visit us now at!

Sizing up the Cougs’ tournament seeding possibilities

Posted by Jeff Nusser on March 4, 2008

With just one regular season game and the Pac-10 tournament remaining before selection Sunday, a hypothetical question was posed in the comments regarding our seeding chances at this point. Since I aim to please, I’ll go one step better and go through three hypothetical scenarios — in order of what I see as most likely to least likely — that represent a range of possibilities and break down how each might turn out on Selection Sunday.

Here’s the caveat, though: The tournament seeding process is something that’s so fluid, it’s hard to say with any certainty where a team will end up. It’s so heavily dependent on what other teams do, especially once you get outside the top two lines of seeds. Once you start getting below the 3 or 4 seed, they often move teams up or down a line to avoid the conflicts the rules tell them they have to avoid with the bracket. Additionally, I don’t even pretend to be a bracket expert. There’s a reason ESPN pays a guy to follow this thing full time and that the selection committee takes the better part of a week to put the bracket together.

Sooooo, with all that said, let’s first size up what we know.

The good news: The Cougs already have some good wins on their tournament resume. They’ve got regular season sweeps over USC and Arizona State, and additional true road wins over Gonzaga, Baylor and Boise State. All five of those teams are projected by Joe Lunardi to be in the NCAA Tournament. They are 14-3 overall in road and neutral games, a mark only bettered among tournament contenders by Butler. Also, we are devoid of a “bad” loss — just one loss to a team ranked lower than 50 in’s RPI (Cal), and it’s hard to call a loss to a team that also beat USC and Arizona State that bad of a loss.

The bad news: The Cougs are 0-6 combined against UCLA, Stanford and Arizona with just four other wins against the RPI top 50. UCLA is currently projected as a No. 1 seed; Stanford a No. 2 or No. 3 seed, depending on whether you listen to Lunardi or Jerry Palm. Either way, in the eyes of the committe, the Cougs have “proven” they probably don’t belong up there with the elite squads. In their last 10 games, the Cougars are 5-5 — not exactly blazing into the postseason. Additionally, WSU lacks a “signature” win over a big-time opponent that shows the committee what this team is capable of. And, of course, there’s that cupcake preseason schedule that ranks 209th.

The “who knows?” news: Right now, the Cougs are sitting between 20 and 25 in the RPI, depending on whose RPI you believe. Is that a major problem? Who knows. One thing we know for sure is that the committee has relied a bit less on the RPI in recent years. Take last year, for example: By’s measure, the Cougs ranked No. 29 in RPI, yet earned a No. 3 seed. Comparing one season to the next isn’t an apples to apples comparison, but it shows that RPI isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.

What all of this news adds up to currently is a No. 6 seed projection from Lunardi and a No. 5 seed projection from Palm, whose bracket was done on Friday, before the Stanford loss. Here’s how that could change in the following scenarios. (Of course, there are other combinations of scenarios that could surface, and we could spend all day talking about them. But this is the range to get the conversation started.)

Scenario No. 1: Beat Huskies, win Pac-10 Tournament opener, lose in Pac-10 semis

Final overall record: 24-8

Beating Washington at home puts the Cougs at 11-7 in the conference and firmly in third place. I this scenario, they beat their first-round opponent — which could be USC, Arizona State, Arizona or Oregon — but lose to their likely second-round opponent, Stanford, for the third time. This scenario probably does very little to change the Cougs’ seeding, unless the first-round opponent is Arizona. The Cougs already are 6-0 against the other three teams, so beating them doesn’t really add to the resume. Additionally, losing to Stanford for a third time probably doesn’t hurt much either. This is probably as status quo of a scenario as there is.

Likely result: No. 5 or 6 seed.

Scenario No. 2: Beat Huskies, win first two Pac-10 Tournament games, lose in Pac-10 championship

Final overall record: 25-8

This is where the Cougs could begin to help their cause. This scenario probably would involve getting a win over Stanford, the No. 2 seed we’d face in the semis. That could give us the “signature” win we need at the right time. It also would make us 7-3 in our final 10 games of the year, with our three losses coming to UCLA, Stanford and Arizona. Not so bad. The thing that would really help this scenario would be if we played Arizona in the Pac-10 Tournament opener and won that one. That would mean two wins at the end of the season over two teams we had yet to beat. That could really vault us, and accounts for the wide variation in seeding possibility.

