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Published: Tuesday, 2/20/2007

Don't get caught up in the RPI riptide

I got this email in response to my story about the fears BGSU has about not making the NCAA Tournament despite its stellar record:

I can't believe one loss would be that detrimental to the Falcons. Assuming they did lose one more time the rest of the year, that would make them about 25 - 30 in the nation. ... Should make them at least a 7-8 seed at the worst. How could they not be one of the top 64 teams in womens basketball if they were 30th in the nation? Crazy.

My blog from Sunday illustrates the Falcons' impressive NCAA Tournament resume. But here's a sad example from last year, one state over:

Indiana State, a member of the much-ballyhooed Missouri Valley Conference (on the men's side anyway), won the regular-season MVC championship and lost on the road in the championship game. (The MVC does not use a neutral site for the women's championships, something I find unfortunate.) The Sycamores' record was 26-5, 16-2 in the conference. They didn't get in.

Yesterday Curt Miller mentioned Western Kentucky last year having a RPI of 19 and not getting in. An article from ESPN's Charlie Creme highlights some of the other reasons Miller is worried:

"Just last season, the Colonial's James Madison went 24-6 with an RPI in the mid-50s. The Dukes finished second to Old Dominion in both the regular season and the conference tournament. Indiana State had an even higher RPI (47 by the NCAA's final release) and won the Missouri Valley Conference going away -- but the Sycamores stumbled in the tournament final. Neither team made the Big Dance.

Yet 18-11 Cal (RPI 66) and 21-9 Missouri (RPI 65) both went in as at-large choices with the committee citing their tougher overall schedules and more wins against good teams. In 2005, Gonzaga finished at 27-3 and 14-0, but the Zags did the unthinkable, losing to Santa Clara in the conference tournament final. Despite a respectable No. 48 RPI, they were left out of the bracket, too.

Two lessons here: Don't make RPI the end-all, be-all, and don't expect the smaller leagues to get any of the at-large bids. Only twice in the past five tournaments (Louisiana Tech out of the WAC in 2005 and Santa Clara out of the WCC in 2002) has a school from outside the BCS leagues, Mountain West, Atlantic 10 or Conference USA before the defections two years ago, gotten in without earning its conference's automatic bid."

The point of Creme's article is actually that this could be the year the mid-majors break through. And of course, BG's RPI is much higher (21) than any of the cases mentioned. But until it happens, the Falcons can't count on it, you know?



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