Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Who Gives A Sh#t About Hoops Rankings?

College basketball actually settles everything on the floor. They play a single elimination tournament that invites a whopping 64 teams to participate. In a two week period, they go from 64 to a final four, and the AP and anyone else has nothing to say about it. Hell, in college basketball, you can be .500 or under, but if you win your conference tournament you still receive the automatic bid and enter the playoffs. Who cares about one upset? Who cares about any midseason slide, if you can peak at just the right time? Who gives a sh#t about rankings?

Bubble teams care about rankings. The difference between watching the NCAA tournament and actually playing in it can come down to your RPI rating. The RPI ranks the power of a team, based on win/loss record and strength of opponents. To increase your RPI, you either need a national ranking or victories over ranked opponents. The RPI is most important to schools from less powerful conferences. Unlike the past, today you see Richmond, Dayton, Southern Illinois and some others, taking on college basketball heavyweights early. Build your RPI early, before it begins to decline in conference play, and may have a good standing on selection day.

Contenders care about rankings. If you're an undefeated Kansas or Memphis, you wouldn't think it mattered if you were ranked among the top 5 in the country, because it would take complete collapse to not make the field of 64 at this point. But as a serious contender, the tournament seeding matters. The tops seeds don't always win the Championship, but their road to the final four is paved a bit smoother than the lower seeds.

It takes 6 consecutive victories to be crowned the NCAA basketball champion. A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed, since the tournament expanded to 64. The 1 seed rarely struggles with the 16 seed. So, if you manage to gain a top seed, now you only have to win 5 consecutive games, after playing that first round "exhibition" match. If you're the No. 1 overall seed, you're playing the winner of the "play in" game, meaning they had to play one more game just to meet you. They usually play that one game just 2 nights earlier, then come out overmatched against a well rested and talented squad.

the No. 1 overall seed is also guaranteed to play tournament games in their region of the country. Meaning you can have 2 teams from the same conference picking up No. 1 seeds, but the lower of the two is going to be shipped to another region of the country. For example, Georgetown is a No. 1 overall seed, coming out of the Big East, and will represent the East region in games played in New York. Then you have Pittsburg, another No. 1 seed from the big east, but a lower overall seed than Georgetown. Pittsburg is shipped out to San Francisco, as the No. 1 Seed in the west region.

Gonzaga and Memphis care about rankings. For years, the Zags complained about how difficult it was for their program to reach the final four, because they were disrespected in the tournament seedings. Memphis once had the same argument, as both teams were penalized for the weakness of their conferences. Now with the opportunity to increase their RPI and grab a higher seeding, the Zags and Tigers power up against out of conference foes, before going into WCC and Conference-USA play.

So to answer the question, "who gives a sh#t about hoops rankings", the answer is that many fans and programs do. The rankings may not appear to mean much, and the regular season less spectacular, with the cagers having a playoff format (and people wonder why football doesn't want one). But where a team ends up, and how difficult the games may be, are all determined by the AP and coaches rankings, which are ingredients to the RPI.

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