|A snapshot of the mock meetings last week in Indianapolis. (NCAA)|
By Matt Norlander
Let's see possibility. Let's see what the NCAA could ultimately be using, should it choose to cast a wider net in its database. Let's see fairness and true objectivity and less room for error in picking and seeding 68 teams into this behemoth of a bracket that takes over millions of American' lives in March.
I wrote last week how every metric officially referenced on the NCAA's Nitty Gritty sheets, in team sheets and on reports only relates to the RPI. It's a problem. The Selection Committee does a lot of things right. The few things it does wrong, it stands to reason, alter the master seed list or create inconsistencies in final selection.
The NCAA and its Selection Committee don't shun the use of other metrics. They just don't endorse them, either. On the Nitty Gritty master sheet, teams are arranged 1 to 344 in accordance to the RPI. Nine of the 16 columns on the Nitty Gritty are RPI-based or influenced. Why not organize the Nitty Gritty based on a collection of metric systems?
The NCAA has its reasons for this, and ultimately, one day, those reasons will give way to logic and a better collective understanding of how -- although we'll never perfect a rankings system -- we can use microscopes instead of magnifying glasses to examine teams' tendencies, weaknesses, strengths and true scope of accomplishment.
Below, I've got a chart of what such a Nitty Gritty could look like, what the NCAA could use as a base to sort its squads and begin the debate. This is something I'd love to take credit for, but the fact is I didn't have the time to get it done, and so you should be as grateful as I am for emailer Dr. Frederick Russ, who did the long division on this. Russ is an NCAA faculty athletics representative, a professor of marketing and former dean at the University of Cincinnati's Carl H. Lindner College of Business. He compiled what's quickly being acknowledged as the five most mainstream/reliable/respectable college basketball metrics and went with the median of the ratings (the chart says average, but it is the median; there is a difference). The chart below shows the positive or negative difference with the myopic RPI.
Plenty of teams don't vary in median rank of the five and the RPI. With others, it's chasm-like. And that means something significant when you get into the tedious but tremendous differentials in seeding, which can alter where teams go and of course who they play.
All teams listed were ranked 80th or better by KenPom.com, LRMC, BPI, RPI, Massey or Sagarin. These numbers, of course, are due to change in the coming weeks. All results are as of Wednesday, so even today there'd be minor shifts in the master list if you compiled one for yourself by dinnertime.
Russ also mentioned the obvious: the downside to every rankings system, with exception to the BPI, currently in somewhat of a test-drive phase, is you can't implement the impact of regular players missing games. Take Cincinnati’s first two losses (to Presbyterian and Marshall), which came when Jaquon Parker was still nursing a preseason injury.
But at least we can claim this is closer and more objective than the RPI's manipulable formula. Here is the master list, 1 through 90, of how the NCAA should be sorting teams. (Russ actually had 98 teams organized, but Google Docs was being less than agreeable in converting the chart beyond 90 teams. Apologies on that, but you get the point all the same.)
The biggest difference near the top is Wisconsin, perhaps overrated by all the other metrics, but not RPI? Let's debate! The distance on Missouri is disconcerting, though, too. Texas, Belmont, Arizona and Southern Miss all have big disparity as well. The largest gaps are UCLA (62 points lower in the RPI) and Colorado State (65 points higher in the RPI).
If anything else, this chart proves there are far too frequent communication breakdowns with teams across the board, enough so that the RPI goes beyond outlier status and continues to prove what many have known for years: If the RPI was introduced in 2012, it's hard to reason that it would be adopted as conventional by the NCAA or in mainstream discussion.