SAN ANTONIO – Regardless of whether Conference USA’s schedule wrinkle is the best option for the league moving forward, Western Kentucky is looking forward to the rest it can get right now.
The dates for WKU’s next four opponents will be announced by the conference Sunday, but the Hilltoppers know they won’t play the first of four games until at least Saturday. Rick Stansbury hopes the criticism that came with the inaugural bonus play schedule will change the schedule of this season.
He’s confident the top two teams in the league won’t play on the road or play each other in the first weekend.
“The rest this week will be good for us,” Stansbury told the Daily News on Saturday. “We won’t play till Saturday, at least. This year, No. 2 won’t go to No. 1 first this year like it did last year.”
C-USA will announce the Bonus Play schedule Sunday by noon. WKU knows it will travel to No. 1 seed North Texas and No. 5 seed FIU while hosting No. 3 Louisiana Tech and No. 4 Charlotte.
The potential dates are Feb. 22, 27 and March 1, 4 and 7. WKU locked itself into at least the No. 2 seed in the league standings by defeating UTEP on Thursday. Regardless of its 77-73 overtime win at UTSA on Saturday, WKU would have needed a North Texas loss to move up to No. 1 in the standings.
“If we can get two on the road and two back at home,” junior Taveion Hollingsworth said. “That’s a lot of confidence going into the tournament.”
C-USA is ushering in the second year of bonus play with mixed reviews.
The formula is to take the standings after the first 14 games and group teams into pods based on their finish. Each team plays against four member schools in the final three weeks of the season to determine the final standings for the C-USA Tournament in Frisco, Texas, on March 11-14.
The intention of the schedule change at the end of the season is to boost the overall resume of the league’s top teams in an effort to better qualify for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
That method may work if the top teams were legitimate contenders with credible NET rankings or pushing up the AP Top 25 rankings. The system was introduced right after Middle Tennessee boasted a resume good enough to earn an at-large bid despite bowing out in the first round of the conference tournament.
Last year as the No. 1 seed before Bonus Play, WKU had to go on the road for its first two games before playing at E.A. Diddle Arena for the last two. Not only that, but WKU’s first game was at 2-seed Old Dominion. The Monarchs ended up beating WKU again in the C-USA Tournament championship.
The shelf life of Bonus Play may come to an end this year at the end of a two-season commitment the league’s presidents and athletic directors agreed to. What the conference may soon realize is the overall scheduling is the issue, which can in turn help strengthen the league.
WKU athletic director Todd Stewart is on a competition subcommittee that has proposed a plan to strengthen schedules among C-USA schools. The plan would require teams to start adding more Division I opponents and teams outside of Quadrant 4, where the worst teams rank in the NCAA’s selection criteria for the tournament.
That subcommittee consists of Stewart, North Texas coach Grant McCasland, Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones, UAB athletic director Mark Ingram and Charlotte AD and subcommittee chairman Mike Hill.
“Scheduling is something we can control,” Stewart said in a recent interview with the Daily News. “There’s always going to be good teams and there’s a last-place team in every league. The last-place team doesn’t always have a 300 RPI or worse. If we can get away from that, then the league overall will be strengthened.”
To Stewart’s point, C-USA as of Saturday had just two teams in the top 100 in RPI ratings, WKU at No. 72 and North Texas at No. 84. Four of the league’s 14 member schools are 201 or worse.
In the NET ratings, five C-USA teams rank 200 or worse.
The subcommittee recommends a system that would set scheduling parameters around the number of non-Division I and Quadrant 4 road games. The goal is to decrease scheduling schools that qualify in those two categories in a tiered system starting in 2020-21, and a financial penalty could be handed to schools that don’t follow the new format.
Midseason tournament games would be exempt from this rule.
“It’s about how to make men’s basketball better and we’ve had some really good discussions and will continue to,” Stewart said. “Like anything in life, if there’s no consequence for breaking the law in society, then more are likely to break the law. Well, if you have scheduling criteria and you don’t meet them and there’s no consequence, there’s really no incentive to meet.
“In most of our sports, the top half of the league is pretty good, but the bottom half struggles. It’s a competitive landscape, but what we want to do is control what we can control.”