With Selection Sunday looming, the Wyoming men’s basketball team looks scheduled for an uneventful day. An at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament has long been out of the picture for the Cowboys, but as the season wound down, there had been some hopes of making the NIT, a tournament Wyoming hasn’t played in since 2003.
“I thought our schedule was tough enough to put us in position, if for some reason we didn’t win our (conference) tournament or weren’t in a position to get an at-large,” second-year Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said before the Mountain West tournament. “But I think along the way, (we) shot ourselves in the foot with (losses to) Denver and Northern Colorado. And then finishing sixth within the league, that kind of hurts your chances as well.
“But we’re sitting on 19 wins after playing a really rugged schedule, or the toughest schedule since I’ve been here. I think if we put on a run and get to the championship game and we don’t pull it out, maybe NIT. But, again, that’s not really on our mind right now. What we’ve just relayed to our guys is the only thing we can control is what’s in front of us.”
The Cowboys weren’t able to accomplish that, however. After beating last-place San Jose State in the first round, sixth-seeded Wyoming fell to eventual runner-up New Mexico, the third seed, in the quarterfinals.
Edwards said the Cowboys would not be participating in the College Basketball Invitational this season. Wyoming won the tournament, which is considered a notch below the NIT, in his first year as head coach. However, the circumstances surrounding the 2016-17 Wyoming team were more conducive to participating in the tournament. The Cowboys were only expected to lose one significant contributor, then-senior Jason McManamen, after the year. This year, Wyoming has four seniors departing, barring any additional transfers. Last year, the Cowboys were picked to finish second-to-last in the Mountain West and finished seventh. This year’s team finished sixth but had more high-quality wins, beating every team in the conference except New Mexico and UNLV. Wyoming also spent much of the season in the top quarter of the conference standings, and returning to a small tournament it won last season would likely not be a reward worth the nearly $75,000 Wyoming lost on the tournament.
But while the final numbers might not jump off the page — two more conference wins than last season, one more regular-season win — the Cowboys did have a better shot at an NIT berth this year because of some of its signature wins. College basketball has recently adopted the quadrant system as a way of evaluating teams’ resumes. Quadrant 1 wins are defined as home wins against top-30 teams in RPI, neutral-site wins over top-50 teams and road wins against top-75 teams. Quadrant 2 wins come at home against teams with RPIs of 31-75, at neutral sites against teams with RPIs of 51-100 and in road games against teams with RPIs between 76-135. There are four quadrants, each descending in quality.
Let’s take a look at Wyoming’s Quadrant 1-2 wins this season compared to the to Mountain West teams that are not going to the NCAA Tournament (San Diego State, per automatic berth, and presumably Nevada). The Cowboys have seven wins that fall in the first two quadrants, going off the most recent RPI ratings listed on ESPN.com. Wyoming had a pair of Quadrant 1 wins, against South Dakota State at a neutral site and at home against Nevada. Its Quadrant 2 wins came against Louisiana on a neutral court, at home against Boise State and San Diego State and on the road against Fresno State and Oregon State. Among the top seven non-tournament teams in the Mountain West, only Boise State can match that total: two Quadrant 1 wins and five Quadrant 2 wins. Third-place New Mexico has four wins in those two tiers, fourth-place Fresno State has four, and seventh place Utah State has five. None of those teams have more than one Quadrant 1 win.The Cowboys (97) also have the best RPI of any of those teams except Boise State (49).
Wyoming also has three wins over teams who have clinched automatic NCAA Tournament berths: San Diego State, South Dakota State and Texas Southern and one over probable tournament team Nevada.