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NCAA MBB Tournament Selection

This is going to be an interesting transition year for selection to the dance.

Smaller-Profile Leagues Get a Bigger R.P.I. Boost

Published: February 14, 2005

s the N.C.A.A. tournament has evolved from a mom-and-pop shop to a billion-dollar bonanza, nothing has defined it more than the opportunity given little-known teams to shine in its searing spotlight.

Thanks to a change in the Ratings Percentage Index, a formula the N.C.A.A. selection committee uses to help determine the at-large bids for the 65-team field, more small colleges should be getting a shot at one shining moment in March.

The new R.P.I. gives a bigger reward for road victories and a bigger penalty for home losses. That has caused a slight increase in the rankings of colleges from the so-called midmajor conferences, who tend to struggle to lure top teams to visit them, diminishing their chances for quality victories.

As of yesterday, seven teams from nontraditional power conferences were in the top 30 of the R.P.I.

Last season at this time, just three of those teams were among the R.P.I.'s top 40.

Jerry Palm, who simulates the R.P.I. on collegerpi.com, a Web site he runs, said that since the N.C.A.A. started using the formula 11 years ago, no team with an R.P.I. number lower than 33 has been left out of the tournament field.

Teams like Gonzaga (R.P.I., 9) and Southern Illinois (14) have become N.C.A.A. tournament regulars in recent years, and they should be joined by a host of newer teams, even if they do not win their conference tournament titles.

Along with Gonzaga and Southern Illinois, Vermont (16), Miami of Ohio (23), Pacific (26), Old Dominion (27) and Wichita State (30) are in the R.P.I.'s top 30.

Palm defines power conferences as the six affiliated with the Bowl Championship Series - the Big East, the Pac-10, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Southeastern and the Atlantic Coast - and the four conferences whose regular-season conference champions consistently make the N.C.A.A. tournament - the Mountain West, Conference USA, the Western Athletic and the Atlantic 10.

The teams outside these conferences should benefit if the N.C.A.A. continues to rely on the R.P.I. as a major factor in the selection process.

"They always downplay the R.P.I., and I would expect them to continue to do so," Palm said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But generally speaking, you don't change the formula to become less reliant on it."

Helping and Hurting

The weekend had two examples of how the changed R.P.I. formula has helped midmajor programs.

Vermont, which at No. 16 has a better R.P.I. than Michigan State (17) and Connecticut (21), lost at Boston University. But because B.U. is ranked in the top 50 of the R.P.I. and the loss came on the road, Vermont did not slide in the ranking.

Wichita State (R.P.I., 30) lost Saturday at Bradley (12-10), which at 5-9 is toward the bottom of the Missouri Valley Conference. But because the M.V.C. had a strong showing in out-of-conference play, Bradley has an R.P.I. inside the top 100, which means a loss to it in conference, especially on the road, is not lethal to a team's overall R.P.I.

"The new weighted R.P.I. has helped everyone in our league," Wichita State Coach Mark Turgeon said in a telephone interview yesterday. "In past years, we'd have three teams with an R.P.I. over 230, which meant six games against them. Now there's only one team over 200, which makes a real difference."

Although the new formula has helped Missouri Valley Conference teams, which play a lot of road games against tough opponents, it has hurt teams like Pittsburgh, which loaded up on a buffet of lesser teams at home earlier in the season.

The Panthers (17-4) are ranked in the top 20 in the news media and coaches polls, but they have an R.P.I. ranking of 47 because of their light nonconference schedule, which included a home loss to Bucknell.

Ultimately, the new formula rewards teams for performance in road games, which Turgeon said were tough in any conference.

"If there's 10,000 people cheering for Bradley, it does not make their fans quieter than if it's 10,000 fans cheering for Connecticut because they're in the Big East," he said. "It's tough on the road."

Hello Up There

The first N.C.A.A. tournament team could soon be in the fold.

With Penn's victory over Cornell on Saturday, the Quakers (7-0) opened up a chasm between first place and the rest of the Ivy League. Cornell (5-3) is the only other Ivy team with a winning record in league play.

Because the Ivy League does not have a postseason conference tournament, the regular-season winner claims an N.C.A.A. bid. Even with five of its final seven games on the road, that team appears to be Penn.

The biggest surprise in the Ivy League and possibly the entire country may be Princeton: the Tigers are alone in last place with a 2-5 league record. Princeton plays at Yale on Friday.

An Unhappy Ending

A sad flip side to No. 1 Illinois, the only undefeated Division I team in the country, is Purdue.

Illinois Coach Bruce Weber assisted Gene Keady in West Lafayette, Ind., for 18 seasons before finally landing a head-coaching job at Southern Illinois.

And while Weber is becoming the toast of college basketball, Keady is leaving with what he calls his worst season in 47 years of coaching.

With a victory over Penn State on Feb. 9, Purdue improved to a mere 6-15 (2-8 Big Ten).

Not only is losing a rarity at Purdue, but the transition to the next coach is as well. Keady has brought in Matt Painter, a former Boilermaker who took over for Weber for a season at Southern Illinois, as an understudy for a season. Painter will take over when Keady retires after the season.

Keady said the one enjoyable aspect of the season had been preparing Painter for the future.

Painter says he has drawn inspiration from Keady.

"Coach is going to keep on fighting," Painter said in a telephone interview last week.

"I think our players see that and the people close to the program see that he's not done, and he's going to keep on fighting."

Smaller-Profile Leagues Get a Bigger R.P.I. Boost
That is interesting. I just hope the Bearcats get left out. That team has lost to every top 25 team they have played, Charlotte beat them, and Depaul blew them out last Saturday. I am sure they will back their way in some how though.
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