Cleaning up those RPI numbers

Take away home wins and several major conference teams' NCAA résumés aren't so squeaky clean.

Updated: February 9, 2004, 6:20 PM ET
By Joe Lunardi | Special to ESPN.com

I've been working up to this article for a long, long time. It just took an astute reader named Brian Kasbar to provide the perfect lead-in:

    "I get sick of hearing ACC or SEC fans saying that Ole Miss, Georgia, Maryland or other middle-of-the-road teams (in those leagues) could clean up in the WCC and, therefore, Gonzaga's undefeated record in its conference is no big deal. Have they stopped to look at what happens to TOP teams in their conference that try WCC road games?

    "Mississippi State (No. 7, ESPN/USA Today) tried going to Santa Clara and won by only FIVE points; Gonzaga won by SIXTEEN. Arizona tried playing at St. Mary's and won by SIX; Gonzaga won by FOURTEEN. Oklahoma State had Pepperdine at home and won by TWO POINTS! Gonzaga ripped them at home by TWENTY.

    "Gonzaga played a partial Pac-10 schedule and beat Washington State by 42 points at home. Stanford (beat WSU) at home by only 24. Gonzaga beat Washington by 20 AT Washington, whereas Arizona LOST at Washington.

    "In their only ACC away game (played at a semi-neutral site in D.C., actually), Gonzaga beat Maryland by 14 points, which is better than any of the top 25 have done. Wake won by 12 (at Maryland), Duke won by eight, and UNC, Florida and Wisconsin all LOST.

    "Can I say this to all the self-righteous major conference fans? If your top 25 teams struggle with away games in the WCC, you can bet your lower-tier teams couldn't run the table. It isn't coincidence that most major conference teams don't have the [guts] to schedule away games with mid-majors! Have Virginia schedule a game at Creighton or Utah State or Southern Illinois. You might just leave with your tail between your legs, like WSU did playing at Gonzaga. They got pasted."

The point here isn't to argue whether or not Gonzaga is a very good team; it is. The point isn't to argue whether or not the six BCS conferences are the best in the country; they are. The point isn't even to argue whether or not one or two or three mid-majors deserve at-large bids to the tournament this year (they do, but that's another story).

The point is this: The deck is so permanently stacked against quality mid-majors that it harkens back to a time when the loser of that epic NC State-Maryland ACC title game did not make the NCAA Tournament. As uneven as that system was 30 years ago, we have now gone so far in the other direction as to be almost ludicrous.

As long as BCS-member schools are permitted to use football revenue to "buy" home basketball games against low majors, we'll have a virtual caste system in the sport. Given the extraordinarily deep talent pool across the country, you can't tell me that 20 percent of Division I basketball schools deserve 90 percent of the NCAA Tournament at-large bids.

"But your teams never make the Final Four, anyway," say the good ol' boys at the NCAA Convention.

"Of course not," I say to those overstuffed blowhards (well, they're not all blowhards). "It's pretty hard to belly up to the bar when you're never invited to the party."

People say the problem starts with scheduling, that the haves are always going to snack on the have-nots. And that those in the middle are going to get the crumbs. I say the deeper problem is a poorly weighted RPI. It's not margin of victory (as most critics suggests) which needs to be part of the formula, but counting home games -- at least non-conference home games -- differently from every other game.

As C.M. Newton, one of the best chairmen the NCAA men's basketball committee ever had, used to say: "You don't play any tournament games on your own floor." That never stopped him from putting six SEC teams in the NCAA field, but I digress ...

If the BCS schools want to buy home wins against the SWAC and MEAC and whomever, fine. But don't count that win the same as road/neutral games against quality opposition. The big boys can still make all the money they want, but they can't have that cake and more than half of their league in the NCAAs, too.

This year, as part of the debut of InsideRPI on ESPN.com's Insider, we introduce a column called "LunaRPI" (pardon the self-serving label). It's not a perfect measure, to be sure, but it's a step in the right direction. LunaRPI counts only a team's road and neutral games, and excludes all home court contests. This is not meant to replace the existing RPI, but to supplement it with another data set that addresses some of its flaws. Better still would be a single measurement that weighs the entire calculus of factors in a more equitable manner.

The NCAA, as it turns out, is already working on such an idea. I hear they've hired a couple of the top mathematicians in the country. Give me a week or two after this season, and my guys will beat them to the punch.

In the meantime, check out these two lists and decide for yourself if we're on the right track. My data czar Jim "JRod" Rodrigues crunched the numbers to prove my point.

First the "under" valued:

Under Valued Teams
Team RPI LunaRPI Diff.
Boise State No. 103 No. 62 +41
Boston U. No. 104 No. 71 +33
Wichita State No. 78 No. 47 +31
La.-Lafayette No. 80 No. 49 +31
Charlotte No. 33 No. 11 +23
Saint Louis No. 98 No. 76 +22
Troy State No. 80 No. 64 +16
Central Florida No. 84 No. 68 +16
Pacific No. 95 No. 80 +15
W. Michigan No. 54 No. 40 +14
So. Illinois No. 23 No. 10 +13
Murray State No. 75 No. 63 +12

Even better are the "over" valued (in other words, teams that either don't belong in the NCAAs or likely won't be staying very long):

BCS's Dirty Dozen
Team RPI LunaRPI Diff.
Iowa State No. 57 No. 209 -152
Auburn No. 51 No. 163 -112
Clemson No. 50 No. 136 -86
Wisconsin No. 20 No. 98 -78
Mississippi No. 62 No. 133 -71
Michigan State No. 42 No. 72 -30
Alabama No. 26 No. 55 -29
North Carolina No. 16 No. 42 -26
Vanderbilt No. 28 No. 54 -26
Rutgers No. 31 No. 52 -21
Texas Tech No. 17 No. 35 -18
Arizona No. 27 No. 39 -12

Major conferences teams can't hide their "dirty dozen" (and more) forever. Because, if they do, the NCAA men's basketball championship will become as marginalized as the BCS football postseason. The difference, in college basketball, is that people will stop watching.

Joe Lunardi is the resident Bracketologist for ESPN.com, ESPN Insider and ESPN Radio. He may be reached at jlunardi@comcast.net.

Joe Lunardi | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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