College Basketball Polls
Conference Play is well underway and because of that the rankings have started to change dramatically. Teams that were in the college basketball polls in November and December have gotten off to bad starts in their conference and have found themselves outside the top 25. The following will examine how the college basketball polls are calculated and analyze their effectiveness in selecting and seeding teams for the tournament in March.
As in College Football, both the Associated Press and the Coaches Association have weekly polls. The polls come out on Mondays and rank the top 25 teams. For the most part, both polls are similar, with only a couple of fluctuations for certain teams. However, unlike college football, the polls are just a small percentage of the formula the selection committee uses when it selects its 65 teams for the tournament. In football, the polls are 67 percent of the ingredients.
Case in point, five years ago, Cincinnati finished the season No. 1 in both polls but when the selection committee gathered, they were awarded a No. 2 seed. How can that happen? Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Conference USA Tournament and without his dominating presense inside; the Bearcats became just an average team. The committee's decision was validated when Cincinnati got bounced from the tournament in the second round.
Another example of the polls carrying little weight occurred last season when 24th ranked Utah State was upset in its conference tournament. Still, a normal person would think that being ranked 24th would equate to a sixth seed in the tournament. But when the field of 65 was announced, the Aggies did not hear their name called. So in conclusion, a 25-4 record earned them a trip to the NIT. How did this happen? It was all about the RPI.
The RPI carries the most weight in the selection committee room. It incorporates the polls; but also analyzes the quality of opponents a team has played, your opponents schedule strength and the teams that you beat. This formula put the BCS to shame because of its ability to incorporate numerous factors outside of the bias of the human polls. Utah State had a RPI of 47 last season, and because of the 33 automatic bids available, they were left on the outside looking in.
Until this season, the RPI did have one major flaw. It did not differentiate between home wins compared to road or neutral site victories. Homecourt means everything in college hoops and teams would not get the credit they deserved for winning games in hostile environments. But that changed this season, with the new calculation going as follows: all road wins are treated as 1.4 wins, all road losses are treated as .6 losses, all home wins are worth .6 wins and all home losses are valued at 1.4 losses. Neutral site games are still worth 1.
Looking at the RPI this season, one would think Illinois would be the clear cut choice as number one, yet when I scroll through the RPI, I do not find their name until line eight. Go Figure! The Illini have a strength of schedule of 72. That will improve quickly with upcoming games against Michigan State and Wisconsin. If Illinois would run the table, they would be the number one seed in the tournament because the human element would step in and use common sense. This system of the polls is a lot like the federal government: it is all about checks and balances where no one department has too much power. Because of the numerous components, more often then not, the selection committee gets the job done.
RPI as of January 17, 2005
3) Oklahoma State
4) Wake Forest
5) Boston College
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For more information on the RPI, visit collegerpi.com