Rough Panic Index: NCAA’s First Official RPI Released, ACC Teams Do Not Fare WellPosted by mpatton on January 4th, 2012
The NCAA released its first official RPI (ratings percentage index) standings. You’re probably already familiar with the RPI, but it’s really the most important ranking –despite being a skewed evaluator of a team’s success — because it’s what the NCAA Selection Committee relies on when evaluating teams for selection into the NCAA Tournament. The RPI’s basic formula accounts for a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponents’ winning percentage (50%) and its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage (25%). It also takes into account home and away (which it bluntly multiplies by 1.4 (for a home loss or road win) or 0.6 (for a home win or road loss). This makes the rating very favorable to good mid-major teams that play lots of nonconference road games against good opponents. A savvy BCS-conference coach can also manipulate the rating by playing some of these mid-major darlings at home or a neutral site.
Regardless of its inadequacies, the RPI is hugely important for Selection Sunday. Selection Committee members know and trust the RPI, even if Ken Pomeroy’s or Jeff Sagarin’s rankings are considered better evaluators of a team’s success. The important categories of the RPI are top-25, top-50 and top-100. Wins against the top-25 are gold; losses usually don’t hurt too much. Wins against the top-50 are critical (barring a very, very good record) for an NCAA tournament-worthy profile and a few losses won’t kill you. Wins against teams out of the top-100 are mandatory and losses to said teams should be avoided at all costs.
Now let’s look at the five most likely ACC teams to make the Big Dance: Duke (#2 in the RPI), North Carolina (#10), Virginia Tech (#38) and Virginia (#56).
Duke has excelled against a tough schedule so far and will actually see its strength of schedule drop significantly as conference play begins. It has a top-25 win against Michigan State, top-50 wins against Davidson, Michigan, Kansas and Colorado State, and its only loss came at top-10 Ohio State. Not surprisingly, the RPI loves the Blue Devils. North Carolina faced a weaker schedule but wins against Michigan State and Long Beach State combined with only two losses against two top-25 squads earn the Tar Heels the second-best profile in the ACC (by a mile). Virginia Tech quietly built a solid (at least RPI-wise) resume based on not losing to anyone outside of the top-25 and beating two top-100 teams, though the Hokies need a strong conference performance to get off the bubble. Surprisingly, Virginia’s RPI lags way behind its in-state counterpart. The biggest issue with the Cavaliers’ profile is a very bad loss to TCU (just outside of the top-100), which is slightly made up for by their win over Michigan (the only ACC top-50 win from a team not named Duke or North Carolina).
Long story short, the ACC has some major work to do to get a fourth team into the NCAA Tournament this season. I expect these rankings to change significantly with the onset of conference play, but there’s still something to be learned from the current numbers.