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Stats Corner: Changing the MWC Tournament

Using a different format to help MWC teams boost their resumes

San Diego State v Boise State Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images

The Mountain West has a good chance of getting four teams in the tournament. San Diego State and Boise State are in and I think Nevada and Utah State will also get in, IF they do not lose their first conference tournament game. Anyone else will need to win the tournament to get in and if that happens, then either Nevada or Utah State are out. The MWC has gotten to the point where tournament needs to improve the seeding chances of their teams rather than just provide an automatic bid for one team. I wrote last year about changing the MWC tournament and I am going to advocate for it again as I think it will help the top teams in the conference get a better seeding in the NCAA tournament. There are four things that should happen during the tournament and this proposal addresses them 1) avoid losing the top seeds to an early upset, 2) provide a distinct advantage to the top teams 3) boast the resume of the top teams for the best seeding and bids in the NCAA tournament, and 4) provide interesting games which will attract viewers, give a reason for the games to be televised, and increase interest in the conference.

Under this format the top 8 teams qualify and the bottom 3 stay home. As of Wednesday March 1st, the seeding would be as shown below. I know this will not be the final seeding as USU cannot earn the 3rd seed, its either 2nd or 4th for them, but it is the current rankings to use as an example.

#1 San Diego State NET 17

#2 Boise State NET 27

#3 Utah State NET 22

#4 Nevada NET 34

#5 San Jose State NET 96

#6 New Mexico NET 48

#7 UNLV NET 91

#8 Fresno State NET 163

With Air Force, Colorado State, and Wyoming staying home.

Day 1 Wednesday

Game 1 #1 vs #4: San Diego State vs Nevada

Game 2 #2 vs #3 Boise State vs Utah State

Game 3 #5 vs #8 San Jose State vs Fresno State

Game 4 #6 vs #7 New Mexico vs UNLV

Under the current system San Diego State plays either the 8th or 9th seed, so either Fresno State or Air Force. How does that help their resume for the tournament? The answer is it does not, either they win and get a Q3 win (that does not help), or they lose and drop a couple seeds in the tournament. If San Jose State gets the upset over Nevada then San Diego State then they would have a Q2 game in the semis instead of a Q1 against Nevada. Under this system the top 4 teams could play for a Q1 win in the first round. A first round win provides 2 teams with another Q1 win and the two losing teams get a Q1 loss, which is not a deal breaker.

Under my proposal the losers of 5/8 and 6/7 are one and done, go home. The winner of 1/4 and 2/3 get a second-round bye and the losers play the winners of the lower games. In other words, if you earn a top 4 seed you will either get a second-round bye (a rest day), or a double elimination game. Therefore, there is an advantage to earning a top 4 spot. The resumes for the top schools are also enhanced as the winning teams would have a Q1 victory added the first day of the tournament instead of a Q3 or Q4 victory at best, which does not help, or a loss and out of the tournament. In terms of getting interest, an Aztec/Wolf Pack and Broncos/Aggies match up, is a better TV deal that a network showing #11 vs #14 from the ACC, of #6 vs #11 from the Big East, #11 vs #14 from Big 10, #8 vs #9 from Big 12, or even a #5 vs #12 match up from the PAC 12.

Day 2 Thursday

Game 5 Loser of 1/4 vs winner of 5/8

Game 6 Loser of 2/3 vs winner of 6/7

Starting the second day, it is lose and go home. The winners from the top games get a bye and rest day, their advantage for the success of the regular season and the losers of the top games get a second chance as their reward for the regular season. It is tempting to go with highest seed plays the lowest seed, but if that is case there is a pretty good chance that day 3 is a repeat of day 1 and that does not help anyone. Unfortunately, this is not the TV draw of the first night, but it does mean that even if there is an upset in every game at least 2 top ranked teams make it through day 3.

Day 3 Friday

Game 7 winner of Game 1 (had a 2nd round bye) vs winner of Game 6

Game 8 winner of Game 2 (had a 2nd round bye) vs winner of Game 5

This could be a lot of different match-ups depending who wins the first round. That winner of the first round will have a day off to rest and get ready, while the other team will have played 2 games and either be 2-0 if a lower seed or 1-1 if it is a higher seed. The advantage is definitely to the team who did well in the regular season and won the opening round. Teams who play well are rewarded throughout this system. The lower seeds, are given a chance, but they will have played two tough games to get here. Once again, it is tempting to do highest seed vs lowest seed, but we do not want a day 1 rematch. On a plus side, if the higher seeds on day 2, the winners today will have another Q1 win on their resumes, bringing the total to 2 after 3 days of tournament ball.

Day 4 Saturday

Winner of Friday’s games. It is possible that there could be 2-0 (with a bye) team here, or a 2-1 team (lost opening round but then won) or a 3-0 (lower seed and won all their games) depending on their path. It is possible that the winner could now have 3 Q1 victories which will improve their NET rankings and the runner-up could have 2 Q1 victories and 1 Q1 lose which will help, their NET rankings and their chances of an at-large bid plus a better seed in the NCAA tournament. For example, the Aztecs could go 3-0 in the tournament and have 3 more Q1 wins pushing them from 4-5 in Q1 to 7-5. The Aggies could lose in the champion ship game, but have 2 Q1 wins pushing their Q1 record from 0-4 to 2-5 and improving their NET rankings which would put them in the tournament. Nevada in the championship game with 2 more Q1 victories putting them at 6-5 in Q1 would be a lock for the tournament. Under the current system both the Aggies and Wolfpack need to make it to at least the semis to improve their resume, and that’s only if there are no upsets. While it is possible that this could be a rematch of a day 1 game, it is most likely going to be a match up to of two Q1 teams which would be good for the conference as it leads to better seeds and more bids to the NCAA tournament.

This format would give an incentive for teams to continue to play through the end of the season, as a top 4 seed in more valuable than a lower seed and with three teams staying home, teams need to play throughout the season to even make the tournament. The top seeded games on Day 1 would give resume boosting games to the teams while not penalizing the teams who lost by allowing them to have a double elimination game instead of being bounced out and for the winning team, who would not want a bye on Day 2 instead of the opening round? The Day 1 games could be the top ranked games in the nation and offer a great draw for TV audiences who do not want to watch double seeded teams from the other conferences. And finally, it prevents the top teams from being knocked out on the first day due to a bad game, being knocked out of the tournament and possibly losing a NCAA bid or at least losing several seeds as a result.