Nevada was not going to make the NCAA Tournament last year without beating Colorado State in the Mountain West Tournament title game at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
While the RPI was good enough, the strength of schedule was not. Eric Musselman’s bunch played one team in the KenPom top-100 in non-conference play. And that was on the road at St. Mary’s in the season opener – an 18-point loss. That’s not exactly something to put in the first paragraph of the tournament resume.
The schedule isn’t going to be great next season either (a couple games remain to be finalized). It did get a sizable and needed boost last Tuesday, however, when the school announced it will play TCU on Dec. 8 at the Staples Center as part of the annual Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Classic.
“We are incredibly excited to be playing in the Basketball Hall of Fame Classic,” Musselman said. “For our players to get the opportunity to play in the Staples Center against a Big 12 opponent is unbelievable. We feel TCU is a top-25 caliber team and will be a great test for us this season.”
TCU went 24-15 last year (6-12 in Big 12) and won the NIT. The Horned Frogs also eliminated Kansas (regular season conference champ) from the Big 12 Tourney and boasted a regular-season win over Iowa State (Big 12 Tournament champ).
Second-year coach Jamie Dixon returns all five starters and all six of his top scorers from last season.
It’s entirely within the realm of possibility TCU will be ranked in the top 25 when the two teams meet in early in December. A Nevada win is also realistic.
Once again, the team is shuffling in a lot of new faces and will need time to familiarize. However, this is different than playing a true road game in the opener. This is a month into the season and at a neutral site. Reno is even much closer to Los Angeles than Corpus Christi.
One day after the TCU release, the Mountain West revealed matchups for the seventh edition of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge and Nevada drew Illinois State, last year’s regular season conference champ.
The two teams will play at Lawlor on Nov. 29, 2017. Nevada would’ve preferred the game on Nov. 29, 2016.
The Redbirds were infamously left out of the NCAA Tournament last year despite a 27-6 record on Selection Sunday. Their final RPI settled at 39 after a loss to Wichita State in the conference title game and a second-round defeat in the NIT to Central Florida.
Next year, Illinois State will be without five of last year’s six leading scorers and will not bring the RPI bump Wichita State would have provided.
Nevada likely would have drawn Wichita State if the Shockers had not ditched the MVC for the American Athletic Conference.
Mountain West presidents: Show us the money, er, good basketball games
This just in, Mountain West school presidents want money.
The MW Board of Directors – composed of the 11 member school presidents – announced last week it intends to make changes resulting in stronger non-conference basketball schedules. Shocking stuff.
Stronger non-conference schedules result in better RPIs and more impressive resumes. The higher the RPI, the more likely it becomes a team’s name is called on Selection Sunday. The more teams in the field and the more potential wins to follow, the higher the payout from the NCAA to the conference. That check is then divided among the member schools.
The board makes this statement after the conference sent a lone team to the dance for the second consecutive year, and both teams (Fresno State in 2016 and Nevada in 2017) were bounced in the first round. It hasn’t always been this way for the MW. In a four-year stretch from 2010 to 2013, the conference shipped at least three teams to March Madness annually.
Will stronger non-conference schedules be better for the conference? Absolutely.
They would help repair the image of a floundering conference. They would ignite fanbases that are growing complacent (with Nevada really being the only exception). They would add significance to regular-season conference games. They would ultimately make the brand national – again.
By saying more formidable non-conference basketball schedules are needed, the board was not speaking solely to fan bases or even directly to players or coaches. The board was also looking out for No. 1.
As races to construct the tallest and shiniest buildings persist on campuses nationwide (including in the MW), and an increasing number of administrators are earning six-figure salaries, the money has to come from somewhere. It may as well be from the NCAA, which prints money.