hoping to improve their RPI and make being more than a one-bid league for the NCAA tournament not such a stretch.

Conference USA has come up with a unique way of perhaps improving the resumes of its men's basketball teams for the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday.

C-USA is what’s known as a “one-bid” conference: one that usually sends just one team — its tournament champion — to the NCAA tournament because other teams in the league don’t have the records, schedules or even reputations worthy of selection.

Last season, for instance, C-USA teams such as Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion dominated the regular season (each winning 25 or more games), but didn’t receive at-large NCAA tournament bids after Marshall grabbed the automatic bid by winning the conference tournament.

So, in an effort to combat that kind of eventuality from recurring, the league is doing something innovative with its 18-game conference schedule. The goal is for C-USA to receive more bids and higher seeds to the NCAA tournament.

Here's how it will work: After each team plays each team once (and its “travel partner” twice) over the first seven weeks of the conference regular season (14 games), the league will seed teams and place them in three groups (1-5, 6-10 and 11-14) over the final three weeks and four games.

By playing only each other, teams in that first group will have a better shot at improving some key metrics — including Rating Percentage Index (RPI) and strength of schedule — and thus raising their profile to the NCAA tournament selection committee.

Seeding for the 12-team conference tournament will be based on teams’ final conference records, although they will be guaranteed seeding from within their group (for instance, a team in the second group can be seeded no higher than sixth nor lower than 10th).

“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 statement. “Nonconference scheduling will continue to be a priority but this will provide a real-time analysis to create competitive matchups for teams and their fans.”

C-USA got help with the idea from ESPN analyst Mark Adams, a former coach at Central Connecticut.

“(The format) combines a traditional schedule with an exciting end-of-season format that will surely catch the attention of college basketball fans and the NCAA tournament selection committee,” Adams said.

David Scott: @davidscott14
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