The RPI vs. Ken Pomeroy: A Look At Which Likely Tournament Teams Are Valued Most Differently

The last few years, I have taken a look at which teams were valued most differently by the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and by Ken Pomeroy’s rankings near the start of February, to see how those teams performed thereafter. Here is last year, where I looked at the five teams valued most differently for each. Now, I don’t think we really care if the RPI ranks a school #150 and Pomeroy has them ranked #200. So I limited my look to teams likely to be in the tournament, ranked in the top 30 in either the RPI or Pomeroy’s rankings (or both).

Why does this matter? Well, last year, all ten teams I highlighted made the NCAA tournament. The RPI darlings bombed out to an 0-5 record, even though three of the five still finished as a 6 seed or higher thanks to their RPI. Sure, it took a massive upset like Duke losing as a 2-seed to keep them winless, but still, not a good performance for the teams who were rated much higher in the RPI.

The Pomeroy favored-teams, on the other hand, generally played to seed, finishing 5-5 despite having a worse average seed than the RPI darlings. Indiana and Wisconsin advanced the farthest, both losing in the Sweet Sixteen to #1 seeds.

We’ll expand it out to ten teams each this year. Here are the ten RPI darlings, who are rated at least 11 spots higher in the RPI than Pomeroy.

Here are the ten teams where Pomeroy has rated higher than the RPI, among his top 30.

The Miami Hurricanes are a legitimate top contender. I’m not sure they are the second best team in the country, but they are the only one on that RPI list that shows up inside the top 30 of Pomeroy’s rankings. Wisconsin has long been a source of controversy in Pomeroy’s rankings (though to be fair, they did rise to a 4-seed last year). So has Belmont, though, and the Bruins have now managed to flip sides where the Pomeroy rankings do not think as highly as RPI. San Diego State also flipped this year, showing that in the world of rankings, there are no favorites. It’s just recording what happens.

Last year, I took Seth Davis to task for asking why we would prefer efficient losers to inefficient winners. Then, I pointed out that there wasn’t much difference between the records of the two groups. So guess which group has the higher winning percentage this year, the RPI, which only looks at wins and losses, or the teams ranked much higher by Pomeroy?

The Ten Pomeroy Teams: 167-51 (76.6%)

The Ten RPI Teams: 162-50 (76.4%)

Virtually indistinguishable by record, with, yes, the efficient losers winning slightly more. The difference is just how you look at performance, but it is a myth that teams ranked highly in Pomeroy relative to RPI do not win games.

To compare both to another outside group (not that I think rankings are good, but it’s just something different to compare to), the RPI teams do have a better record against teams currently ranked in either the AP or Coaches Poll. It’s 13-22 for the RPI teams (37%) and 9-23 (28%) for the Pomeroy teams. It’s not like the RPI Stars are dominating against great competition, though. They are -6.4 per game in point differential, compared to -2.1 in ranked games for the Pomeroy teams. The RPI teams have won close games decided in the final seconds, and gotten blown out. You could switch a couple of plays and the outcomes here would be different.

So, as we head toward another March, we can again see if the inefficient losers outperform. Personally, I don’t think 19-3 New Mexico coached by Steve Alford is as good as his alma mater, 20-2 Indiana, but remember, that’s what the NCAA’s #1 tool for evaluating teams is currently saying.

Because it values winners.

[photo via USA Today Sports Images]

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