NCAA Tournament Needs a New Measuring Stick: Can We Please Get Rid of the RPI?
The RPI has no business deciding anyone’s fate come March. After watching the postseason destination of countless teams decided by this atrocious poll, it's obvious that a new system has to be implemented to rate the potential tournament teams. The AP and Coaches Polls are serviceable, but they still contain major errors in evaluation.
I’m doing scouting work for several NBA teams this season, and I’ve watched a sickening amount of college basketball. Who else is better suited to rank college basketball teams than the guys who live and breathe the game searching for the best players? There is no substitute for watching lots of games and inspecting them closely, and I’ve been tuning into an embarrassing amount of college hoops.
NBA scouts watch basketball as a full-time job, making them the most qualified to rate the teams against each other. Whether they’re too busy paying attention to their own team to watch others (the coaches), or too busy asking questions and creating drama to notice what actually happens on the court (the media), neither major poll gets a truly accurate assessment of all the teams. The RPI has so many things wrong with it that it’s impossible to know where to start. It’s just terrible. Anyone who watches games with any regularity can immediately notice glaring weaknesses in the RPI.
The RPI was clearly a major factor in the seeding process this year, resulting in huge mistakes by the NCAA tournament committee. The Mountain West Conference is somehow rated No. 1, when anyone who simply likes college basketball knows there're at least four better conferences. Rating the MWC as the best skewed everything, from the strength of schedule for every team to the overall rankings.
Teams in other conferences were hurt as a direct result, and several teams were put in terrible situations. This robs teams and fans of better matchups deeper in the tournament, when the stakes are much higher and the best talent should be on the court. If New Mexico is the second best team in the country, and there are 16 teams better than Michigan, I don't know what I've been watching all season. Iowa State is ranked No. 45 in the RPI, a travesty considering they were two controversial calls away from sweeping the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the regular season.
My ranking system is simple. I watch all the teams as often as possible, and I compare them against each other. I consider every factor, and I decide who I think would win more against the other in a series. If I can’t decide, I go with the one I think would win an NCAA tournament game on a neutral floor. It’s as basic as that. The teams with the best pro prospects playing together are ranked the highest. I rank 40 teams to try to include most of the at-large candidates for the NCAA tournament, but many more are tentatively ranked in tiers below them.
It's time to turn the ranking system and the tournament selection process over to the experts. After evaluating teams and players as a full-time job this season, it's clear to me that Doug Gottlieb, Jay Williams, Jay Bilas, and Dick Vitale have the best feel for the college basketball landscape. This probably means they've watched the most games, done the most research, and understand the game at the highest level.
These guys, along with the most successful NBA general managers and scouts, should be the ones deciding who makes the tournament and what seed they get. When you allow athletic directors, coaches, media members and mathematical formulas to decide these things, major errors are guaranteed. It's time to clean up this process and let the most informed people build the bracket. It will result in a better and fairer system for everyone involved.
Here's the current RPI conference rankings, along with the top 50 teams according to the RPI. Let's see how it holds up during the tournament.
Just to compare, here's how I ranked the 68 teams going into the tournament.
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