Is it better be be a big fish in a little pond like Gonzaga, or a medium to large fish in a large pond like Washington?
This is the philosophical question that the selection committee wrestles with each march.
Boise State or Utah in football, like Gonzaga in Basketball, faces the extreme prejuduce from the selection committees due to the weak conference's where they play. Each team pads their non conference schedule with strong teams to pad their SOS.
Beyond the SOS analysis, the question is whether it makes a difference and if a team that only plays three or four "big" games equates with a team that plays in a major conference.
A team that only has a handful of competitive games can mentally prepare and exert extra effort of those select games and then coast through the rest of the season. Conversely, teams that play in major conferences must stay mentally tough and exert a high level of effort each and every week of the season. This schedule structure is the basic difference between the WCC and the PAC-10.
How do you compare the rigors of playing an entire season of PAC-10 competition to that of a lesser schedule littered with a few to notch opponents?
For one you can compare how frequently each team is successful against the "top-70" opponents.
What is a "top-70" opponent? There are a number of ways to define this and in this analysis, a top opponent is any team ranked in the "top-70" teams according to the ken pomeroy rankings. For example, Gonzaga played 8 top teams during the 2009-10 season [Mich. St (23), Wisc. (9), Wake Forest (58), Duke (1), Illinois (53), St. Mary's (42) twice, Memphis (55)] and St. Mary's (42) in the WCC tournament.Washington also played eight top opponents in their schedule in the PAC-10 [Wright St. (65), Texas Tech (69), Georgetown (13), Texas A&M (17), Arizona St. (47) twice, California (15) twice] and California (15) in the PAC-10 tournament.
To get an accurate comparison the date must be analyzed over the course of each season and to take in to account the number of games against "top-70" opponents and the overall record against them.
For the 2009-10 season Gonzaga had a 4-5 record against top opponents with an average ranking of 35.375 while Washington had a 5-4 record against top opponents with an average ranking of 29.750. This result would state that Gonzaga played worse "top-70" opponents and had an inferior record against them.
This does not diminish the season that Gonzaga had or diminish the degree of difficulty their schedule presented, but it does show that their non conference schedule did not adequately make up for their weak conference. Gonzaga played a slightly easier schedule and had more time between tough games then Washington.
The results are even more telling during the 2008-09 season where Washington played 20 "top-70" opponents. Washington had a 13-7 record against those opponents with an average pomeroy ranking of 31.35. Gonzaga on the other hand played 12 "top-70" opponents during the same season. Gonzaga had a 9-4 record against those opponents that had an average pomeroy ranking of 35.25.
How do you compare the two teams when they play different opponents and play a different number of quality games against top 70 teams? The answer is to find a way to calculate a standard measure that takes in to account the amount of top 70 quality games that you play and how often you win those games.
Divide the number of top 70 wins by their average pomeroy rating and then multiply that number by the total number of top 70 games played to get a standarized quality win rating. This is a simple rating that incorporates number of quality wins, Ken Pomeroy rating, and the total number of top 70 games played. This is a purely relational rating which means that it is meant only for comparison purposes and they mean nothing standing on their own. For example, Washington recorded 5 wins (out of 9 games) against top 70 opponents with an average rating of 29.750 in the 2009-10 season. This amounts to a quality win rating of 1.512 for UW during that season. Gonzaga recorded 4 quality wins (out of 9) with a average pomeroy rating of 35.375 for a quality win rating of 1.018. This data shows that the UW's schedule was more grueling and that they posted more quality wins than that of Gonzaga.
The moral of this story is that there are major differences between the top heavy schedule of Gonzaga and then balanced PAC-10 schedule. The schedule differences are the central piece of this debate and each school has a reasonable claim to SOS superiority.
*The third part of this analysis will analyze the affects of playing (and scheduling) only a few top opponents in their non confrence schedule.