Conference USA basketball will be a bit different this season.
A proposal approved during last week’s league meetings in Destin, Fla., will reshape who teams play and when they play them while ultimately safeguarding the conference’s best hopes to get teams into the NCAA Tournament.
The league’s 18-game conference schedule will have a dramatic new look.
Every team will play 14 games against league opponents, 12 against each league member and two against each league member’s respective travel partner (for Western Kentucky that equates to one home game against Marshall and one road game against Marshall). Once the dust settles after 14 games, Conference USA will announce every team’s remaining schedule to complete the regular season, filling predetermined dates.
Teams will be seeded into a pod system based on their league standing after 14 games, i.e., those in first-fifth place, sixth-10th and 11th-14th will all be grouped together and play each other during the remaining weeks of the season.
• As an example based on the 2017-18 season, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Marshall and Texas San Antonio finished first-fifth, respectively.
• Middle Tennessee, being in first place, would host the second and third-place teams (Old Dominion and Western Kentucky) and travel to the fourth and fifth-place teams (Marshall and UTSA). Old Dominion would host WKU and Marshall and travel to MTSU and UTSA; Western would host Marshall and UTSA and travel to MTSU and ODU; Marshall would host MTSU and UTSA and travel to ODU and WKU; and UTSA would host MTSU and ODU while traveling to WKU and Marshall.
“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,” Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said in a news release. “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.”
The format, which was developed in part by ESPN basketball analyst Mark Adams, is intended to strengthen the resumes of the those top teams who may have strong cases for making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team, as well as improving seeding in the NCAA Tournament for the eventual tournament champion and automatic qualifier.
The new-look schedule is also designed whereas teams locked into their pod cannot fall out of that grouping over the final two weeks going into the postseason. If UTSA finishes fifth and goes 0-4 over the final two weeks it will remain the No. 5 seed in the Conference USA tournament in Frisco, Texas. If sixth-place Alabama Birmingham goes 4-0 against teams in 7-10th place over the final two weeks – and finishes with a better conference record than UTSA – it cannot jump UTSA for fifth place.
Teams can, however, move up and down among their pod mates over the final two weeks (the first-place team could lose out and fall to fifth place, but no lower).
Having the league’s top teams play each other, Conference USA hopes, will eliminate the possibility of a bad loss. The NCAA selection committee uses a quadrant system as part of its analysis to seed teams and select at-large squads for its 68-team tournament in March. Defeats (and sometimes even wins) against teams considered to be in Quadrant Three or Quadrant Four can be detrimental.
Under CUSA’s new format, the league’s top squads would avoid matchups with such teams late in the season until the quarterfinals of the league tournament. In 2017-18, Conference USA had five teams with an RPI of 269 or worse and nine teams with an RPI of 150 or worse.
The adopted change in league scheduling will only be in place for men's basketball for now. The Conference USA postseason basketball tournament remains unchanged.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop