Monday, January 18, 2016

VCU and Its RPI

Unlike the AP Poll, which is based on supposedly expert opinions, the computer-generated RPI numbers are calculated to reflect the relative strengths of the 351 college basketball teams in Division I. By their nature the numbers are expected to steadily become more reliable as the season wears on.

At the end of the regular season in March, those numbers will weigh heavily on decisions to invite 36 at-large teams to the NCAA championship tournament. At-large, in this context, means teams that didn't win their conference's championship but are nonetheless deemed worthy, based on their records and the perception of their conference's strength among the 32 conferences in D-I.

So 68 teams get to go to the Big Dance. Every season pundits stimulate fans to argue about which teams have been unjustly snubbed. And, so it goes...

As of today, VCU (13-5, 5-0 in A-10) is sitting at No. 71 in the CBS Sports RPI. If it's still about the same place in March that won't bode well. To date, the Rams have only beaten two teams with a better RPI – Mid. Tenn. St. (No. 56) and St. Joe's (No. 33). VCU has lost to three teams with a better RPI – Duke (No. 19), Fla. St. (No. 49) and Georgia Tech (No. 60).

Beating teams with a worse RPI doesn't reward you much in this game, it might even hurt your rating, because strength of schedule is a big factor. So convincing wins over the likes of American (No. 336), Prairie View (No. 342) and Liberty (No. 343) don't convince the NCAA powers that be of anything that helps the Rams' cause. However with VCU riding an eight-game winning streak, its RPI has slowly improved during that stint. Slowly, because for the most part the Rams haven't been beating more respected teams.

Soon the opportunity to change that factor will present itself. Upcoming match-ups with St. Bonaventure (No. 54) and Dayton (No. 10), and two games apiece with George Washington (No. 34) and Davidson (No. 35) will be watched closely by the selection committee.

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