College basketball polls are meaningless.
Like it or not, computer profiles are the primary consideration when the NCAA tournament field is being assembled. However, projected fields in the weeks leading up to the tournament far too often fall victim to the bias of national perception.
Taking a look at a collection of resumes without the name of the school attached can be an eye-opening exercise.
In the following slides of blind resume comparisons, we'll identify several teams currently being over-valued solely because of the name on the front of their jersey, as well as an assortment of teams being over-looked for the exact same reason.
*All profile data was pulled before the start of games on February 21.
Team A: 24-3 overall, 12-2 in conference, RPI 8, SOS 30, 10-3 vs. RPI Top 100
Team B: 22-4 overall, 9-2 in conference, RPI 3, SOS 5, 13-4 vs. RPI Top 100
One of these teams is a unanimous No. 1 seed in projected brackets while the other is a No. 3 seed, at best.
One of these teams has two of the leading candidates for the Wooden Award while the other doesn’t have a nationally recognized name on the roster.
Team B has played four more quality opponents than Team A, though both teams have won 77 percent of their games against the RPI Top 100.
Team A has won three more games in conference play, which evidently hasn’t done it any favors in the strength of schedule department.
Before seeing the names of the schools, you’re probably under the assumption that Team B is the No. 1 seed, and that Team A is a team like Arizona or Georgetown that I’m trying to show deserves some respect.
However, Team A is Indiana and Team B is New Mexico.
Now that you know how the game works, are you ready for the next one?
Team C: 18-8 overall, 9-4 in conference, RPI 46, SOS 68, 4-8 vs. RPI Top 100
Team D: 17-8 overall, 5-6 in conference, RPI 45, SOS 67, 5-6 vs. RPI Top 100
Though side-by-side in the 2013 RPI and SOS rankings, these two teams couldn’t be more historically unalike.
One of these teams has won multiple national championships while the other has yet to win a game in any NCAA tournament.
The conference record is the clear difference between these two teams, but if Team C’s superior conference record doesn’t give it the edge in any of the computer numbers, it can be inferred that they must be playing in a weaker conference than Team D.
Both teams have been forced to play multiple games without three of their most prominent point-producers, so it would be foolish to argue that Kentucky (Team C) only appears to be evenly matched with Boise State (Team D) because of the adversity they’ve gone through this season.
Kentucky and Boise State are both squarely on the bubble, though the Broncos figure to have more opportunities to improve their stock down the stretch.
Team E: 23-5 overall, 12-4 in conference, RPI 35, SOS 113, 7-3 vs. RPI Top 100
Team F: 21-5 overall, 10-3 in conference, RPI 38, SOS 121, 8-5 vs. RPI Top 100
On the morning of January 29, both of these teams peaked in Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, one as a No. 4 seed and the other as a No. 5 seed.
They each proceeded to lose their next three games before righting the ship, but it was too late. They plummeted in Lunardi’s latest update all the way down to a No. 6 and a No. 10, respectively.
Wait, that doesn’t seem right, does it? Those resumes are pretty much identical, but they’re now four full seed lines apart? Shouldn’t they have dropped equally?
If anything, Team E (Wichita State) seems to be left with a better profile than Team F (Oregon). Yet, according to the experts—in the six brackets examined for Wednesday’s article, Oregon’s average seed was 6.7 while Wichita State was a 9.3—Oregon is safely in the field while the Shockers could be one misstep away from the NIT.
Team G: 17-8 overall, 6-5 in conference, RPI 48, SOS 57, 6-6 vs. RPI Top 100
Team H: 20-7 overall, 9-5 in conference, RPI 67, SOS 133, 6-5 vs. RPI Top 100
One of these teams was in Monday night’s Last Five In while the other was in the First Five Out. Based solely on the computer profiles, perhaps they should have been switched.
In ESPN the Magazine’s preseason rankings (published November 12), Team G was slotted 42nd overall and fourth in its conference, while Team H was positioned 130th overall and 11th in its conference. For both teams to be on the bubble, there’s been a fair amount of both under—and over—achieving to this point.
Each team has two very ugly losses on its resume, and each team suffered one of those losses in the past 10 days.
Team G has a much better RPI and SOS, but has played five consecutive one-point games—with a 3-2 record in those games—against five teams unlikely to make the NCAA tournament.
Team H is 6-3 in its last nine games with three wins over teams currently in the projected field and three losses to teams nowhere near the field.
Flip a coin and decide whether Team G (Temple) or Team H (Arizona State) is more deserving of making the NCAA tournament, because they're much more closely matched than most bracketologists are willing to admit.
Hopefully you’re ready for things to get a little more intense.
Oklahoma: 17-8 overall, 8-5 in conference, RPI 18, SOS 4, 9-8 vs. RPI Top 100
Team I: 19-8 overall, 6-7 in conference, RPI 28, SOS 6, 8-6 vs. RPI Top 100
Team J: 18-9 overall, 6-8 in conference, RPI 15, SOS 2, 13-8 vs. RPI Top 100
To ease you into the idea of more than two blind resumes, let’s start out by giving away the identity of a team with a similar profile.
Most would agree that it would take a real nosedive over the final three weeks of the season for the Sooners to miss the tournament. Yet, from a blind resume perspective, it seems like they’re in worse shape than these other teams that have experienced recent free falls of their own.
When the AP Poll came out on New Year’s Eve, these mystery teams were two of the top 11 teams in the country.
However, thus far in 2013, they are a combined 11-15 and have dropped out of the rankings altogether.
Team J has played 78 percent of its games against the RPI Top 100, winning 13 of those 21 games. Unfortunately for their perceived momentum, they’ve lost seven of the past 10 against that group of teams. Team J is the only team in the RPI Top 50 with nine or more losses on the season.
Team I’s computer profile isn’t as impressive as Team J’s, but Team I appears to have snapped out of their tailspin and righted the proverbial ship, with wins in their past four games.
On the whole, a logical hierarchy for these three teams seems to be Team J (Minnesota) on top, followed by Oklahoma, with Team I (Illinois) bringing up the rear.
Because the Selection Committee scrapped “Record in last 12” as a primary criterion in recent years, Minnesota remains a very strong candidate unless their recent schneid also extends to losses to Penn State, Nebraska and Purdue.
The sky is definitely falling in Minnesota, but not as quickly as you've probably been told.
Team K: 22-5 overall, 9-3 in conference, RPI 20, SOS 75, 7-5 vs. RPI Top 100
Team L: 21-6 overall, 12-2 in conference, RPI 30, SOS 80, 6-3 vs. RPI Top 100
Team M: 21-6 overall, 9-3 in conference, RPI 36, SOS 76, 7-6 vs. RPI Top 100
One of these teams is very safely in the latest projected field as a No. 4 or No. 5 seed, depending on who you ask. A second team is pretty comfortably in as well, somewhere between a No. 7 and No. 8 seed in the latest projections.
The third team is in all of the anticipated brackets, but no one has them doing better than a No. 10 seed.
There’s nothing in the computer profile that suggests there should be so much separation between these three teams, unless losses against the RPI Top 100 count in your favor. If that’s the case, then Team L is a rung or two behind Teams K and M.
To be fair, Team K’s big wins (Indiana, Gonzaga, Marquette) have been much more memorable than the big wins of either Team L (Middle Tennessee, Stanford) or Team M (Memphis, Belmont).
Now that Team K’s hidden identity has been fatally compromised, let’s point out that the objective here isn’t to drag Butler through the mud, but rather to question why the other teams aren’t getting as much respect.
Is it perhaps something that even didn’t happen this season that’s causing the divide? After all, the current RPI, SOS and overall records are nearly identical.
You won’t need to go too far back in your history books to find a Final Four showdown between Butler and Team M (VCU). But don’t waste your time searching for Team L’s recent tournament history, because Belmont has never won a game in the big dance.
Despite recent losses to Murray State and Tennessee State, the Bruins still have a stellar computer resume. Their numbers will decrease as they close the season against SIU-Edwardsville (RPI 301) and Jacksonville State (RPI 159), but (note to self) we shouldn’t throw them out of the at-large pool just yet.
Team N: 16-10 overall, 6-7 in conference, RPI 72, SOS 34, 7-5 vs. RPI Top 100
Team O: 16-9 overall, 8-5 in conference, RPI 53, SOS 33, 6-9 vs. RPI Top 100
Team P: 16-10 overall, 7-6 in conference, RPI 60, SOS 27, 6-8 vs. RPI Top 100
Team Q: 16-10 overall, 8-6 in conference, RPI 56, SOS 28, 5-7 vs. RPI Top 100
One and only one of these four teams were in Monday night’s projected field. Can you identify that team from this list?
Team N has the most wins against the RPI Top 100, and at 58 percent is the only team in the group winning more than 43 percent of those games. However, Team N has the worst RPI and SOS of the bunch.
Team O has the best RPI by a slim margin, has played the most games against the RPI Top 100 and is the only member of the group without 10 losses. There’s just something aesthetically pleasing about a single-digit number in the loss column.
Team P has the best SOS—though is there really any difference between the best and worst of these four SOS?—and the second best record against the RPI Top 100. Nothing great, but nothing awful either.
Team Q is essentially the average of the other three computer profiles with a less impressive record against the RPI Top 100, but they’ve done their damage against the best of the four conferences.
What you don’t get from the blind resumes is the momentum these teams have established in the past three weeks, which winds up being the deciding factor.
Team N (Texas A&M) has lost three of its last six, Team P (Baylor) has lost five of its last seven, Team Q (St. John’s) has lost three of its last five, but Team O (California) has won five of its last six games. Cal made it into all of the experts’ most recent brackets.
Baylor and St. John's have been in the field or at least on the cusp of it in recent weeks, but don't sleep on Texas A&M. Someone from the SEC is bound to make a mini-run over the final few weeks, and as Cal has proven that a middling RPI in a sub-par conference can go from afterthought to tournament team in no time.