When schedules starting coming out there were a few teams I was interested in and the University of Mary Hardin Baylor (UMHB) was at the top of my list. UMHB had an interesting 2017 as they dominated a really uninspiring schedule only to get tripped up in the ASC tournament. When selections can around, UMHB was in line to be the 8th team selected from the West Region, but, as we know, the NCAA decided (again) that the West Region was a paper tiger and only took 7 teams. History proved them right as the evidential champion came out of the New England/New York Region for a record breaking 1,873 years. Anyway, back to UMHB. At the end of last year I looked at a number of curious selection decisions with one being UMHB and their selection snub. You can find that post here but the big spoiler is that they really deserved an at-large spot. At the end of the post I wrote, “One thing I do know is that UMHB sort of set themselves up for this fall through their scheduling. They have an issue as the ASC conference is not currently going to give them an SOS [Strength of Schedule] bump. They need to make an effort to play the better teams outside of Texas.” So, now a half year later, we get to see if Coach Frost took my advice.
Before we look at the first weekend, just know that going into 2018, UMHB returns pretty much everyone with the exception of their setter. Assuming they can find a replacement, UMHB looks to be a regional ranked team in the West again this year. As far as that first weekend goes, I’m immediately concerned as they play only two teams (Heidelberg and Wis.-Superior). In fairness, although the lack of matches is a strange setup, Heidelberg was a regional ranked team out of the Great Lakes last year and should do well again this year. They don’t lose much to senior graduation so this should be a really good test for UMHB. Wis.-Superior is another story as they were not very strong last year despite a good record (their SOS was 0.416!). I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think the reason for UMHB only playing two matches the first weekend is that they didn’t want to play lesser teams that would have hurt their SOS.
The second weekend finds UMHB at the Cal Lutheran Tournament drawing Clarkson, Whittier, Pomona-Pitzer and host Cal Lutheran. As mentioned in other posts, Clarkson is typically one of the best teams out of the New York Region and look to be setup to repeat this year. Whittier was the surprise team of 2017 and should be strong again this year. Pomona-Pitzer is going to be an interesting watch as they struggled last year but should be returning most of their team. An overall improvement is in the cards but to what extent is still open for discussion. Cal Lutheran struggled out of the gate in 2017 but was one of the better teams by the end of the season in the West Region only to get shutout of the NCAA Tournament. They will suffer some serious losses again this year so the interesting storyline here is can Cal Lutheran have a better start to the year? Taken as a whole, this is a tough 4 team group to play. It’s not out of the question that UMHB can pull off a sweep. It’s also not out of the question that they’ll struggle to win one match. We’ll need to see how fast they can integrate in their new setter.
Following the second weekend, UMHB moves into ASC play and as we saw last year, the ASC isn’t strong enough to help a team’s SOS. Coach Frost tries to address this issue by scheduling Southwestern in early October in a match that will probably have a HUGE West Region ranking impact. UMHB will also drive up to Austin College and down to Trinity and these two matches will also help their SOS. So, just to rehash what I just wrote, UMHB will go on the road three separate times to play three of the top four schools in the SCAC. UMHB also pulls a nice trick at the end of the season by scheduling two NAIA teams. Southwestern pulls the same trick this year and what these schools are doing is refusing to play teams that can hurt their SOS by playing out-of-division schools that don’t essentially count come selection time. If you’ve read my past posts that analyze how the NCAA is using the criteria to select teams you know that SOS is really becoming the primary consideration. In numerous examples, it is more important than head-to-head wins!
So, did UMHB learn their scheduling lesson in 2018? As mentioned, they have limited their exposure to teams that would hurt their SOS, they are making a challenging trip out to California and going out of their way to play three top teams from the SCAC. In my opinion, if 2018 unfolds like 2017 did for UMHB, they would be a lock to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team. (Of course, I thought they deserved it last year, too.)