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SELECTION SUNDAY: What If RPI Was Replaced?

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When projecting potential tournament teams, sports media outlets often point to RPI and RPI exclusively when it comes to deciding who might be "in" to the tournament and who might be "out."  From all accounts, the selection committee uses it as well.  Especially in the case of rating the performance of teams against each other (Team X is 5-5 vs. the RPI top 50).

The use of RPI is so ingrained in the selection process, it seems that it is going to be around for a long while.  This is particularly frustrating to basketball fans who know that there are better statistical systems for rating teams and predicting future performance out there.

For this piece, we are focusing on Ken Pomeroy's and Jeff Sagarin's college basketball rankings.  The element that sets these two systems apart from RPI are that they factor scoring margin into the results.  RPI is based completely off of wins and losses (with some adjustments for home and road). 

Scoring margin is a better way of predicting future results than wins and losses alone.  As an example, if Team A and Team B played the same exact 20 games and you only know that both teams are 20-0, there would be no way for you to make an educated prediction on the outcome of the game.  Now, if you also know that Team A averaged a 20 point victory over the course of their schedule and Team B squeaked by with an average of a five point scoring margin, who would you predict as the winner?

The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee wants to choose who will perform the best.  They want to have the most competitive games and the highest level basketball possible.  So it is in their best interest to use systems that are better equipped for predicting future results (I'm not saying they don't do that already, but I would be shocked if they no longer used RPI).

With that in mind, let's pretend the college basketball world just went through a statistical revolution and the NCAA passed a law forbidding RPI and its use in selecting the NCAA tournament. 

Now that RPI is done hypothetically abolished, I've compiled a list of "bubble teams" using the 2011 Bracket Matrix (which is a composition of all the various bracket projections that can be found on the web).  I took the teams that were seeded 11 and 12 and were not predicted to receive an automatic bid and put them together with the "First Four Out" and "Next Four Out" categories.  Because this is CougCenter, I threw in Washington State and Baylor (the Cougs beat them, so that makes them interesting).  I am aware that this new hypothetical world would create a new list of bubble teams, but I have a full-time job and I don't have time to recreate that.

So how would WSU's place on the bubble change if RPI wasn't used (something where they are ranked in the mid-70s)?  Click on the jump for a table showing their rankings, strength of schedule, and Top 50 records for KenPom and Sagarin (Numbers are current as of about 7pm PST on March 7th).

Kpsagbubble_medium
(click to view larger on a separate page)

The teams in bold are teams that are currently "in" on the Bracket Matrix.  On that matrix, WSU is not listed on the "First Four Out" or "Next Four Out" categories, and the Cougs only appear on 4 of 81 brackets overall.  In the eyes of people who spend most of their day figuring out what the selection committee is going to do, WSU is a long ways off the bubble.

On this table, it would appear Washington State is close to an at-large tournament bid.  They would be in a race to take that last bid that Missouri State would obviously be nowhere near receiving (as a side note, Missouri State may have been included because some of the brackets used on the site had not updated since they lost their conference title game).  The Cougs would migh be a few Pac-10 Tournament wins (or even one) away from overtaking a team like Richmond.  Even Michigan State and Michigan would be in their sights if they suffered early exits in the Big Ten tournament.

In this hypothetical world, Wazzu would very much have the chance to play themselves into an at-large bid without having to win their conference tourney.  Their resume would be essentially a coin-flip when stacked up against the teams around them.  Inn the real world as it sits now, the Cougs would have to hope for some sort of miracle to see their names called on Selection Sunday without an auto-bid. 

Living in pretend world is a lot more fun.