SAN FRANCISCO — Washington women’s basketball coach Mike Neighbors is a numbers guy. He loves math, he makes lists, you name it – Neighbors is all about the numbers.
He has used that love for numbers to develop a strategy for the Pac-12 to raise its conference RPI. At a meeting at the 2013 Final Four in New Orleans, Neighbors, entering his first year as the Huskies’ head coach, laid out his vision to the rest of the conference coaches to help boost the nitty-gritty numbers around the conference with the hopes of everyone having a better shot at getting an NCAA bid.
“You have to schedule wins,” Neighbors said at 2015 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day. “You need to schedule quality wins for your program and schedule appropriately… And it does good for the league if you do that.”
He says the sweet spot is for teams to get eight or nine wins during the non-conference portion of their schedule. As such, a schedule for Stanford, a consistent national powerhouse, would ideally look differently than an up-and-coming team trying to get into the NCAA tournament in the first place.
“You need to schedule who you are,” said Neighbors, who conducted a 10-year study of the RPIs of teams that made the tournament and how they scheduled.
So far, so good. The Pac-12 has placed five teams in each of the last two tournaments. While that doesn’t match the nine ACC teams, seven put in by the SEC, or six by the Big Ten in the 2015 dance, it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the Pac-12. The five teams are the most for the Pac-12 since 2006, when six Pac-10 teams and Utah made it, and the first time since 2005-06 that the Pac-12 got five teams in the tournament in back-to-back seasons.
“Mike Neighbors has done a great job of letting us know how we can raise our conference profile by our schedule,” UCLA head coach Cori Close said. The Bruins are playing Cal in a non-conference game this year since the two only play once in the league slate, but will not do so anymore after this season on the logic behind Neighbors’ advice – it takes away one opportunity for one of those teams to get to that magic No. 8 or 9 victories out of conference.