College Basketball Bubble Watch

Updated: February 27, 2015, 9:33 AM ET
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com


In the case of BYU, RPI gets it right

It's hard to get us to defend the RPI. Somehow, BYU has pulled it off.

The topic of today's Bubble Watch video arose from a discussion we had on Wednesday, during our Bracket Builder tweet storm, when ESPN Insider's Peter Keating brought up Brigham Young University. The Cougars are a fascinating team. Tyler Haws is arguably the nation's best and most efficient pure scorer. Kyle Collinsworth holds the record for most triple-doubles in a single season -- a record he set this season. BYU plays top-10-level offense and often nonexistent defense. They play fast. They're fun to watch. In a vacuum, they totally belong in the NCAA tournament.

Smart analytic systems back this up. The Basketball Power Index rates BYU out as a top-30 team overall. So do Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings. The Cougars' whole season is basically the opposite of Maryland in February prior to this week's win over Wisconsin: When they've lost, they've lost by narrow margins. When they've won, they've won big.

And yet, despite all that, BYU ranks 60th in the RPI.

The horror! This discrepancy should offer us a chance to get up on our proverbial stallion: Here's why the RPI is dumb. Burn it down! Burn it all down!

Except we can't really get there. In this case, the RPI's blind spot -- its ignorance of the final score -- is actually kind of a strength. Yes, the Cougars' eight losses have all come by eight points or fewer. Yes, two of their notable nonconference defeats went to overtime. But BYU still lost those games. They lost to San Diego and Pepperdine (twice). While most teams in this position could counteract the argument with at least one example of a quality win, the Cougars' best three victories have all come at home -- over Stanford, UMass and Saint Mary's. There is maybe one tournament team in that mix, and that team (Stanford) is very much on the bubble.

The RPI is outdated, imprecise, too quietly impactful on the selection process, you name it. We tolerate it as a function of the Bubble Watch's purpose; we rarely see its value. But in extreme situations, its inherent logic can hold true. At some point, you've got to beat somebody. BYU hasn't.

Maybe that will change at Gonzaga on Saturday. Maybe it won't. The point is, sometimes, things really are this simple.

Did we miss a team? Include the unworthy? Want to stump for your favored mid-major? Send your feedback, suggestions and hilarious jokes to me on Twitter @eamonnbrennan

Note: All RPI data via ESPN RPI is updated through Feb. 26.