Honorary Pac-12 Members For 2012-13Posted by AMurawa on October 29th, 2012
There are seven teams from other conferences across the country that will have three different Pac-12 teams on their schedule this year. While fans of Pac-12 schools will likely be rooting against these seven teams in those games against conference foes, whenever these schools face other teams from other conferences, it will be in the best interest of the league as a whole to have these seven teams win as much as possible. We all know the RPI may be a flawed metric, but it is a metric that the selection committee uses in one form or another to help select and slot teams in the bracket come March. And how the RPI is determined is quite simple: It takes into account your team’s winning percentage, the winning percentage of your opponents, and one step further, the winning percentage of your opponents’ opponents. In other words, even if your school isn’t playing one of these teams this season, since your team will be playing against three Pac-12 opponents of these schools, your RPI will get a boost if these teams win. So, without further ado, below we will list and give a brief rundown of the seven Division I teams with three Pac-12 teams on their schedule.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff (RPI: #302) – Last season, the Golden Lions started out by losing 19 of their first 21 games on their way to an 11-22 year. The sad thing is that was an improvement over 2010-11, when they lost their first 14 games and finished 7-24. There are some extenuating circumstances, however. For instance, two years ago their first 12 games – all non-conference games – were on the road, with seven games against teams from the top seven conferences in the nation. Last year was slightly better, with only nine games on their non-conference slate as true road games (the other four were neutral-site games). This year, though, head coach George Ivory is back to getting his team killed in the non-conference slate. Not only will UAPB play at Washington State, Arizona State and Oregon, but they’ll also make soul-crushing trips to San Diego State and Michigan State. But hey, give credit to Ivory for at least scheduling a trip to Hawai’i to take part in the Rainbow Classic there. This team will have earned its preemptive vacation by the time its non-conference slate is done. The good news is that the Golden Lions have a pair of talented returning starters and a couple veterans coming back from medical redshirts. But let’s face facts. If UAPB comes out of its non-conference schedule with something like a 3-8 record, that will be an astoundingly good result. The Pac-12 will need this squad to clean up in the SWAC in order to get any benefit from having them on the schedule.
Cal State Northridge (RPI: #324) – If anyone outside of the San Fernando Valley knows anything about the Matadors, it likely has to do with the fact that they were banned from NCAA Tournament eligibility last season due to poor academic performance. But, that’s in the past now, and CSUN used last year’s lost season to develop a bunch of youngsters. Between last year’s Big West freshman of the year, Stephen Hicks, classmate Stephen Maxwell, and sophomore point Josh Greene, the Matadors return the three most efficient high-use offensive players from last year’s squad. Throw in incoming freshmen Landon Drew (brother of UCLA point guard Larry Drew II) and Brandon Perry and this a young and talented squad. And, even better for Pac-12 schools, they have a manageable schedule. Their visits to UCLA, Arizona State and Utah comprise three of their four toughest games on the schedule and their non-conference slate is loaded with winnable games for them, including a trio of non-Division I opponents. But, the real test for CSUN will be how it can do in conference play this year, with the usual favorite, Long Beach State, being challenged by Cal State Fullerton and newcomer Hawai’i. But, if everything comes together, an upper-division finish in the Big West is not out of the question.
Fresno State (RPI: #227) – The last time the Bulldogs posted a winning record on the year was in 2006-07. Since then, the team has gone 68-95 over five seasons. The good news is that last year was the program’s first under new head coach Rodney Terry, and he has started to up the talent level. This past offseason, Terry landed the #55 recruit in the nation (according to ESPN) when hometown seven-footer Robert Upshaw chose FSU over other national powers like Kansas State and Georgetown. Though he may be a work in progress, he’s a significant signee for the Bulldogs and if he sticks around for any length of time, could be the foundation for the rebirth of a program. This year he’ll join returnees like prolific scorer Kevin Olekaibe and versatile guard Tyler Johnson, along with December-eligible transfer Braeden Anderson – a one-time Kansas commitment – to give Fresno basketball fans the most talent at the top of the home roster in at least a decade. It remains to be seen if Terry can mold this talent into a winner this year, especially given problems with depth, but the schedule is manageable. Aside from trips to Washington State and UCLA and a visit from Colorado, the only other non-conference games where the Bulldogs will be underdogs are the opener at Texas and a home game against Long Beach State. But, unlike UAPB and CSUN, the conference slate doesn’t offer any relief as FSU’s first season in the Mountain West brings a much higher level of conference foe than last year’s WAC slate did. Still, on talent alone, this team is capable of being in a lot of games to the very end. It would be good for the Pac-12 if Fresno State won more of those 50/50 games than they lost.
