"I see teams playing 18 home games," says Wyoming coach Steve McClain. "They bought eight of them against teams rated 200 or worse, and they still have a high RPI. We get penalized because we can't get teams to play us in Laramie."
Once a team gets a reputation for pulling upsets, it can't even get a road game against power conference teams. "A few years ago we could call anybody and say we'd play at their place, and they'd say fine," says Hofstra coach Jay Wright, whose team through Sunday was 23-4 and ranked 61st in the RPI. "Now they just say no thanks."
The same fate has befallen Gonzaga, which was ranked 85th despite a 21-6 overall record and a 13-1 mark in the West Coast Conference. Given that the lowest-ranked at-large team ever invited to the tournament was No. 74 New Mexico in 1999, the Bulldogs will be in a perilous position if they don't win their league tournament next week. "The schools from the power conferences are always in better shape than the rest of us," Gonzaga coach Mark Few says.
If the NCAA really wants the RPI to serve as an objective measurement, it needs to alter the way it's calculated. One way would be to give added weight to out-of-conference road wins. This would help those mid-major teams that must play on hostile courts and help equalize matters with teams like Syracuse, which played 10 of its first 13 games at home and is still ranked 18th in the RPI despite an unimpressive 8-6 record in league play.
Big East Commissioner and NCAA tournament committee chairman Mike Tranghese counters by saying, "There's no such thing as a perfect system." Maybe not, but the current system could be made less imperfect if the power conferences were willing to relinquish some of their power.
The Resilient Gators
Snapping Back From Adversity
Even as it was experiencing its most triumphant week of the season, Florida could not escape misfortune and heartbreak. Moments after drubbing No. 12 Mississippi 75-55 on Feb. 21, the Gators huddled in their locker room and prayed for senior forward Brent Wright, who left the game in the second half after reaggravating a stress fracture in his right foot. The next morning coach Billy Donovan attended a private ceremony at the grave of his stillborn daughter, Jacqueline, whom Donovan's wife, Christine, had delivered on Nov. 2. Then a pastor visited practice last Friday and, illustrating the importance of faith, told the players about his wife's yearlong battle with bone marrow cancer, which finds her in partial remission. "This is a very spiritual group of kids," Donovan says. "When you go through what we've gone through this year, you're always looking for a source of strength."
Indeed, few teams have been tested over the last three months as Florida has, but the Gators have never lost faith. Last Saturday they won for the ninth time in their last 10 games by defeating No. 14 Alabama 89-68 to improve to 20-5 (10-4 in the SEC) and to No. 6 in the latest AP poll. "All the adversity has helped us," says sophomore guard Brett Nelson, who through Sunday was second in the SEC in assists (with a 4.4 average) and ninth in scoring (14.8). "It brought us closer together."
From a basketball standpoint Florida hit its nadir on Jan. 17, when sophomore guard Justin Hamilton tore the ACL in his left knee while attempting a breakaway layup during a 75-72 loss to Georgia. The Gators were already missing Wright, who had not played since breaking his foot on Jan. 4, and 5'11" junior guard Teddy Dupay, who underwent surgery on Jan. 10 to repair a herniated disk. With seven scholarship players available, the Gators lost their next game, 63-61 at home to Vanderbilt, and morale was low. "It felt as if the wheels were falling off," Dupay says.
Florida got a lift on Jan. 30 when Dupay returned only 20 days after his surgery and scored 10 points in 15 minutes in an 81-67 win over Tennessee. After missing four games following an operation to put a compression screw in his fractured foot, Wright also came back—but only briefly. He broke his right thumb on Feb. 10 and had to have surgery for that He returned to the lineup after missing only one game but reinjured his foot two games later against Mississippi. "Coach tells us not to feel sorry for ourselves, but sometimes it's hard," says Wright, who was listed as doubtful for games this week