Monday, January 16, 2006

A Pleasant RPI Surprise

We know that the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee relies, to a degree, on RPI rankings. For example, it is fairly good bet that if you want to get an at-large bid to the dance, that you'd better end up better than #50 in the RPI (there are a few exceptions, see 2005 Iowa St.-#63 and NC state-#65, 2004 Washington-#60 and Air Force #70, 2003 NC State-#53). Also, you can almost set your watch to the rule any team that is in the top 40 of the RPI after the Conference Tournaments is nearly guaranteed an at-large spot.

However, raw ranking isn't the RPI's only value to in that weekend-long meeting in the Marriot Convention Center on the second weekend of March. The Committee also looks at one specific aspect of the RPI--each team's record vs. RPI Top 50 teams. Interestingly enough, right now there are 16 teams that have at least 3 wins against RPI top 50 teams and a winning record against those teams. They are:

RPI Rank, Team, (Record vs. Top 50)

1. Duke (5-0)
2. Memphis (4-2)
3. Wisconsin (5-1)
4. Illinois (5-1)
5. Villanova (3-1)
8. Michigan St. (5-3)
12. UCLA (5-2)
13. Texas (4-2)
15. Cincinnati (5-3)
19. Northern Iowa (4-2)
21. UCONN (4-1)
27. Creighton (4-1)
40. Iowa St. (4-2)
60. West Virginia (3-2)
67. Bradley (4-3)
91. Nebraska (3-2)

I know, its hard to believe, but I didn't even really manipulate this statistic to make Nebraska fit in this list. Right now their 5 games against RPI Top 50ers were: vs. #40 Marquette (W), vs. #39 UAB (L), @ #27 Creighton (L), vs. #34 Oklahoma (W), and @ #46 K. State (W).

Since Iowa State is currently at #50, even a win against them will likely keep Nebraska's RPI record at 3-2.

The next logical question is why Nebraska's RPI is so low when team's with comparable records against the those teams are about 30 spots higher? The answer lies in Nebraska's record against teams with RPI ratings of 200+. The Huskers have faced 7 such teams. Only three teams ranked ahead of Nebraska (Florida St., West Virginia and Air Force) have faced as many NCAA bottom-feeders.

The good news in all of this is that despite all of the criticism of NU's early schedule, the team has made for themselves a fairly solid RPI base with a good non-conference win against Marquette combined with the fact that they haven't lost a game to a non RPI top 100 team (only 14 other teams ranked 50-100 can say that). In other words, if the Huskers can eek out a 9-7 record, they'll probably put their RPI position in that important 40-50 range, which would place them right on the bubble. If that happens, it might come down to whether the Huskers win a game or two in Dallas.

Now, whether they can keep this up and win 9 league games, I have no idea. But its good to know that there's still some hope after what, at times, felt like a miserable non-conference season.


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