Pod play has not been universally loved. The idea was to get the league two bids, or if only one team was worthy, to improve the station of that bid.
Of course, there is only so much that four games at the end of the regular season can do for anyone’s strength of schedule and some of the outsized expectations of the reconfiguration of the end of the regular season were unrealistic and probably unfair — the broadcast partners were never going to see these pod matchups as much more than good regular season games, and this collection of games were never going to put a mediocre team in the NCAA tourney.
Basketball is the kind of sport where quality shows itself over more data. In a sport like football so much comes down to the day and upsets are more common because of the preparation and one-off nature of the game.
In hoops, there are more opportunities for a team to show its superiority — or inferiority — in a given game. As the regular season has played out, the conference’s best teams have shown themselves.
Old Dominion, one of the preseason favorites, overcame their early-season league struggles to win the league and get the top season in the NCAA Tourney. The pod play system gave the top teams an extra KenPom-‘B’ game, and allowed us to watch Jhivvan Jackson perform some heroics against WKU and ODU instead of say, UTEP or Rice.
Let’s walk through the league again and figure out where everyone is with one last game remaining:
- ODU 23-7, 13-4 — Won the league regular season title. Lots of quality but are vulnerable to a team that can get hot from distance (ahem, UTSA).
- UTSA 17-13, 11-6 — Jackson and Wallace can get hot and beat anyone at any time as both ODU and WKU have seen. That kind of over reliance is a doubled-edged sword. Right now, it is all working out and this team fights hard every game.
- WKU 18-13, 11-7 — The most talented team in the league has some of the most ugly collapses. When it comes down to needing to convert one possession, having the most talented roster helps.
- USM 18-11, 10-7 — They came on late and was the ‘also-ran’ in the initial Pod 1 lineup, but have shown they are formidable and why. LaDavius Draine is dangerous from distance and that compliments Cortez Edwards.
- Marshall 17-13, 10-7 — Always dangerous Elmore/Burks duo have won four straight and scored 90+ points in three of those games.
- UAB 17-13, 9-8 — The Blazers got into the top tier on the final day and have looked second-best in all their games. They did beat USM in OT, but have struggled in the other two games.
- FIU 18-12, 9-8 — A nice four-game win streak ended in Huntington, but FIU is really coming on late under Ballard.
- LT 19-12, 9-9 — Tech finally won on the road, which is important because Frisco — the tournament home — is not in Ruston. Seriously, Tech is good and the advanced metrics like them. They have just been dropping these way games. They’ve dropped one-point games away to Top Podders USM, ODU and have beat WKU and UTSA.
- North Texas 20-10, 8-9 — Lost six-straight games beginning Feb 9th to now. There have been some injuries, but mostly this is down to poor shooting and some turnovers.
- FAU 17-13, 8-9 — The offense has struggled a bit late, but the defense has been great — best in the conference according to Kenpom. Adger/Stapleton are a formidable duo.
- Rice 13-17, 8-9 — Three straight wins in the final pod.
- MTSU 10-20, 7-10 — Blue Raiders had a nice second-half of the regular season.
- Charlotte 7-21, 4-13 — Tough year for anyone not named Jon Davis.
- UTEP 8-20, 3-14 — Six game slide for the Miners, including a tough 2OT game v Rice on the 23rd of Feb.