WCC Releases Conference Schedule

And Gonzaga’s not coming to LMU. 

By Johnny Dimes

Beginning with the 2018-2019 season, the WCC shifted from an 18-game conference season to a 16-game conference season, with each team eliminating two WCC conference games.  The purpose was to enhance the national profile of the WCC’s 10 basketball programs and get more teams into the NCAA Tournament.

Just two weeks ago, we thought – based on last year’s final standings with LMU finishing in 7th place in the league – that LMU would not miss out on hosting the perennial first-place Gonzaga Bulldogs.  That’s how it worked the previous two years. However, now there’s more to the official formula than the previous year’s conference finish.

According to the WCC, the conference matchups are based on the league’s formula that includes the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 NET rankings (which are compiled by the NCAA), last year’s WCC tournament seedings and a spring survey of the conference’s ten head coaches.  

What is new and different about this year’s rankings is that it is the first time the WCC could go back and look at the NET rankings over a two-year period.  This is something they couldn’t do previously as the NET Rankings were introduced in 2018-19.

Based on last year’s final WCC standings, it certainly looks like LMU, San Diego and Portland were the contenders for the bottom two slots. With the team coming out ranked 10th losing the opportunity to host Gonzaga this year.

Let’s go ahead and break down the WCC formula (according to their press release).

  1. 2018-2019 NET rankings:  San Diego 97, LMU 142, Portland 327. A clear win for San Diego, who is substantially ahead of the other two teams, including 45 slots above LMU. A clear 2nd for LMU as they are a whopping 185 slots ahead of Portland.
  • Last year’s NET rankings: LMU 207. San Diego 231. Portland 275. (LMU fell hard, San Diego plunged, but Portland actually improved.)  A win for LMU, clearly not in the bottom two, but only 24 slots ahead of San Diego, which is not enough to make up the differential from the year 2018-2019.  However, LMU was still 68 slots ahead of Portland, for a combined 253 slots ahead of the Pilots over a two-year period.
  • Last year’s WCC Tournament Seedings: LMU 8. San Diego 9. Portland 10. Another win for LMU as the Lions were seeded higher than the other two bottom schools. Not by much though, but still higher and we’re told that is part of the formula.

Without knowing how much weight each part of the formula has, it’s hard to determine where LMU stood at this point in the rankings. Clearly better than Portland, but not as clear against San Diego. From a Net Rankings perspective, San Diego has a cumulative 21-slot lead over the Lions over the last two years. Is that enough to overcome LMU’s 8th place seeding over San Diego’s 9th place seeding last year? Or is it a coin flip?  The good news is, LMU has a combined 253 slots ranking above Portland and was a higher seed last year than Portland, so this far into the formula, there’s no chance LMU is ranked lower than Portland.

That brings us to the last known part of the formula.

  • Spring Survey of the Conference Head Coaches.  What are the criteria for this survey? Without knowing the details, we can only guess.  Did the WCC coaches look at head-to-head matchups last year? (LMU was 2-0 against San Diego and 2-0 against Portland.) Did the coaches look at what the teams were losing personnel-wise coming into this year? Did they look at the new players added to each team? Transfers and recruits?  Did they like San Diego’s head coach Sam Scholl’s 20 years as a coach in the WCC versus LMU’s Stan Johnson’s zero years in the WCC? Did they like Sam Scholl’s 2-year head coaching experience versus Stan Johnson’s first head coaching assignment ever?  Did the coaches look at Portland’s Terry Porter’s four years and 7-61 conference record and project that the Pilots will be better than the Lions?  Who knows? But it certainly looks like the coaches had the opportunity to factor in the final decision.

Whatever the details of the formula, LMU lost the ranking contest and finished behind San Diego and Portland so will be playing the top two ranked teams only once each.  The Lions will not host Gonzaga nor travel to BYU.  How is it that LMU finished behind Portland in any honest ranking? Clearly, Portland is the worst team in a 10-team conference. They are #10 by any measurement. So how is it that the apparent #10-ranked Portland Pilots get to host the apparent #1-ranked Gonzaga instead of the #9 or #8-ranked Lions hosting the #1-ranked Bulldogs? That doesn’t seem to make sense. Wouldn’t LMU miss out on hosting #2-ranked BYU?  We’ll never know for sure but a good guess would be economics. Given budget shortfalls everywhere, it is cheaper for Gonzaga to fly to Portland than to LA. And a wash for BYU to fly to LA versus Portland. Or did Mark Few decide to throw his weight around again?  Last season Portland hosted Gonzaga despite finishing 0-16 in league the year before, while Pacific missed out on the chance to host the Bulldogs.

Speaking of Mark Few, the whole reason we’re in this mess is because Few complained that the bottom teams in the conference were too weak and he wanted to skip two of them so he could build up Gonzaga’s resume by playing two higher-ranked non-conference games every year. His goal was to improve his strength of schedule and get the best seeding possible in the NCAA tournament. Certainly, hard to fault his thinking as the bottom of the league has been pretty weak over the years. And good for other top teams in the conference as well.

Let’s give that a quick check to see how Few is doing in that department. As we said, last year LMU had a NET ranking of 207.  Few scheduled four teams who had a lower NET ranking: Texas Southern (276), Detroit Mercy (307), Alabama State (337) and Arkansas Pine Bluff (348).  Those teams weren’t just weaker, they were a lot weaker. The kindest way to put it would be that is clearly poor use of scheduling opportunities by Gonzaga. 

The ironic thing is that even with those four weak teams on their schedule, Gonzaga still ended up being ranked #1. So effectively Gonzaga punished a couple of WCC teams last year by not playing them and hurting THEIR strength of schedule for nothing. And this year it’s LMU’s turn to get hurt. Ironic that Few is doing exactly to his conference brethren what he accused them of doing to him.  Some would call that hypocritical, but we’re not going to go that far. We’ll be polite and call it unforeseen consequences.

So, what does not hosting Gonzaga and not playing BYU on the road mean for the upcoming season?

The positives. LMU skips having to play the top two teams in the WCC twice. That should help from a record standpoint.

The negatives. LMU loses out on their biggest revenue game of the year and the best attended home game of the year. LMU’s strength of schedule takes a hit without two games against the current #1 team in the country and a road game against BYU, a likely Top 40 team in the country. Most importantly, the LMU coaches and players get to measure up against the best two teams in the conference only once.

Pretty much a lose-lose for LMU.