The one-bid Western Athletic Conference

Back in March of 2006 – the first year Utah State participated in the Western Athletic Conference – the Aggies, and especially coach Stew Morrill – were asking themselves if a 23-8 record was enough to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Following the Aggies’ 70-63 overtime loss to Nevada in the conference tournament, Morrill spouted off at the post-game press conference concerning the WAC and the weight it carried – or didn’t carry in this case – with the NCAA Tournament Committee.
“If we don’t get a bid, we should pull of the WAC and go back to the Big West. I’m dead serious,” Morrill said at the time. “The ninth-ranked league should mean something. These kids belong in the NCAA Tournament and it will be a crying shame if they are not in.”
The Aggies did earn a berth with Washington, Morrill apologized to the league, and it was water under the bridge.
Jump ahead two years.
The Aggies, or every team in the league for that matter, is asking the same question. Is the WAC a two-bid league?
I would guess most people involved would have to say no.
Back in 2006, the league had a good argument. This year it doesn’t.
Like Morrill said, the WAC was the ninth-rated conference in the nation that year (just below the Mountain West Conference), Nevada was ranked in the Top 25 at the time, and it ended the year with and RPI of 19.
The lowest team in the league was Idaho at 301, but the league’s average RPI was 133. Utah State was at 46, Louisiana Tech 68, New Mexico State 97 and Hawaii 100.
Nevada’s non-conference RPI was 11 and strength of schedule was 44, while Utah State’s was 16 and 75, respectively.
In 2007, the WAC ranked ninth and New Mexico State and Nevada, which was ranked in the Top 25 at the time, received bids. New Mexico State beat Utah State in the conference finals and Nevada earned an at-large. Utah State went to the National Invitation Tournament.
This year, the WAC is ranked 17th, but below The Sun Belt Conference (15) and Patriot League (16) and just above the Big West Conference (18).
Nevada has the highest RPI in the league at 73 and Utah State is 92. Idaho and Louisiana Tech have the lowest in the league at 322 and 330, respectively, while their non-conference strength of schedules are 300 and 309, respectively.
New Mexico State and Nevada have the best non-conference RPIs in the league at 34 and 40, while Fresno State is 100 and Utah State is 162.
The league had its teams schedule better in effort to try and raise the RPI and SOS, but they haven’t won as many big out-of-conference games (53-59).
Friday, the Aggies (18-9) host UC Santa Barbara (20-6) in an ESPN BracketBuster game.
In all, six WAC teams will play Big West Conference teams in the BracketBuster and depending on how things go, the Big West could move ahead of the WAC in RPI.
Boise State (Siena) and Nevada (Southern Illinois) are the only teams playing teams outside the Big West Conference. Louisiana Tech is the only WAC school to not get a BracketBuster game.
It appears it’s a no-win situation for the WAC.
“I haven’t been one claiming that,” Morrill said. “I think our league has traditionally gotten two or more teams in, and if you look at the power rankings right now it isn’t rated any different than the Big West. Far be it from any of us to say anything disparagingly towards any of the other leagues. I wouldn’t do that. I think that would be pretty pompous.”
Currently, the league has a non-conference strength of schedule rating of 20. Three other conferences ranked above Utah State have a lower SOS: Pac-10 (3rd overall, SOS 21), Mountain West (9, 24), Patriot League (16, 32).
By the way it looks, the WAC is a one-bid league, and will stay that way until teams in the league can go out and win big non-conference games on the road or at home, if they are lucky enough to get one of those teams to come in.
Don’t count on it though.

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