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March 1, 2004 Columns No Comments


Profiling Purdue – No Love for the Boilermakers

by Michael Ermitage

Here we go again. Man’s dependence on computers is seeping into the college basketball world. It has taken the ugly form of the RPI, first cousin to the BCS bowl formula. For too many people scared to think for themselves, computers offer a nice escape. Instead of objectively measuring each team’s resume for inclusion into the NCAA Tournament field, many pundits/experts/dudes with too much time on their hands slap an RPI number next to a team and let that determine a team’s fate. Too many people have forgotten that the RPI is just a tool in assisting a process, not the be-all, end-all solution. Let’s not let computers rule our lives – have we not all seen the Matrix?

The highest RPI ever attached to a team who gained admission to the NCAA Tournament through an at-large bid was 74. But that was New Mexico in 1999 and the New Mexico Athletic Director was on the selection committee. So, let’s chalk that one up to politics. The next highest is 66, accomplished by Minnesota in 1995. So, using the current RPI, as provided by our computer-loving partner Jerry Palm and his collegerpi.com, I can find three teams deserving of bids with an RPI greater than 66. Furthermore, since it begs the question of “Then who do you not admit,” I’ll eliminate three popular teams with an RPI of 66 or better.

My three:

Murray State (67) – Let’s just give the Racers a chance. They’ve done just about everything they can do short of beating Louisville and Pittsburgh, but not a lot of teams have beaten either of those two powerhouses. Murray State, however, does own wins against Conference USA’s Southern Miss and TCU, and a huge victory over media-darling Southern Illinois. This is a team that is a scorching 12-2 in its conference, and owns double-digit road/neutral wins. Not invited to play in Bracket Buster Saturday, this is a team that deserves a chance on a national stage.

East Tennessee State (76) – If not for any other reason, this team will make the game exciting. A potent offensive club, it has lost its two shots at Top-100 RPI competition in road losses at Texas Tech and Clemson. The … were competitive in both games. They recently won a tough road contest at Fresno State in Bracket Buster competition. Undefeated in its conference, East Tennessee State is likely to get the automatic bid, but should be included in the field if they should stumble. Few teams have dominated its conference as the … have, winning its conference games by an average of 10.4 points per contest.

Purdue (90) – Yes, it is the unusual situation of my alma mater that made me more closely inspect the RPI. Does that make me biased? Hell yeah. But just like anything else that happens in life, you don’t really pay much attention to it until it happens to you or someone you love. I would imagine that you haven’t given much thought to sleep disorders, but millions of people suffer from those every day. Including my friend Dan, I think, who one time fell asleep while dancing in a shady 4 a.m. bar. Good stuff. Anyway, back to the issue at hand. The Boilermakers have defeated five Top 50 RPI teams, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, Duke and Seton Hall. They have an 8-6 road/neutral record. And have lost only one game by more than nine points. Since the RPI disregards margin of victory, it completely ignores whether or not a team was competitive or blown out in a game. It also does not take into account the venue of the game – another major flaw.

Now, on to the three highly-rated RPI teams that don’t deserve a bid. You’ll find a common theme amongst these teams. And that is that they’ve had plenty of opportunity to prove themselves and have failed to do so numerous times.

Colorado (49) – If the Buffs make the tournament over the above-mentioned teams, something is seriously wrong. This is a team that has played a whopping 10 games against Top 50 RPI competition – they’ve won three. Those three wins are against an underachieving Missouri and Oklahoma teams, as well as a struggling Texas Tech club. All three of those wins were at home; the Buffaloes are a mediocre .500 on the road. Its seven Top 50 RPI losses are by an average of 14.7 points, indicating to me that the Buffaloes can only beat fringe top competition, and is completely outclassed by everyone else.

George Washington (62) – The Colonials are 2-5 against Top 50 RPI competition. Its two wins, a two-point win against Dayton at home and a four-point road victory at Charlotte. It was the only noteworthy road victory of the year for GW, who stands 4-7 in road/neutral sites. George Washington has lost to the likes of Old Dominion, Fairfield and Appalachian State. Its two quality wins does not outweigh its three poor losses.

Notre Dame (57) – Yet another team that has failed miserably in its big-game chances. Most mid-majors would give anything to play 11 Top 50 RPI schools to prove themselves, and I’d wager that most good ones would fare better than 3-8. Their three wins are at home against Connecticut and Seton Hall, and on the road against a fading Syracuse team. The Golden Domers don’t travel well, amassing a 4-5 road/neutral record. Give Mike Brey credit for getting this team to improve, but it isn’t enough to overcome its previous failures.

Since the expansion to 65 teams, there have been many teams that fall on the bubble. It is just too difficult to differentiate between so many schools with such similar resumes. But let’s not let the RPI be the measuring stick by which we measure this plethora of similar teams. Let’s ask ourselves – who have they beaten and have they been competitive against the best competition. Because ultimately the tournament is about which teams can compete against the best teams. And we don’t need a computer to figure that out.

     

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