Conferences scramble to make sense of postseason path in COVID-impacted college basketball season

Leagues are learning the struggles of striking competitive balance, COVID-19 prevention, fulfilling TV contracts, maximizing postseason hopes and other factors in the season’s closing weeks.

This was always going to be a college basketball season unlike any other with the COVID-19 pandemic throwing a wrench into things, leading to daily postponements and makeups in a messy situation overall.

The ball of yarn is beginning to unravel for a number of conferences around the sport with attempts to conclude regular-season action and prepare for postseason tournaments. All of this comes while ensuring health and safety for programs, in which positive COVID-19 cases could wreak havoc on hopes of a “normal” March.

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Below we’ve identified trending college basketball storylines regarding scheduling, makeup games and conference tournament seeding.

MAAC league schedule continues to fall apart

The MAAC is a bit of a disaster right now. Three teams — Iona, Monmouth and Fairfield — aren’t currently active, as Iona announced Monday that it won’t play its final five regular season games and instead train for the MAAC tourney while Monmouth and Fairfield are both on pause.

Given COVID-19’s continued presence throughout the MAAC, rescheduling games and solving tournament seeding looks more challenging by the day. Siena currently leads the league at 9-3 and didn’t play a single game due to a pause that lasted until its opener on Jan. 3. Behind Siena is Rick Pitino’s Gaels, which underwent a 51-day pause earlier this season and are tied in the loss column but three wins back. Monmouth, meanwhile, has 16 games played at 10-6 and Canisius isn’t far behind at 6-4.

As it currently stands, the MAAC will seed its tournament based on overall wins and not win percentage. This would indicate that a 6-3 Iona squad would be seeded no higher than sixth and behind teams with significantly weaker league records including 8-8 Marist and 7-9 Niagara. Best of luck to the MAAC in sorting this out.

Stanford reclassifies previous matchups

It’s a by-any-means-necessary mentality in college basketball this year and Stanford is one of the many teams doing everything it can to improve its at-large chances. According to Mercury News, Stanford’s earlier contests played in Santa Cruz due to Santa Clara County COVID-19 restrictions are being reclassified from “home” to “neutral” matchups.

The NCAA’s NET quadrant system batches results based on location, and Stanford’s reclassification means wins against Arizona and UCLA bump from Quad-2 to Quad-1, which doubles the Cardinal’s Q1 win total from two to four. Given that the games were played approximately 40 miles from Stanford’s campus, reclassifying the results as neutral-site wins and losses seems reasonable and could wind up being a profitable decision if Stanford can sneak into the field.

Mountain West expected to force makeup games

With just a handful of games remaining in the regular season, the Mountain West still has five teams that could win the league title in Boise State, San Diego State, Colorado State, Utah State and Nevada. The issue, however, is postponed matchups have created schedule imbalance and also challenged hopes of fulfilling the league’s lucrative TV deal with CBS and Fox Sports, which requires a specified number of broadcasts.

Though four MWC squads are still in the mix for a March Madness bid, a loss by a contender could be especially damaging for tournament hopes. San Diego State will likely have to make up its series with at least one game against UNLV; Colorado State could play its postponed series against either New Mexico or Nevada; Boise State could play its second Fresno State matchup, and only Air Force — which has zero postponed games to date — would be exempt.

The Mountain West designated a window before its tournament in Las Vegas to allow for makeup games, though it might work against the league’s best interests in the case of an unexpected loss or, even worse, a team contracts COVID-19 in the process. Most coaches are reportedly against having to reschedule the postponements.

Detroit’s Mike Davis voices frustration over seeding

Speaking of bizarre end-of-season news, the Horizon League unveiled its head-scratching tournament bracket over the weekend, much to the dismay of Detroit head coach Mike Davis.

The Titans, which finished conference play 10-6, are seeded 5th in the tournament behind a pair of teams with lower winning percentages in 10-10 Oakland and 11-7 Northern Kentucky.

The Horizon’s conference seeding formula calls for four factors including league winning percentage, strength of schedule, weighting road wins vs. home wins and number of league games played.

“We wouldn’t have lost all four games, I can tell you that,” Davis said about being seeded lower than Oakland, which had the same number of league wins and four more losses. Detroit and Oakland split their four regular-season matchups, and now Davis’ squad has to take on Robert Morris in the first round instead of beginning its postseason with a bye into the quarterfinals.

Eli Boettger
Eli Boettger

Heat Check CBB founder, editor



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