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Gonzaga’s non-conference schedule was a good thing and a bad thing

The Zags have an absurdly low RPI all considering, and there is a reason.

NCAA Basketball: Howard at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs, despite being the No. 7 ranked team by Ken Pomeroy, were not among the 16 teams selected to be the top four seeds on Sunday.

Now, of course, plenty of that can change. It isn’t like the No. 4 seeds listed there are locked in stone until March. If Gonzaga wins out, the Zags have a solid case to be made for a No. 4 seed, maybe even a No. 3. At the same time, the Selection Committee has a solid case to say: nope.

Much of that has to do with the newly created team sheets and “Quadrant Wins.” We talked about this on Sunday, and whether or not you think it is an indicative measure of anything worthwhile is beside the point: The Selection Committee is using this system, therefore this system is important.

Now the Zags also have a rather shockingly low RPI number. Despite being the No. 7-ranked KenPom team, Gonzaga is just No. 36 in RPI. Saint Mary’s, a team whose longest travel in the non-conference was to just further away in California, has a RPI of 29.

The Gonzaga non-conference schedule, the old system of “we will play anyone, anywhere” doesn’t really apply to how Gonzaga schedules anymore. Perhaps, maybe it should, especially in years where the WCC is just a black hole in terms of bolstering the resume.

Right now, Gonzaga has six Quadrant 1 games and four Quadrant 1 wins. The Zags have five Quadrant 2 games and three Quadrant 2 wins. The Zags have just as many Quadrant 1 wins as Arizona.

The issue are three albatross games on there, and boy, are they stinkers. The Gonzaga non-conference schedule was seemingly a good one: Ohio State, Texas, Florida, Creighton, San Diego State, Villanova, and Washington. San Diego State hasn’t really shaped up like many of us would hope, but Ohio State and Washington have more than turned that around.

Nothing can really turn around the rest of the scheduling, however. Seven of the Zags’ 13 non-conference games were considered Quadrant 1 and 2 games. One is a Quadrant 3 (Utah State), and five are Quadrant 4, including three that are at the bottom of the barrel, almost literally. Of the 351 teams in the nation, IUPUI’s RPI is No. 330, Howard is No. 344, and Incarnate Word is No. 348. To add insult to injury, Pepperdine is ranked No. 331.

That means the Zags, KenPom’s #7 team in the nation, played a total of five games against the bottom five percent of the NCAA basketball. For a program of Gonzaga’s stature, put that way, it seems a bit embarrassing.

Now, I’m not saying the Zags did a terrible job of scheduling. There are a whole lot of schools (why hello there Cincinnati) who barely played a single quality opponent. The Zags played some good teams to put themselves in a position to be in the national conversation throughout the whole year. Unfortunately, the Zags also played some really bad teams, teams so bad they go against what the committee is partly looking for.

There is a reason this Quadrant scheduling isn’t an issue for other schools, specifically schools in the power conferences. Take a look at Arizona for example. The Zags have just as many Quadrant 1 wins as the Wildcats, and only two less Quadrant 2 wins. Arizona also scheduled five non-conference Quadrant 4 games, as many as the Zags. The big difference is the conference: Arizona will only play one more Quadrant 4 game—at home against California. The Zags will finish the regular season with 15 Quadrant 4 games.

Part of it is just gaming the system, which is hard considering the Zags do not get the bolster of just more quality opponents like Arizona, Oklahoma, or Ohio State do. What that means going forward is Gonzaga should axe those traveling beat down games if they want to secure a high seed. The lowest RPI threshold they can hit before dropping into Quadrant 4 at home opponents is 161. Granted, early in the year when many of these games are scheduled you have no idea how the season will transpire, but most people had a solid idea of how it would transpire for Incarnate Word, Howard, and IUPUI.

Otherwise, the Zags can keep on playing these teams, and the committee will keep on giving the Zags a lower seed than the predictive value of metrics such as Ken Pomeroy say Gonzaga deserves. It is the system we live in right now. Whether or not we like it, we still have to play in it.