The inside story
RPI not everything in selection; check out the sheet
Posted: Thursday March 8, 2007 10:50AM; Updated: Thursday March 8, 2007 11:51AM
INDIANAPOLIS -- It is Wednesday evening, and I'm sitting in my room at the Marriott in downtown Indy. Within a mile or so from here, at a secure, undisclosed location, the NCAA men's basketball committee is convening for a long dinner in advance of a long weekend. Usually, the committee arrives on Thursday, but they got here a day earlier this year. Later tonight, they will have their first ballot to select at-large teams. Sleep tight, bubble boys.
For the second straight year, I'll have the privilege of spending about 15 minutes inside the committee's work room on Friday for a segment that will air on CBS on Sunday afternoon. The NCAA has worked hard to make the selection process more transparent, even going so far as to invite a dozen or so basketball writers to town last month and guide them through their own bracketing process. Yet, I am continually amazed at how much about this process is misunderstood, especially with regards to that ubiquitous, controversial, three-letter animal: R-P-I.
There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about the RPI. In an effort to shed more light, SI.com is publishing one of the team "sheets" the committee will use in its deliberations this weekend. We've chosen the sheet for UCLA. You can take a good, long gander at UCLA's page by clicking the table above. Go ahead, give it a looksie. I'll wait.
The layout of the sheet illustrates just how the committee uses the RPI -- as an organizational tool, not a ranking system. In fact, you probably didn't even notice where UCLA's overall RPI ranking was listed on the sheet. (Top right corner, broken down by overall and non-conference rankings.) Thus, when you hear a commentator say a team has a good chance to make the tournament because of their high RPI ranking, you are being misinformed.
Or maybe I should say, you are only being partially informed. If Team A is ranked No. 14 in the RPI and Team B is ranked No. 75, you can infer Team A has a far better chance of being invited to the tournament. But those rankings are a reflection of the important information. They are not important information by themselves.
ESPN has recently added a feature during its studio shows listing the credentials of two teams without revealing to the talking heads who the teams are. But the first piece of data on the graphic is always the teams' RPI rankings. The rankings are usually close, like 47 vs. 61. The segment is a lot of fun to watch, but that first set of numbers is all but worthless. The UCLA sheet makes that clear.
Here's the other thing I'll bet you noticed on the sheet. While UCLA's RPI ranking is hard to find unless you go looking for it, the blue shading that highlights the Bruins' non-conference games leaps off the page. This is not an accident. The committee wants to know what choices Ben Howland made with the part of his schedule he was able to control.
The significance of the non-conference schedule might be understood by the public, but I still think it is not emphasized enough. Again, go back to ESPN's comparison game. As part of the criteria they list the respective overall strength of schedule rankings for each team. That, however, is skewed because it is a reflection of the conference that team plays in. The more relevant numbers are the teams' respective non-conference strength of schedule rankings. There's a reason those games are highlighted in blue on UCLA's sheet. The committee wants them to be easy to spot.
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