| The Detroit News
Detroit — The Horizon League has been transparent about its seeding for the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, with weekly updates showing where teams stood.
That doesn’t mean Detroit Mercy coach Mike Davis ever knew what he was looking at.
“I quit asking about the formula when they had us behind Green Bay and Youngstown State, and we swept both of them,” Davis said. “I quit asking about it.
“I don’t know where they got their formula from.”
Detroit Mercy finished the regular season with an 11-9 overall record, but 10-6 in the Horizon League — including 10 wins in its final 12 games, sweeping the regular-season finale at home against Robert Morris.
But the Titans only managed to secure the No. 5 seed in the Horizon League tournament, which starts this week. A top-four seed would’ve given Detroit Mercy a bye into the quarterfinals, but now the Titans must play Thursday, with a third consecutive game against Robert Morris (4-14, 3-12), the bottom seed in its first year playing in the Horizon League.
Cleveland State and Wright State secured the first and second seeds. The dispute, in some eyes, comes with No. 3 Oakland (10-10 Horizon) and No. 4 Northern Kentucky (11-7).
Detroit Mercy didn’t play four Horizon League games, canceling a series against UIC for player “mental health” reasons — it was only going to be one game anyway, with UIC having just come out of quarantine — and canceling a series against Milwaukee, because a member of Detroit Mercy’s support staff tested positive, and with contact tracing, the Titans didn’t have enough available players.
IUPUI also canceled a series with Detroit Mercy because of COVID-19 reasons. That series was replaced with two games against rival Oakland; the teams ended up playing four times total.
In Davis’ eyes, the league essentially gave Detroit Mercy four losses for the four missed games.
“We wouldn’t have lost all four games,” said Davis, “I can tell you that.”
Horizon League officials dispute Davis’ assertion.
“We certainly didn’t give them four losses, because their record stands as it is,” commissioner Julie Roe Lach told The News on Sunday. “Our council, including every athletic director from every school, chose to recognize the total number of games played as one of four factors that we were going to weigh.
“For teams that didn’t play the full numbers of games, that’s going to have an impact on the overall seed.”
The Horizon League announced last month it was going to use a formula to determine tournament seeding, rather than just going by winning percentage, because of the unbalanced schedule because of COVID-19. Teams played as few as 15 conference games (Robert Morris) and as many as the full 20 (six teams).
The four factors included overall winning percentage, strength of schedule, weighing road wins heavier than home games, and number of league games played.
Detroit Mercy has a good winning percentage and a solid strength of schedule, given it played the league co-champions twice each, beating Cleveland State once, plus Oakland four times. It never was scheduled to play Northern Kentucky (Oakland had its Northern Kentucky games called off, setting up the first Detroit Mercy-Oakland series).
The knock comes with road vs. home games. Detroit Mercy’s two canceled series were on the road, so the Titans ended up playing 10 home games and six road games. Davis doesn’t know why road is weighted so heavily, given the Horizon League played the entire regular season with no fans.
“You can’t even explain it,” Davis said. “There’s no fans.
“There’s the same amount of fans everywhere you go. None.”
Some would argue road games remain challenging in the COVID-19 era, even for the teams that don’t have fans at their games. The stress of traveling amid such strict protocols takes its toll, some coaches have said.
The Horizon League tried to get Detroit Mercy two more road games, calling two weeks ago about the idea of moving the Robert Morris games to Moon Township, Pennsylvania, which would’ve given the Titans an 8-8 split and potentially helped in the seeding. The Horizon League then would’ve moved last week’s Robert Morris games to Oakland’s campus, which would’ve given Oakland an even split, 10-10, too.
Detroit Mercy balked at the idea, and Robert Morris had some logistics issues. Throughout the season as myriad issues arose, a basketball advisory committee heard arguments for and against late scheduling adjustments, and it made recommendations to the commissioner. But ultimately, the final decision was always Roe Lach’s, and in this instance she decided to keep the games played as scheduled.
“What we looked at was really trying to honor the five weekends on the road and five weekends at home,” said Roe Lach, who declined to get into any specifics on the Detroit Mercy-Robert Morris situation. “Early on in the season, we made some adjustments (because of COVID cancellations) that saw the schedule out of balance for men and women. Then every weekend, every Sunday we convened as a staff, OK, what adjustments can we make, are we gonna make?
“We’d explore it with with the involved schools. We’ve made decisions all schools didn’t agree with.”
Horizon League officials began meeting last summer to discuss the upcoming basketball season, and how to make it as successful, and smooth, as possible. The league council, consisting of 12 athletic directors, a student-athlete, a senior women’s administration chair and a faculty rep, have been meeting twice a week since July, and came up with a league schedule of back-to-backs at a single site to mitigate some travel.
In the end, the Horizon League played 91% of its scheduled games (including makeups), among the best percentages in the country.
As for the playoff formula, Roe Lach, who took over as commissioner from Jonathan B. LeCrone on Jan. 1, said the Horizon League, knew flat winning percentage wouldn’t be entirely fair, so they needed something else. Hence, the four-factor system. Asked why include total games as a factor, given many of the cancellations were out of a team’s control, Roe Lach said the league wanted to reward teams that played more games, and were “tested the most.”
“Is it a dominating factor? No,” she said. “But we don’t want to simply dismiss it.”
But that’s how Davis feels about his Detroit Mercy team — that its efforts were simply dismissed.
“We didn’t play four games. We’re not going to lose all four of those games, and we could’ve easily won all four,” said Davis, who believes the league should’ve just stuck with winning percentage — which would’ve given his team the No. 3 seed, at .625. “But here we are. They just gave us a participation trophy.
“You know, I just go with what the conference says we have to do.”
This is the second verbal dustup between Davis and the Horizon League this season. He was upset and went public with his ire over the league making Detroit Mercy play the first two Oakland games, even though Oakland had just played UIC, and UIC had to go into quarantine because a staff member and a referee who worked those two games tested positive for COVID-19.
Davis and his players were under the belief the Oakland games wouldn’t be played close to tipoff, but the Horizon League said Oakland had properly gone through its contact-tracing protocols and had the roster to play, meaning if Detroit Mercy didn’t play those games, the Titans would’ve had to forfeit the series.
Davis’ public comments at the time led to a meeting the following week with LeCrone and Roe Lach.
Horizon League men’s tournament
►No. 12 Robert Morris (4-14, 3-12) at No. 5 Detroit Mercy (11-9, 10-6), 7 (ESPN+)
►No. 11 UIC (9-12, 6-10) at No. 6 Youngstown State (14-11, 9-11), 8 (ESPN+)
►No. 10 Purdue Fort Wayne (7-14, 6-14) at No. 7 Green Bay (8-16, 8-12), 8 (ESPN+)
►No. 9 IUPUI (8-9, 7-9) at No. 8 Milwaukee (8-11, 7-10), 8 (ESPN+)
►Lowest remaining seed at No. 1 Cleveland State (16-7, 16-4), 7 (ESPN+)
►Second-lowest remaining seed at No. 2 Wright State (18-5, 16-4), 7 (ESPN+)
►Second-highest remaining seed at No. 3 Oakland (10-17, 10-10), 7:30 (ESPN+)
►Highest remaining seed at No. 4 Northern Kentucky (13-10, 11-7), 7 (ESPN+)
At Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis
►Semifinal, 6:30 (ESPNU)
►Semifinal, 9:30 (ESPN2)
►Championship, 7 (ESPN or ESPN2)
Our special thanks to:detroitnews.com