How the Saskatchewan Huskies gamed the Canada West RPI: Men's Basketball Bracketology 2017, 4 weeks out

(Live it, learn it, love it: following university hoops means knowing the seeding criteria for the Final 8. Warning: there is more RPI talk and no one will be put off if you just scroll to the bottom for the bracket.)

A dozen years ago the Saskatchewan Huskies football team had a beastly back named David Stevens and now, judging from their record, the men's hoop concern has a phantom sixth man named Even Stevens.

Two thoughts popped up the What-If tool for Canada West, which shows 19-1 UBC finishing third in RPI: thank goodness no one out at UBC begrudges Canada West letting in a bunch of CCAA schools. The sober second thought was that perhaps Saskatchewan being rewarded for holding their own against a tough schedule is a proof of the system's efficacy. (If they get blown out in the playoffs, though, that sentence never happened.)

If everything breaks as it should, UBC could end up with the costliest first-game-of-the-new-year loss in convenient, selective memory. On Jan. 6, Saskatchewan's Alex Unruh and Jaylan Morgan combined to shoot 9-of-13 on three-pointers, combining for 39 points (and an eFG% of 86.1 per cent!) to pace the Huskies to a 95-78 win. If the form holds, 14-6 Saskatchewan will be seeded ahead of 19-1 UBC (conference records only).

The reality here is that a budget league in a country where travel costs can border on the usurious should use a mathematical formula to seed the playoffs, especially when the teams have a "sampler" package of 10 opponents per season. That is what is right and good about the forward thinking that led to the decision and all the due diligence in computing it each week. There's also a health and wellness benefit to student-athletes that they stay in the same city for two days. One also has to be sensitive for the amount of work the awesome Martin Timmerman puts in on this, since there would be no rant fodder without him!

It seems like Saskatchewan might end up ahead of UBC by virtue of winning their first of their two games in Bridge City on the first full weekend of the year. Is that really fair? It could be argued, "Well, Saskatchewan proved it can play with the best in the country." By that same convenience sampling, Regina proved it can play with the best in the country when it defeated Saskatchewan.

What happened was the Huskies got a tough draw and have gone a solid, right in the meat party of curve 7-5 against the top half of the Canada West class. They broke even against all of the teams they played in the top six. It's doubtful there was some conscious "we only gotta get one here boys" mindset afoot, but seems like quite an anomaly that Saskatchewan was able to beat everybody and also lose to everybody.

Barring a major disaster against 13th-ranked UNBC, Saskatchewan will hop over UBC, who's playing 16th-ranked Trinity Western.

If you go down the line, though, showing all of Saskatchewan and UBC's opponents and wins against them in order of RPI ranking, you'll see all of the common opponents turn up higher in the UBC columns.

Huskies (currently 2nd)Thunderbirds (currently 3rd)
Opp'tRPI WinsOpp'tRPI Wins
Lethbridge7th2Brandon 9th2
Brandon9th2Mount Royal11th2
Mount Royal11th2UNBC13th2

To reiterate, be glad no one at UBC still begrudes Canada West for waving former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell's legacy projects into the conference.

There is a better formula-based system out there, and we'll get it eventually. On to the fake bracket:

  1. Carleton (OUA representative): Easy pick, again.
  2. UBC (Canada West champion): Despite it all, UBC's body of work suggests they are capable of winning a play-in game on a neutral floor.
  3. Ottawa (OUA rep): Only plausible scenario where they are not the No. 2 seed in OUA would involve Ryerson winning on Carleton's floor on Feb. 17. 
  4. Dalhousie (AUS champion): The Tigers are a combined 1-4 against Saint Mary's and UNB and 18-3 against the rest of U Sports. The team with the best pace-setting point guard has a huge edge in single-elimination tournaments and well, Dal has Ritchie Kanza Mata
  5. Alberta (Canada West rep): The top seed for the playoffs has the most opportunity of making the tournament. 
  6. McGill (RSEQ champion): Play out the regular-season string with single games against the rest of the RSEQ. They have a plus-52 point differential in three head-to-head games against Concordia, so losing top spot on a tiebreaker is not too much of a worry.   
  7. Ryerson (at large): The imagined scenario is they revenge hard on Brock in the OUA third-place game.

    Brock has kept seven consecutive opponents to fewer than 70 points. The Badgers aren't deep or overly efficient on offense, but like Dalhousie down east, they somehow hang around.
  8. Saint Mary's (host): The race for second in AUS, with the Huskies and UNB Varsity Reds even at 10-6 (tiebreaker held by SMU), is very tight.

    Saint Mary's still has one game left with Dalhousie. Three of UNB's last four are against very competitive St. FX.
Please feel free to disagree. There will be several more tries to get this right. Here's the seeding criteria:

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