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Atlantis Didn’t Sink Villanova Basketball’s Non-Conference Strength of Schedule

Even with a Championship, the Wildcat’s strength of schedule is being questioned.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis Championship-Villanova vs Northern Iowa Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

While the Villanova Wildcats were rightly celebrating their Battle 4 Atlantis title, it wasn’t the elite victory fans had been anticipating. Winning is still winning, and there are now less than 30 teams that remain undefeated less than a month into the season. But just because Villanova’s record is unblemished, it hasn’t kept others from questioning how strong that record is. The Cats weren’t even off the court before those questions came out.

Going into this tournament, Villanova’s expected path was to go through #18 Purdue in the second round, followed by a Top 5 battle with #2 Arizona for the Championship. Instead, those two teams faced off for 7th place hours after Nova had already claimed the title. Now with Gonzaga (16) and Temple (49) being the only teams left on the Non-Conference schedule ranked in KenPom’s Top 50, could the failures of those other teams have a negative impact on Nova come March?

The short answer is yes, it could. Settle down, I’m not calling for fire and brimstone, I’m just saying that there could be an impact. While it’s a bit more complicated than just yes or no, the truth is that I don’t think it will be much of an impact if any at all.

To those of you saying that the rankings don’t matter, hi Anna, I’m a huge fan! The AP rankings don’t factor into NCAA seeding, but team rankings for the purposes of strength of schedule (SOS) and specifically non-conference SOS matter a lot. It’s one of several factors that could determine the difference between a 1 seed and a 4 seed (huge exaggeration, but you get my point).

Next, KenPom isn’t the greatest ranking source early in the season. If you don’t agree, Will Schreefer will fight you in the comments below. So let’s start by pulling from a few sources and look at Villanova’s Non-Conference Schedule. Note, these were all pulled Sunday night:

Villanova’s 2017-18 Non-Conference Opponent Rankings

Opponent AP Poll KenPom Sagarin Massey
Opponent AP Poll KenPom Sagarin Massey
Columbia 193 198 274
Nicholls State 300 296 276
Lafayette 305 332 327
Western Kentucky 163 110 98
Tennessee 34 49 31
Northern Iowa 99 62 68
Pennsylvania 141 156 159
Saint Joseph's 89 107 169
Gonzaga 17 16 14 9
La Salle 126 141 154
Temple 37 49 54 52
Hofstra 150 166 178
Connecticut 72 57 57

A few things stand out to me from this. First off, Battle 4 Atlantis was still a resume builder for Villanova. For UNI, Tennessee, and Western Kentucky, Villanova was their only loss of the tournament. Those three teams finished 2nd, 3rd, and 5th respectively after beating Purdue, NC State, and SMU. Those are all teams that should, or at least could make the big dance. UNI and WKU both showed that they could contend for a conference title and NCAA birth, while Tennessee is looking like a possible bubble/mid-tier team. Bottom line, all three victories could end up being quality wins if they aren’t already.

As for the games remaining, Gonzaga is going to be a crucial game. Sure Xavier and Seton Hall should be highly ranked teams come conference play, even though they both lost this week. But the Bulldogs could end up being the highest ranked team Villanova plays all year, both two weeks from now and at the end of the season. If Gonzaga moves into the Top 10 by the time the teams meet in NYC, it could be the only Top 10 team Nova faces all year. A victory at MSG could go a long way in avoiding the “but who did they beat?” question come tournament time.

The other two opponents of note are Temple and UConn. As far as quality wins go, it helps that both of these are true road games. Temple looks good now, but that could change by the time they face the Wildcats. They lost to a La Salle on Sunday, and were only picked to finish 7th in the American Conference. UConn was off to a strong start including a win over Oregon at the PK80 before getting blown out by both Michigan State and Arkansas. Let’s just hope both of these teams rebound before Villanova faces them.

So knowing that the Big East should provide Villanova with a better Conference SOS than most other teams, where does their current Non-Conference SOS land them on the season? For an idea of how they rank among their piers, here are the SOS’s for last week’s AP Top 10:

AP Poll Top 10’s 2017-18 SOS

Team Avg SOS KenPom SOS Sagarin SOS BPI SOS
Team Avg SOS KenPom SOS Sagarin SOS BPI SOS
UNC 80.3 77 57 107
Wichita State 83.3 79 87 84
Arizona 106.7 146 128 46
Michigan State 138.0 132 112 170
Duke 142.0 147 156 123
Kentucky 146.7 167 161 112
Kansas 200.0 199 184 217
Villanova 221.0 245 204 214
Florida 226.7 253 271 156
USC 231.3 266 237 191

The first thing you’ll notice is that I replaced Massey with ESPN’s BPI. As much as I don’t like BPI and as skewed as some of its numbers look, Massey’s were much further off at this point in the season. But the more important thing to take away is that Villanova is not going to be alone in this predicament.

Kansas, Florida, and USC are all teams that will be contending for top seeds at the end of the season, and as of today they’re all ranked with Villanova in the 200’s. The Wildcats will likely need to have another season with just a handful of losses to get a top seed in the NCAA tournament, but their schedule isn’t going to eliminate them from the conversation.

At the end of the day, this isn’t something that Villanova has any control over now. The schedule was set months ago, and this is what happens in college basketball. All the Wildcats can do is keep winning and let their record out-weigh any perceived weakness in their opponents. The good news is that with Penn coming out to the suburbs for the only on campus game Nova will have all season, I like their chances of moving on to 7-0.