Stop me if you've heard this one before. Baylor is in a pool of teams that a selection committee is trying to pick the top 4 teams. Three of the teams seems to be a lock (even if you don't agree) and its down to Baylor and two other teams. The Big 12 is arguably the best conference but Baylor gets left out.
So last night the NCAA Women's Basketball Selection Committee released its first-ever "preview". This was a new element to the selection committee and attempts to give us a little bit of a glimpse into the selection process. The reveal had two parts: the top four seeds and an alphabetical list of the top 20 seeds.
After the reveal, we are yet again faced with a committee leaving Baylor out of the top four in part due to our strength of schedule. Make no mistake, I am not a fan of our non-conference slate and have written about it on several occasions this year. Coach Mulkey, along with many of her Big 12 cohorts, have rested on the laurels of the strength of the Big 12 and has scheduled an unimpressive slate of non-conference games. Using the RPI and SOS calculations from Women's Basketball State, between the three teams considered, Tennessee has the significantly higher strength of schedule (2) than either Baylor (19) or Maryland (20). If you look at the "selection sheet", which breaks down records by Top 25 wins and Top 50 wins, Baylor has the fewest Top 25 games and fewest Top 25 wins of any of the top 6 teams. Compared to Tennessee and Maryland, Baylor also has the fewest Top 50 wins and have played in the fewest Top 50 games.
Now RPI is a funny formula that favors the quality of the opponent quite strongly. You can play a top team and lose and your rating can potentially go up because of the SOS bump. Destroy a really bad team and your RPI can still take a hit. As a result, the fact that the Big 12 this year, while having almost no dead weights (looking at you, Tech), also has no other stand out teams has hindered Baylor. Before last night, Baylor did not have any Top 25 wins in conference; our only top 25 win was Syracuse (23) and our one loss at Kentucky (10). Because of both Texas and Iowa State are struggling to find consistency, those teams have an RPI of 31 and 47, respectively.
So what does this all mean in relation to the preview and going forward. I think that the reveal can be seen as encouraging and concerning. From the encouraging side, Dru Hancock noted that Baylor still had not played the #2 team in the conference and acknowledged that this fact did weigh into their decision. As of this morning, Oklahoma has an RPI of 21, so if Baylor is able to pick up the win in Norman, that is two Top 25 wins that were not used for the decision making last night. Secondly, Kansas State (51) is currently sitting just outside the Top 50 and with a few key wins could move into the Top 50 and give Baylor two more Top 50 wins. So for Baylor, just keep winning and the numbers could continue to work themselves out, especially in the Big 12 tournament.
On the flip side, Maryland has more Top 50 wins than any other team in the country (11). While they only have 1 Top 50 team remaining, they have already set the bar high. For Tennessee, they have 10 Top 50 wins and 4 Top 50 games remaining. At this point, the best thing that Baylor can do is to keep winning like they have while hoping that Tennessee cannot exit the remaining schedule unscathed. If it comes down to Baylor vs Maryland, I think that the remaining games favor Baylor and Baylor has the (slightly) better SOS and fewer losses and our worse loss (Kentucky) is better than their worse loss (Washington State - 59 RPI).
So is it worth all the consternation over being the last 1 seed versus the first 2 seed? This year I do think so. As I have written about before, this year there are about 12 quality programs. As a result, this means that if Baylor is a 1 seed, we most likely hit talent parity in the Elite Eight. If we are a 2 seed, there is a much greater chance we face a tough competitor in the Sweet Sixteen. I have stated before that I believe that this team has the talent to make it to Tampa, but I want the team to be rewarded for their effort and to, selfishly, have the easiest path there.