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February 17, 2002 Columns No Comments

RPI? More like R.I.P.

by Bill Thayer

The RPI. Three letters that can make any college basketball fan cringe. Three letters we are going to hear over and over again as March approaches. Three letters that can make or break a team’s chances of dancing. Three letters that should no longer be part of basketball lingo.

College basketball fans love to joke about college football’s system of deciding a national champion. While college football doesn’t have a tournament set up, they do have their system decided on the field (somewhat) with a team’s fate resting in the hands of computers. When looked at a little more objectively, college basketball isn’t that different. Any team that makes the field of 65 has the opportunity to make a run at the national championship, no matter how much of a longshot that team is. When the RPI is factored in, a team may be eliminated from tournament contention.

Now I’ve seen the report that is sent out representing the RPI. There are lots of numbers, but what it boils down to are record, schedule strength and opponents strength of schedule (which are, coincidentally or not, the same three factors the BCS uses). Numbers don’t tell the whole story though.

I’ld like to look at three teams.

TEAM A: 8-2 in their last ten games. Wins over: Pepperdine, Texas. Losses: Arizona State, Wyoming, UNLV

TEAM B: 10-0 in their last ten games. Wins over: Indiana, Gonzaga, Dayton, Cincinnati. Losses: Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Charlotte

TEAM C: 8-2 in their last ten games. Wins over: Ball State, Indiana. Losses: Wright St, Detroit, UW-Milwaukee.

Now, think about the order you think those three teams should be in.

Team A is Utah.
Team B is Marquette.
Team C is Butler.

Utah’s RPI is 16.
Marquette’s RPI is 27.
Butler’s RPI is 59.

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I notice is that Marquette’s resume is much more impressive than Utah’s. The Golden Eagles should be considered a lock for the Tournament, but until their RPI moves into the top 25, I don’t think they can rest easy. As for Utah and Butler, it doesn’t seem like there is a huge difference between the two teams. The Mountain West’s wins are considered better than those in the Horizon, so Utah’s conference improves.

Therein lies the problem with the RPI. It looks at every game equally. Of Butler’s three losses, one was in double OT (to Wright State), one was a road game in a very hostile environment (to Detroit) and the other was on a miracle shot at the buzzer (to UWM). The easy excuse would be to say that they should win those games, but it’s not that easy. If Selection Sunday was this weekend, I think Butler would get shafted if they didn’t win the Horizon.

Gonzaga is another team that is shorted by the RPI. It’s well known that the Zags are a very good team. They are 21-3, including wins in 16 of their last 17 games but as they continue to win games, their RPI falls. The computer looks at WCC games as being against inferior opponents, so no matter what happens, Mark Few’s bunch takes a hit. For WCC teams, a game against Gonzaga is one of the biggest of the season. The Bulldogs will face their opponents on an emotional high night after night. It doesn’t matter if you’re Duke, Kansas or Gonzaga, that gets draining.

So when Selection Sunday rolls around and you see Southern Illinois, UC Irvine or Butler getting the shaft, just take a look at the four digit number that killed them, the (thumbs toward shoulders) R-P-I.

Assorted Musings

• What a day of basketball Saturday! I don’t know which was the biggest thriller: Notre Dame’s 4 OT win over Georgetown, Cal’s 2 OT upset of Oregon, St. John’s holding off UConn in OT or Baylor defending their homecourt against Missouri. The big winners were the fans who were able to see all four games.

• Speaking of Notre Dame, I love watching Chris Thomas play. He genuinely enjoys the sport, and it shows. It’s easy to root for a player like Thomas, who gives it his all every minute (even if there are 60 of them).

• Gerald Fitch is, pound-for-pound, the best rebounder in the nation.

• Maryland forward Chris Wilcox: “When you dunk, they say it is only two points, but it turns into six points because it gets everybody hyped. I think that helps us out a lot, to have some action and have some fun.” Take note, Dan Hauptman!

• Duke/Maryland II? Yeah, that’ll be fun. But don’t miss Gonzaga/Pepperdine II Friday night.
• Wait, what’s that? Duke/Maryland won’t be seen in the midwest? Hmmm . . .don’t think I can comment on that . . .I think I’m supposed to say something about those lucky folks getting a (ha ha) big-time (ha ha ha) Big Ten (HA HA HA) rivalry (BWAH HA HA HA)

• Forget MedalGate, give me GradeGate! Creighton’s Michael Lindeman was only placed on the MVC’s All-Academic Second-Team despite his 3.98 GPA. The All-Academic teams are selected by a vote of the league’s sports information directors.

• Look out Patriot League, here comes the Colgate Red Raiders. At 6-5, the Red Raiders are tied for third, two games behind league leader American. Defending conference champion Holy Cross sits in second. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, Colgate is going to the dance.


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