Likely result: No. 3-5 seed.

Scenario No. 3: Lose to Huskies, lose first-round Pac-10 Tournament game

Final overall record: 22-9

This isn’t as unlikely a scenario as you might want to believe. The Huskies have proven that they can play well — even (believe it or not) on the road, as they demonstrated last week at the Bay Area schools by going 1-1 — and beating a team as many times in a row as we have just sets you up for a loss at some point. That could drop us into fourth place in the conference, which isn’t that big of a deal, except it increases the possibility we could face Arizona in the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament. Even if that doesn’t happen, let me ask you another question: Any of you want to face Arizona State a third time? How about USC? That’s what I thought. This could happen. And it would not be good. It would leave us as losers of four of five, and 4-6 in our final 10 games. It would do serious damage to us, and put us precisely where you probably don’t want to be — staring at the prospect of facing a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Likely result: No. 7-10 seed.

Now, let me wrap this all up with the one variable we simply cannot predict that could have potentially the greatest impact on the Cougs’ seeding — something that’s completely out of their control. We mentioned at the top that the Cougs have several quality wins. Anything that bolsters those wins and makes them look better than they already do is very, very good for WSU.

For example, we should be rooting for the Trojans to beat both Cal and Stanford this weekend, then go as deep as they can in the Pac-10 Tournament without being at the Cougs’ expense. We should root for Arizona State to beat both Oregon and Oregon State. As much as I know most Coug fans can’t stand the Zags, we should absolutely be rooting for them to win the WCC Tournament, and preferably beat St. Mary’s on the way there. We should absolutely be rooting for Baylor to go as deep into the Big 12 Tournament as it can, and be cheering for Boise State to win the WAC.

It’s tough to have to rely on other people to do our work for us, but anything that makes us look stronger relative to other teams in the eyes of the committee is going to help us as much as winning our own games.


7 Responses to “Sizing up the Cougs’ tournament seeding possibilities”

  1. Longball said

    Isn’t Portland state going to win their conference? Another HUGE win for the cougs. Ok, kidding, but at least its another NCAA team on the resume. In my wildest dreams we beat the dawgs then beat Zona, Furd AND UCLA to win the Pac-10 tourney! Going into the NCAAs on a high note can do wonders for a team, look at ORegon last year.

  2. Nuss said

    Yeah, I didn’t put that up as a scenario because I didn’t think it was all that likely, but if that happened, I’m certain we’d be a lock for a 3 seed. Some other things would have to fall into place for it to push us to a No. 2 seed, which I think is a bit unrealistic.

  3. johnnycougar said

    I agree with most of your points, but looking at the Pac 10 standings it seems inevitable that we will face Arizona, USC or ASU. You mentioned in Scenario 3 that we don’t want to face any of those teams, well they’re 4-5-6 right now and likely to stay that way, so we’ll face one of them even if we stay 3rd in the conference. I guess it is possible that the 6th place team will be Oregon or MAYBE the Huskies (if they beat us but we stay 3rd), I don’t know all the tiebreakers off the top of my head. So I suppose 3rd is better for the potential to play a slightly easier team again, but other than Arizona we’ve beaten all those teams twice.

    Anyways, all that to say that I favor avoiding Arizona if at all possible. I’d rather face Stanford again, seeing as how we came extremely close to beating them twice. So I am hoping for either USC or ASU as the #6 seed, giving us a matchup with Stanford in the semi’s.

    Seriously though, just win on Saturday. Last home game for Weaver, Low and Cowgill… I’m sure there will be tears in my eyes. Go Cougs!

  4. Nuss said

    I probably didn’t make that point very clearly. I recognize our likely first-round opponent is one of those three teams. And while I think we will probably win our first-round game (scenario 1), people need to wake up to the fact that it’s certainly no gimme (the point I was trying to make in scenario 3).

  5. Nuss said

    And you’re right, longball — I forgot about the Vikings. Let’s hope they win that Big Sky tournament next week.

  6. […] Posts Sizing up the Cougs’ tournament seeding possibilitiesWSU HOOPS blog functionAbout WSU HOOPSThank goodness Brook Lopez will be in the NBA next […]

  7. […] that the Cougs’ have played out what I pegged as the most likely end-of-season scenario, what exactly that means for the Cougs still is up for a good amount of […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: