What We Can Take Away from the RPI: Big Ten EditionPosted by jnowak on January 8th, 2013
With the latest edition of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings released by the NCAA this week, we can take a closer look at what it might potentially mean for the Big Ten teams as conference play really heats up this month. The RPI is not the end-all-be-all for evaluating teams, and has become somewhat antiquated in a more statistical age of evaluation, but it remains a huge factor for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in determining whether teams get into the Big Dance and what kind of seed they receive. All that said, here are a few things that stand out about the latest rankings:
- The RPI supports what we already know, which is that the Big Ten is excellent from top to bottom: By now we’ve learned that the Big Ten is the toughest conference in the country. You can see it in the polls, and you can see it when you watch the teams play night in and night out. No game is easy, no team a cupcake. And the RPI backs it up. There are five teams in the top 22, with Michigan (No. 3) and Minnesota (No. 7) clocking in in the top 10.
- Michigan is as good as we think they are: Nobody in the Big Ten has impressed more than the Wolverines this season. They’re undefeated, and have dominated each Big Ten team that’s stepped in their way. The schedule will heat up for them later this month, but for now, they’re the undisputed top dog in the conference. Of note: They’re one of two teams in the RPI top 10 (Gonzaga is the other) who has a win against a non-Division I opponent. In fact, of the top 19 teams, four have wins against non-Division 1 teams. Two are mid-majors (Butler and Gonzaga), and the other two are from the Big Ten (Michigan and Illinois).
- Ohio State really hasn’t beaten anybody: You can look at this from two angles. The first being the Buckeyes’ own ranking (No. 41). That’s not what you’d expect to see from a team that’s been ranked in the Top 10 all season. But then again, when we look at the second angle — the teams they’ve beaten, and where they rank — should we be surprised? The Buckeyes’ best win of the year is probably a toss-up between games against Washington and Nebraska. (If they beat Purdue tonight, that will be in the mix, as well). So that means the best team they’ve beaten is either No. 78 (Nebraska), No. 73 (Washington) or could be No. 149 (Purdue). That’s not a lot to hang your hat on.
- One of Michigan State’s not-so-good losses may be not-so-bad after all: The Spartans have three losses this year — the season opener against Connecticut in Germany, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at Miami, and the conference opener at Minnesota. Of the three, the most frustrating for Michigan State fans comes down to either of the first two. But with a look at the rankings, that loss in Coral Gables doesn’t seem all that bad. Miami is No. 8 in RPI, despite being just 10-3 without a single vote in either the AP or Coaches polls. (Minnesota, by the way is one spot better than Miami at No. 7, and Connecticut is No. 27. The Spartans come in at No. 22).
- The RPI is not going to help Northwestern’s NCAA Tournament case: Every year, Northwestern finds itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble and every year, one game seems to make or break their chances of reaching the Big Dance for the first time. It’s hard to imagine this will be the year they break through — they’ve already got six losses — and their RPI isn’t going to help. The Wildcats clock in at No. 101 — ahead of only Penn State (No. 124) and Purdue (No. 149) in the conference — and things aren’t getting any easier for them. To their credit, Northwestern scheduled a few tougher games this season than in years past. It doesn’t help all that much, though, when you can’t win them.
- Are Iowa and Nebraska really that close?: Iowa began the season as a potential NCAA Tournament dark horse. Nebraska began the season as an afterthought in the toughest conference in the land. Midway through, the RPI has them neck and neck (Iowa ranked No. 77 and Nebraska No. 78). Nobody has had a tougher start to the Big Ten slate than Iowa, which opened against Indiana and Michigan and will host Michigan State on Thursday. Both the Hawkeyes and Huskers are off to an 0-2 start in conference play, though Iowa has two more wins on the season. Expect the Hawkeyes to climb in the rankings, while Nebraska seems just about right where it is. Wisconsin, by the way, is not that far behind them, at No. 90.