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Overdosing on Rankings

 


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/ Feb. 7, 2005

If you're like me, then you alternately are mesmerized into a drooling, lobotomized trance by the barrage of figures thrown at you once we get to about midway through the season.

RPI. SOS. Pomeroy Ratings. SOS%. Sagarin. LunaRPI.

Aaaaaanndd....my eyes just crusted over. That's the other part of the aforementioned "alternately." At some point, one has to wonder if the selection committee- you know, the folks in charge of deciding who plays who and where in March- actually watches basketball games, or if these numbers can suffficiently perform their task automatically.

All I know is, when they admitted they didn't even watch the Big Ten title game during the Selection Show a year ago, a vein may or may not have popped in my neck.

So, I figured we'd delve into this world of numbers that determine where your favorite team will be in March. If you knew any single one of these numbers without looking it up, please. Step away from the computer. For a good, long time.

Now, grab a length of wire, or else you'll never get back out, as we look at the numbers as of Feb. 2.

-Homecourt advantage in the Pomeroy Ratings counts for 3.94 points.

As far as I can figure, this is point margin Pomeroy is referring to, and not part of the formula.

Okay, then.

-Kansas maintains the No. 1 spot in the RPI in the strength of schedule (SOS) and Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) despite only playing six Top 50 opponents. How? They've played eight teams in the 51-100 range, and only one opponent below 150 in the RPI. (Duke also put together a similarly crafty schedule.)

In short, they've put together a respectable, but reasonable schedule that doesn't look, on paper, like a top-shelf slate of foes. But they're a graduate study in how to schedule for the RPI.

-On the flip side, Bill Self's former school sits atop the polls at 22-0. Why is Illinois only No. 4 in the RPI? Despite Illinois having a 9-0 mark against Top 50 opponents (including a 6-0 road/neutral mark against those teams) compared with KU's 4-1 mark, the Illini have played a staggering nine games against sub-150 teams.

Should a Top 5 team playing at home see a noticable difference in an opponent ranked No. 90 or No. 155? Probably not.

The lesson here is twofold:

-RPI and SOS need to be taken with a large grain of salt.

-Even so, the reality is that you need to schedule for the RPI. It might not matter for a dominant Illinois team this year, but it probably dropped them from a No. 3 seed to the No. 5 line last year.

The top half of the Illini's nonconference schedule- Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Oregon, Georgetown- was excellent. The bottom half, though, needs to be filled with opponents in the 80-100 range instead of the 200 and lower range in future years.

More tidbits:

-As of Feb. 2, the lowest-ranked team with a Top 25 RPI win is No. 219 Indiana State, a 64-60 home win on Jan. 15 over current No. 21, Wichita State.

The highest-ranked team without a Top 25 RPI win is No. 16 Southern Illinois, which has lost their only game against a Top 50 opponent, much less Top 25. Like Kansas, SIU has put together a mildly difficult, yet highly-ranked schedule by loading up on teams in the 51-100 range, going 7-3 against such foes.

-With a sparkling 9-1 road record, Pacific is surprisngly closing in on "lock" territory even if they don't win the Big West tourney.

-Their 1-3 record against Top 25 opponents might suggest Oklahoma State has the makings of a paper tiger, and might miss Tony Allen's aggressiveness and leadership more than some thought.

-Give it up, Jim Boeheim. Despite your complaining, your nonconference schedule, ranked 185th, really was that bad. Try a)leaving the state, and b)playing someone next year. Yes, your conference is tough. We know. So is the ACC, SEC, Big XII, Big Ten, and Pac 10, and it doesn't stop any number of great teams from playing a challenging schedule.

-Getting back to the subject of road games, those that perform well away from home will be rewarded in March. Joe Lunardi's "LunaRPI" on ESPN.com may not be a tool that the committee uses to measure teams, but it's a telling one anyway, measuring a team's performance in road/neutral games.

Not surprisingly, Illinois sits at No. 1. But as long as they don't lose more than one or two more games, don't count out Washington for making a run at a top seed in March, as they sit second in the LunaRPI.

Okay. Pull yourself back out. I may or may soaking myself in kerosine near a fireplace at this point, so don't be shocked if this is the last time you read my work.







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