Okay, take a look at the NCAA tournament profiles for two schools. We’ll call one Team A, the other Team B. Think about which profile you think is stronger and which school you’d seed higher in the tournament if you were a member of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
On the next page I’ll reveal which teams are being compared. (Only games against Division I teams are counted in records.)
Ratings Percentage Index: 8
Strength of schedule: 35
Nonconference strength of schedule: 43
Road/neutral court: 9-3
Vs. top 50 RPI: 2-2
Vs. top 25 RPI: 2-1
Best win: vs. No. 20
Worst loss: vs. No. 87
Vs. 201 or worse: 4-0
Ratings Percentage Index: 41
Strength of schedule: 117
Nonconference strength of schedule: 242
Road/neutral court: 7-3
Vs. top 50 RPI: 2-2
Vs. top 25 RPI: 1-2
Best win: vs. No. 15
Worst loss: vs. No. 102
vs. 201 or worse: 7-0
Like we do in this exercise, the selection committee often covers up the name of the school when examining a profile to ensure that they are not swayed by anything other than who the team played, where the team played and who the team beat.
When comparing these two teams, it is clear they are similar in many regards: They have similar overall records, similar records away from home and the same records against top 50 competition. Team A has one more victory against top 25 competition.
The other difference is that Team A has played a tougher schedule, both in conference and out of conference. In fact, Team A has played one of the stronger nonconference schedules (43rd strongest) in the nation, while Team B played one of the weakest (242nd). And if you put a lot of weight in the RPI, Team A has a significant advantage there.
So, without looking at school names, is it clear that Team A is better? Not so fast. Who are the teams?
Team A is Southern Mississippi.
Team B is Virginia.
In most respectable NCAA tournament mock brackets, Virginia is rightfully seeded slightly higher than Southern Mississippi. The Cavaliers are in the 6-7 seed range. Southern Miss is in the 8-9 seed range this week.
The danger in just looking at numbers is that one may put too much emphasis on the RPI. You also need to open your eyes and watch teams actually, you know, play basketball. The separation between Virginia and Southern Miss is not large. But based on overall strength, based on which team you’d least want to play, Virginia should get the slight edge. It is important not to elevate a team merely because it has an impressive RPI. The RPI is not everything.
More on Washington Post Sports
Maryland coverage at Terrapins Insider
Virginia coverage at Cavaliers Journal
Hokies coverage at Hokies Journal