Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Completely Irrelevant RPI Data (To the Pollsters) 2-5-08

The turmoil in my personal life is slowly resolving itself, and the opening of semester rush is behind me, so it is time to revive my blogging. Today I introduce what will be a weekly feature until Selection Sunday, which will expose both underachieving but highly reputed teams, and the follies of the pollsters. Now that the mid-point of the conference schedules has been reached, the much-maligned RPI serves as an excellent tool to achieve this end. In some cases.

The Hall of Shame

[Team Record Conference (AP ranking, Espn/USA ranking, RPI ranking) Difference between poll average and RPI]

#1 Florida 18-4 SEC (26,22, 49) +25

Florida, with an average ranking 25 places higher than its RPI, heads up this weeks’ Hall of Shame. Florida has only one win against a team higher than 69 in the RPI – last Sunday against a ranked Vanderbilt team. But does that make them deserving of a ranking themselves? The strength of Florida’s out of conference schedule was #300 out of 341 teams in DI, and included home wins against such powerhouses as Jacksonville, Vermont, North Dakota State, High Point, Florida A&M, Stetson, North Carolina Central, Tennessee Tech, Charleston Southern, and 1-21 North Florida, which has a grand total of 0 wins this year against DI opposition. Sorry, two recent national titles should not gain a team any preference in the polls when there has been a lack of achievement THIS year.

#2-T Indiana B10 18-3 (14,13, 38) +24.5

There is a strong Midwest bias in the polls this year, of which Indiana is the preeminent example. Indiana has a grand total of one win against RPI top 50 opposition - #48 Illinois State. Its only other ‘Quality Wins’ came against #77 Georgia Tech, #82 Southern Illinois, and #90 Minnesota. 5 of their wins were versus RPI 200+ teams at home. Sure, Indiana has a 7-1 conference record this year, but the Big 10 is the weakest of the so-called Power Conferences, this year.

#2-T Purdue 17-5 B10 (24,27, 50) +24.5

Purdue, another Big 10 team, ties Indiana this week in the Hall of Shame. To be fair, Purdue has picked up two top-25 wins, versus Louisville and Wisconsin, but these must be balanced against a loss to #102 Iowa State, and a HOME loss to #152 Wofford. Purdue also lined up 6 200+ RPI patsies for home consumption, and has no business sniffing the top 25.

#4 Notre Dame 16-4 BE (22,21, 40) +18.5

Another conference. Another over-rated Midwest team. While Notre Dame has picked up wins against ranked Connecticut and Kansas State teams, in addition to a West Virginia team which is no slouch, these all came on home or neutral courts. Their two road games against top opposition have resulted in slaughters: 84-65 versus Georgetown and 92-66 versus UNRANKED Marquette. A top 25 ranking makes no sense.

#5 Butler 19-2 HOR (10,11, 24) +13.5

Butler is one of several teams from outside the so-called Power Conferences who deserve a ranking. But a top 10 ranking? Hardly. Their only significant win came against a good, but rightfully unranked Ohio State team. Their two losses came against teams from outside the top 50 in the RPI. The press always rallies behind an over-rated darling. With Gonzaga under-achieving this year, it looks like Butler is it.

Dishonorable Mention: Texas A&M 18-4 B12 (18,18, 29) +11

The House of Pain

[Team Record Conference (AP ranking, Espn/USA ranking, RPI ranking) Difference between poll average and RPI]

#1 Dayton 15-5 A10 (NR,40, 13) –29.5

What does an RPI of 13 get Dayton? A grand total of 3 votes in the two polls. Combined. While they have struggled recently, their only troubling loss was on the road at Richmond. Balancing that are wins against a ranked Pittsburgh team, a Rhode Island team that SHOULD be ranked, and a Louisville team that WILL be ranked should they knock off Georgetown on Saturday. Bottom line. Dayton is far more deserving of a ranking than Notre Dame, Purdue, and Florida.

#2 Arizona 14-7 P10 (31,30, 7) –23.5

Perennially, Arizona plays a ridiculously tough schedule, which this year included only one out of conference team outside the RPI top 200. Perennially, and unfairly, they are overlooked in the polls. Arizona’s scalps this season include ranked Washington State and Texas A&M, along with good teams from UNLV and USC – wins against 4 better teams than #14 Indiana has achieved. While the losses are mounting, none will cause them much trouble come Selection Sunday.

#3 Massachusetts 14-7 A10 (NR,NR, 25) –19.5

Does Massachusetts deserve a ranking? Probably not. Is Massachusetts more deserving of a ranking that some other teams in this weeks poll? Absolutely. They have proven that they can defeat top teams on the road, such as Dayton and Syracuse. Given the shaky conference record and the mounting losses, they will, however, be in significant trouble on Selection Sunday should they not turn things around. Quickly.

#4 Vanderbilt 18-4 SEC (23,20, 12) –9.5

After a stunning 16-0 start, Vanderbilt have dropped four out of their last six, and their ranking has reflected that downward spiral. To be frank, the pollsters have got things just about right. The 16-0 run included 5 200+ RPI patsies, but only two top 50 teams, Massachusetts and surprising Sun Belt leader South Alabama. With only three remaining chances to pick up quality wins, Vanderbilt could be left out in the cold come March.

#5 Drake MVC 20-1 (15,15, 8) –7

Like Vanderbit, Drake really does not have much cause to be upset, but as a Valley partisan, I cannot resist including them in the discussion. Here, the pollsters have got things just about right, considering the weakness of their schedule, which included two non DI opponents. While Drake’s only loss came against ranked St. Mary’s, their one ‘quality win’, like Indiana, came against Illinois State. Despite the Valley’s weakness this year, their sweep of Creighton may play in to seeding decisions as well.

Average Conference Bias

Big 10: +13.4 (Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue)
Big 12: +4.1 (Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas State)
SEC: +3.8 (Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi)
Big East: +2.5 (Georgetown, Marquette, Connecticut, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh)
All Others: +1.6 (Memphis, Butler, Drake, St. Mary’s)
ACC: +1 (Duke, North Carolina)
Pac 10: –1.5 (UCLA, Stanford, Washington State, Arizona)
Atlantic 10: -13.4 (Xavier, Rhode Island, Dayton, Massachusetts)

The performance of the Atlantic 10 has been this years biggest surprise, as they have improved from tenth to seventh in conference RPI. It will take a while for the sports writers and coaches to notice. . .

Teams with the closest correlation between ranking and RPI:

1-T. North Carolina; Georgetown (+/- 0)
3. Kansas (+.5)
4-T. Memphis; Texas; Marquette; St. Mary’s (+1; -1; +1; -1)

Teams included in analysis:

[Any team in the top 25 of the AP poll, the Coaches poll, or the RPI.]

Memphis CUSA; Duke ACC; North Carolina ACC; Kansas B12; UCLA P10; Georgetown BE; Tennessee SEC; Wisconsin B10; Stanford P10; Butler HOR; Michigan State B10; Texas B12; Xavier A10; Indiana B10; Drake 20-1; Marquette BE; Washington State 17-4; Texas A&M B12; Connecticut BE; Notre Dame BE; Vanderbilt SEC; Kansas State B12; Pittsburgh BE; St. Mary’s WCC; Florida SEC; Purdue B10; Rhode Island A10; Mississippi SEC; Arizona P10; Dayton A10; Massachusetts A10

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