The days of loading up on creampuff opponents early in the season are numbered for some teams in the Pac-12, thanks to a mandate by the league’s top decision makers.
Beginning in the 2020-21 season, Pac-12 men’s basketball teams will have restrictions put on their nonconference schedules in the form of four new ‘standards’ meant to improve the league’s ability to get teams into the NCAA Tournament. The Pac-12 has sent just three teams to March Madness each of the past two seasons, by far the lowest of the power conferences.
The four standards are:
- no regular-season games against non-Division I opponents
- no road games against opponents with five-year NET ranking average worse than 200
- no road games where the Pac-12 team is the ‘buy’ opponent, i.e. they’re getting paid to play on the opponent’s home court in a one-off matchup
- a team’s entire nonconference slate can’t have a five-year NET ranking average below 175
Since NET—the NCAA’s new ranking metric, replacing the antiquated RPI—has only officially been around for one year it stands to reason that projected NET for previous seasons will be used. There’s no word on if the averages for the entire nonconference schedule will include games associated with preseason tournaments, for which the Pac-12 teams don’t have a say in playing.
The theory behind these restrictions is that beating such weak opponents does nothing for an individual team’s resume, or for the league, but losing to them can be devastating. For instance, while the Oregon Ducks got hot late in the year and won the Pac-12 tournament, its November home loss to No. 230 Texas Southern didn’t do their league mates any favors, nor did the Arizona State Sun Devils help out the conference by falling at home to No. 180 Princeton.
For the Arizona Wildcats, none of these ‘standards’ figures to matter. Of the 16 true road games they have played since 2010, all have been part of home-and-home series and either against power-conference teams or solid mid-major opponents. And while the Wildcats did face four teams ranked 250th or worse last season, their three games at the Maui Invitational as well as those against Alabama, Baylor and Connecticut helped keep their combined NET average (based just on 2018-19 rankings) at 133.7.
The same can’t be said for teams like the Colorado Buffaloes, Oregon State Beavers and Washington State Cougars, who all had non-league slates in 2018-19 that based just on last season would have averaged higher than a 175 NET even if you include tournament matchups. They also played a combined three road games against sub-200 teams, with Stanford giving the Pac-12 a fourth such contest when went to No. 263 UNC-Wilmington last November.
The scheduling restrictions go into effect in conjunction with the Pac-12 moving to a 20-game league slate, following the Big Ten (2018-19) and ACC (2019-20).