As we enter the month before March Madness and begin to talk of the tournament begins in earnest, I thought I would take a look at teams who are rated highly in the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) versus those that rate higher in other measures, like Jeff Sagarin’s ratings or Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.
Most teams are at least rated reasonably similarly in the RPI and in the other rating systems, but when they are not, there are usually a few culprits. The RPI does not incorporate any margin of victory or defeat, so that blowouts are not penalized any more heavily. Thus, teams that win close games but tend to lose in blowouts will be rated higher in the RPI. The Sagarin ratings are based on point differentials, while Ken Pomeroy’s ratings are based on efficiency stats such effective field goal percentage and turnover rates.
A quick word on how I determined the teams here. I limited it to those ranked in either the top 40 in the RPI, or in Sagarin and Pomeroy, to limit it to teams with a NCAA at-large tournament case by one rating system. I also weighted the differences more heavily the higher the team was ranked. The difference between one method having a team #2 and the others having the same team at #12 is greater than if they were ranked #30 versus #40. There is more separation at the top, whereas one result can swing a team 5 places or more if they are ranked near #40.
THE RPI ALL-STARS
1. Colorado State (14-6; #22 in RPI; #91 in Sagarin, #107 in Pomeroy): That’s a huge split, where the RPI has the Rams solidly in, and the other ratings have Colorado State as barely a borderline NIT team. I think it is a confluence of having games against a lot of other teams that RPI rates higher, so the 14-6 Rams are the top of the RPI heap, and wins in close games. The only quality win is the last one-over San Diego State. They are 7-1 in games decided by 10 or less, including 2-0 in overtime. Meanwhile, they have been blown out by Southern Miss, Duke, Wyoming, and by 33 to New Mexico, which explains why the other rating systems don’t think highly.
Verdict: Vastly overrated by RPI, even if slightly underrated by the others.
2. Southern Miss (19-3, #11 in RPI; #43 in Sagarin, #54 in Pomeroy): It is a bit shocking that USM is #11. They do have a 19-3 record and have beaten the teams they are supposed to beat, but haven’t defeated anyone likely in the tournament (other than RPI darlings Colorado State). On the other hand, the losses are close, to Murray State in overtime and by 2 to Memphis, with only Denver being a questionable loss. It’s easy to see why the others have them lower, and the RPI is a head scratcher.
Verdict: Not a top 15 team, but because of the win totals and handling teams they should, they do slot as an at-large right now.
3. San Diego State (18-3, #20 in RPI; #44 in Sagarin, #53 in Pomeroy): The Aztecs have several quality wins, including over UNLV, and New Mexico and Wyoming on the road. They played Baylor competitively, and lost a close one to Creighton. They are 7-1 in games decided by 5 or less, which explains why systems like Sagarin and Pomeroy are not as high on them predictively.
Verdict: The truth here is somewhere in between. They’ve won some close games, but are good enough to beat those teams. I would say they slot as more of a #7 or #8 seed in the tournament right now.
4. Temple (15-5, #13 in RPI; #39 in Sagarin, #37 in Pomeroy): The Owls are 6-1 in games decided by 5 or less, including 3-0 in overtime, so they are a few plays from a worse record and a much lower RPI. They’ve also won 4 in a row in conference and have quality wins over Duke, St. Louis, and Wichita State.
Verdict: Right in the middle of the two rankings.
5. Duke (18-3, #2 in RPI; #10 in Sagarin, #13 in Pomeroy): RPI has Duke as a solid #1 seed, while the other rankings have them as a top 10-15 type team. This one isn’t really the result of close games as much as it is one blowout–the loss at Ohio State. Since RPI doesn’t account for margin, it just sees that as a road loss against a tough opponent; the others see that as Duke getting dominated.
Verdict: Duke will have opportunities against North Carolina, twice, and the road rematch at Florida State to show that was a fluke, and they can justify the high RPI.
SAGARIN & POMEROY ALL-STARS
1. Wisconsin (17-5, #25 in RPI; #6 in Sagarin, #2 in Pomeroy):
Well, Ken Pomeroy has already addressed the Wisconsin issue on his site with a FAQ. I’ll just add and say the issue with Wisconsin appears to be how thoroughly they dominated bad teams, and how that is so extreme versus how they look to the eye test, and by the numbers, against better competition. Against other teams ranked in Pomeroy’s top 50, they are now 5-4, with a +0.7 point differential. Against teams 51-150, they are 4-1, with a +6.6 (loss to Iowa at home). Those numbers are solid, but not top 6 team worthy.
Against the teams outside the top 150, though, they were world beaters, especially considering their slower pace. They beat those 8 teams by an average score of 72.5 to 37.4, nearly doubling them up. Those 8 games are nearly a third of the schedule, and they look like an All-Star team against bad competition.
Verdict: Not a top 6 team, but are actually underrated by RPI and in the polls. A 5-4 record against top competition actually profiles as a #4 seed right now. They’ll play many more tough games in the Big Ten, and if they have a winning record against NCAA caliber programs would slot there.
2. Texas (13-9, #63 in RPI; #30 in Sagarin, #20 in Pomeroy): A very young team, they’ve played a tough schedule and have just come up short. Texas is 0-5 against Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor and Missouri in the Big XII.
Verdict: They are “better” than the RPI in that they are competitive, but don’t have a chance for the tournament unless they get some of those wins. Likely need to close at 6-3 in the conference, with a win over Baylor and Kansas State at home, to improve the RPI and get in the tournament as an at-large.
4. St. Louis (16-5, #42 in RPI; #23 in Sagarin, #14 in Pomeroy): St. Louis is sort of the smaller conference version of Wisconsin in that they have beaten up on the bad teams on their schedule (+24.3 margin in the games against the 7 lowest rated D-I opponents). They have some nice wins, but no great ones, so it’s easy to see why RPI has them lower. Wins over Villanova, Washington, Oklahoma and Xavier (two on neutral courts and one on the road) have better name value, but none of those teams would make the field if the tournament began today.
Verdict: Could be a dangerous team if they make the tournament as a 8/9/10 seed, but I don’t think they are one of the 14 best teams, probably closer to 25-30.
5. Virginia (18-3, #40 in RPI; #20 in Sagarin, #17 in Pomeroy): Virginia has one of the better players in the nation in Mike Scott, someone who is probably under the radar a bit for the casual fan. They played a pretty soft non-conference schedule other than the home win over Michigan, so RPI is down on them. They also haven’t gotten into the meat of their conference schedule, only playing at Duke, with home-and-home games with both Florida State and North Carolina, starting Saturday at Tallahassee. RPI, I think, is unimpressed by the schedule, while the other rating systems see a team that has done pretty well against the schedule they have faced, especially accounting for their more deliberate pace.
Verdict: They had a bad loss early to TCU, but have been gaining confidence and improving. I think if they finish decently in the ACC, the committee will overlook that RPI and seed them closer to the other ratings. I think this is one where the RPI is wrong and they are closer to the 20th best team than the 40th.
[photo via Getty]