The SEC was awful last season.
Three NCAA bids from a 14-team power conference is, frankly, unacceptable. Some of that isn’t necessarily the league’s issue, as Kentucky, the one blueblood program among the SEC ranks, had a a down year, getting knocked out in the first round of the NIT by Robert Morris.
The league also had a number of programs — Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama — that found themselves on the wrongside of the bubble.
And there was a simple, easily fixable cause: the SEC’s RPI was horrible, largely due to the fact that the conference, as a whole, apparently does not understand how to put together a non-conference schedule.
To fix that problem, the SEC has brought in a consultant to try and help these teams put together schedules that are worthwhile: Greg Shaheen, who more or less ran the NCAA tournament until he was fired last April. There aren’t many who know more about the RPI and how to rig a schedule to improve it than Shaheen. From Pat Forde:
“One of the things that was eye-opening to coaches was how much every team’s schedule impacts the other teams,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan.
“They’re inextricably linked,” Shaheen said.
“It’s not only who you play,” Shaheen said, “it’s where you play them. They need to be serious about this from the first game to the last. If they don’t go on the road and don’t play quality competition, it will be reflected at the end of the year.”
It’s a good thing that the SEC is finally making a move to try and strength their RPI numbers, which were atrocious last season. Five schools in the conference had non-conference schedule strengths outside the top 200. South Carolina and Mississippi State were outside the top 300. Some of that I can understand, as Frank Martin Rick Ray, respectively, were taking over massive rebuilding jobs and, in all likelihood, were less concerned about their RPi than they were destroying their team’s confidence before SEC play even began.
But the issue is that having one or two teams with terrible RPI numbers can destroy the RPI of an entire league. Mississippi State has to play 18 SEC games, and every time they play one, it hurts their opponent’s RPI even if the Bulldogs lose by 50 points. The RPI doesn’t factor in margin of victory; it simply registers that Florida beat a crappy team.
There are ways to game the RPI, as outlined here and here. The basics? Play teams that are going to win a lot of games in a mid-major league and play away from home early in the season even if that means pulling a Kansas and schedule “neutral court” games in Kansas City.
We can laugh at the SEC for needing to hire outside help for this kind of rudimentary expertise, but at the end of the day, this is a good thing. Because it’s going to make the SEC more competitive and it’s a sign that the conference actually cares about things other than football.
College basketball will be better overall if Kentucky and Florida have more competition on a nightly basis.
The fanbases in the SEC are passionate, and while their first love may be the gridiron, there are still people down there who will support their school’s athletics regardless of sport.
Giving them a reason to care about hoops is a good thing.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.