During SEC spring meetings, a new rule was announced that is aimed at preventing nonconference cupcake games in the name of boosting win totals.
SEC requiring hoops teams to schedule nonconference opponents with three-year RPI average of 175 or better.— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) May 31, 2016
Here's the translation:
If a team has been really, really bad for three straight years (like Missouri), you aren't allowed to schedule them in a nonconference game. A team's RPI is comprised of their own winning percentage, their opponents' winning percentage, and the winning percentage of their opponents' opponents. Considering there are 351 Division 1 basketball schools, the SEC is basically saying, "You can schedule bad teams, but don't schedule teams that have finished the season with losing records for three straight years."
This rule is clearly aimed at furthering the effort to improve the overall schedule strength of SEC basketball. Although the league's coaching resume has dramatically improved over the past two seasons, there is no doubt that the SEC is still nationally viewed as the weakest Power 5 hoops conference. Will the rule actually have any dramatic impact on the performance of teams in the SEC? Likely not. Let's take a look at the rule's potential impact on Aggie Basketball.
The 2015-2016 Season
Hey did you know that we won the conference title in basketball last year? Sorry, I just like bringing that up randomly in conversation. Texas A&M finished the season with the 18th best RPI in college hoops last season, which still blows my mind considering what a mediocre team we were for the previous several years. The team's 28-6 record had a grand total of ZERO losses against teams ranked higher than 175 in the RPI. The team's worst lost came against Arkansas (127) early in SEC play. That's a good sign, when your team easily beats teams they are expected to beat.
Now to look at teams A&M beat last season from the bottom of the hoops barrel. The Aggies played 9 games against teams from the bottom half of the country, and won all 9 of those games. Of those 9, three were in the 150-175 range (and were also conference foes Auburn and Mississippi State). The other six were really bad basketball teams. South Carolina Upstate at 325, Southeastern Lousiana at 333, Florida Gulf Coast at 217, Cal Poly at 233, and two games against Missouri at 222. They got so bad, so fast. So once you remove Missouri twice, the Aggies only had 4 games that would have been impacted by this rule.
Of the Aggies other 8 losses, 7 came against teams ranked in the RPI 1-100 range. I certainly would not expect teams to read this rule and then go out and schedule more games against Top 50 teams. With that in mind, this new rule would have likely seen the Aggies finish with an even higher final ranking to finish the season. So, a net positive.
The full 2016-2017 schedule has not been released yet, and this new rule will of course have a little impact on what the final schedule will look like. We do know a few teams A&M will face next season already. The Big 12/SEC matchup this season is against West Virginia, which had the 12th best RPI last season. The Aggies also have a mid-November game against USC, 48th RPI last season, on the schedule. The early season tournament for A&M this coming season will be the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim over Thanksgiving weekend. The teams joining the Aggies in the field are Cal State-Northridge (282), Dayton (21), Nebraska (164), New Mexico (137), Portland (250), UCLA (99), and Virginia Tech (90). I have not seen any details on this rule and it's impact on SEC teams in these early season tournaments that may have sub-175 teams in the fold, but I would not expect there to be any impact.
So when it's all said and done, I think this rule is a positive change for the SEC. It will certainly have a larger impact on teams that are in a rebuilding phase that need to build confidence early in the season. Similarly, it will only make things tougher for teams like A&M next season that will be heavily relying on their young players to have a big impact in the early going. As long as Billy Kennedy is able to keep this recruiting momentum at the ridiculous level it's at now, Aggie fans should be just fine with the new SEC scheduling rule.