Idaho State (RPI: #290) – The Vandals can get thrown in the same pile as UAPB and CSUN; this is likely not going to be a team whose record this season is going to do a whole lot to help Pac-12 teams. Last year ISU started off 2-8 before head coach Joe O’Brien resigned just ahead of Christmas. Interim head coach Deane Martin led the team to a 7-13 record the rest of the way and a fifth-place finish in the Big Sky, good enough to earn them one of the six invites to the conference tournament. But, no matter, Martin was not invited back and the Vandals will be breaking in Bill Evans, a former head man at Southern Utah and an assistant at Montana. Evans will have to get things going with just two returning starters and a roster with a genuine dearth of talent. If there is good news for ISU’s outlook, it would be that other than trips to Utah, Oregon and Washington State, there are no other power conference schools on the schedule. Still, trips to face teams like Utah State, Portland, and Cal State Fullerton will not be easy either and even once conference play begins, the Vandals are expected to finish near the bottom of the Big Sky.
Kansas (RPI: #5) – Now here’s a team that should be good enough to help out Pac-12 teams in the record department. And, should Washington State (as the opener of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic), Oregon State or Colorado actually be able to spring an upset of the Jayhawks, that would be an excellent card for those teams to play come Selection Sunday. While Bill Self’s team is minus Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, there is still plenty of talent over in Lawrence. And, the fact of the matter is, until somebody actually knocks KU off their perch in the Big 12, they’ve gotta be the favorite to win that conference and likely earn a high seed come tournament time. Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford return from last year’s national runner-up, while another elite freshman class with at least three four-star recruits is bolstered by a pair of redshirt freshmen – Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor – who were academically ineligible last season. The non-conference schedule is typically Kansas tough, with Michigan State awaiting in the second game of the season, a trip to Ohio State later on down the line, visits from teams like Temple, Richmond and Belmont, and, of course, the three games against Pac-12 team. But still, when all is said and done, pencil KU in for something like a 25-6 record. And, another Big-12 title.
Long Beach State (RPI: #37) – Here’s something Dan Monson knows: there is no way in hell Long Beach State is ever earning an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament. No way, that is, unless he is somehow able to rack up multiple non-conference wins over the increasingly back-breaking schedule he regularly lines up for his pupils. Last year it was the second-toughest (per KenPom.com) non-conference slate in the country, with trips to Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, San Diego State, and, an improbable win over a down Pittsburgh team. Two years back it was the fourth-toughest schedule; three years ago, second; and four years back a mere 63rd in the nation, with relatively easy trips to BYU (featuring somebody named Jimmer), Wisconsin, and Syracuse. This year, Monson has outdone himself. Of the 11 non-conference games the 49ers have scheduled, five of them are against teams ranked in the top 15 of the preseason AP poll. Two of those games are against the Pac-12 frontrunners, Arizona and UCLA, while a visit from North Carolina (major props to Roy Williams and company for stopping off at LBSU on their way to Maui) precedes visits to Syracuse and Ohio State. The third Pac-12 opponent is USC in the second game of the season. Part of the benefit of this seemingly insane schedule is that people take notice. People like Dan Jennings, Keala King and Tony Freeland, transfers from West Virginia, Arizona State and DePaul, respectively. But this program has been built on the backs of guys like senior wing James Ennis and sophomore point guard Mike Caffey, who each spent last year toiling, quite effectively I might add, in the shadows cast by now-departed seniors like Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, T.J. Robinson and Eugene Phelps. That’s an awful lot of production for Monson to replace, but by giving his guys the trial by fire in November and December that this program is used to, the hope is that LBSU will again be ready to rip through the Big West in some manner approaching the 29-3 conference record his team has compiled the last two seasons.
Northern Arizona (RPI: #338) – It’s back to the Big Sky to wrap up our list of honorary Pac-12 members for the season, but the Lumberjacks, much like some of the other teams on this list, aren’t counting on making a huge splash this season. The state of NAU’s program in many ways parallels conference-mate Idaho State’s. Both teams saw their head coaches bail on the program at midseason following poor starts (although, to be fair, Mike Adras’ departure from Flagstaff was slightly more dramatic), to be replaced by interim head coaches who would just be around for brief stopovers in the head man’s seat on the way to new leadership. At NAU, that new guy is Jack Murphy, a former assistant at Memphis. Unfortunately for Murphy, the cupboard is pretty much bare in Flagstaff. Senior guard Gabe Rogers is the only guy out of last year’s top four leading scorers to return, so Murphy will need to try to build on last year’s 5-24 record by leaning heavily on newcomers to bolster the squad. To make matters worse, the Lumberjacks have plenty of meat on the bones of their schedule. They’ll open with a trip to Oregon, with visits to Arizona and Colorado scheduled later on down the line. And they’ll also mix in there trips to UNLV and BYU. And, given that NAU is expected to be down near the bottom of the Big Sky standings right near Idaho State, this is just another team that likely ain’t gonna do the Pac-12 a whole lot of good.