March Madness 2012: ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12 tournaments set as teams try to bolster NCAA seeding


John Henson and North Carolina could use a strong run in the ACC tournament to help their chances of earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament field. (Gerry Broome/AP)
March 5, 2012

Conference tournaments are already underway in college basketball, and this week, the bluebloods join the postseason party as the ACC, Big Ten, Big East and Big 12 tournaments tip-off. The NCAA tournament selection committee will be keeping a close eye on the proceedings, which will factor into their selection Sunday choices. The Ratings Percentage Index has been another key element of the equation for three decades, but its importance may be on the decline. As Eric Prisbell reports:

Since 1981, the NCAA tournament selection committee has used the Ratings Percentage Index as its mathematical formula to evaluate teams, and for the entirety of its existence, it has been assailed by fans and coaches whose schools did not fare well by its metrics. But now, after more than three decades of influence, its rivals are gaining popularity and its critics are growing louder, sending a blunt message to the three most controversial, misunderstood letters in college basketball:

RIP, RPI.

The debate over the RPI’s use rages with heightened volume this season because there have never been more evaluation tools accessible to the general public, much less to the 10-member committee soon to be sequestered in an Indianapolis hotel.

Unlike when the RPI was introduced in the early 1980s, games flood television airwaves and statistics are readily available at the click of a mouse, providing countless opportunities to assess teams from leagues famous and obscure. And in a metric-crazed era that former Maryland coach Gary Williams once deemed the “Revenge of the Nerds,” more sophisticated ratings systems, in the eyes of many, have rendered the RPI antiquated and insufficient.

No one painted a more visual image of the RPI as a relic than Scott Van Pelt, the ESPN personality who, in calling it the worst metric in sports during a seven-minute radio rant, likened the reliance on the RPI to a man “walking around with a big Walkman on his hip the size of his toaster, who is flipping over his cassette tape, who wants to run home to program his VCR on his standard-definition television.”

The NCAA’s view of the RPI is conflicted. While examining potential NCAA tournament teams, selection committee members study team profiles that are broken down by victories over specific sub-groups of the RPI, such as wins over teams ranked in the top 50. At the same time, officials attempt to distance themselves from the RPI, saying they don’t rely on a team’s individual rating or a conference’s RPI and that they consider a handful of metrics.

What’s more, Jeff Hathaway, the selection committee chairman, said that how a team appears to the eye is “crucial,” adding that “we need to go beyond the numbers.”

RPI may not mean much for the top-line teams, but while top-ranked Kentucky and No. 2 Syracuse appear to have No. 1 seeds locked up, there are several schools jockeying for the final two spots behind them. As Eric Prisbell reports:

We are now less than one week away from Selection Sunday, so the picture of the NCAA tournament field is beginning to come into view. The Big Ten remains the strongest conference in the country from top to bottom, but the parity at the top of the league could very well cost it a No. 1 seed. After Ohio State beat Michigan State on Sunday, there is a three-way tie atop the standings as Ohio State, Michigan State andMichigan all have 13-5 league marks. Wisconsin finished just one game back at 12-6. Here’s a look at the No. 1 NCAA tournament seeds as of Monday:

Kentucky (30-1)

Yeah, really going out on a limb here. This is the best Kentucky team in at least 16 years.

Syracuse (30-1)

Remember, the only loss - against Notre Dame - came with 7-footer Fab Melo out of the lineup.

Kansas (26-5)

After entering the season with lukewarm expectations, Coach Bill Self turned in one of his best coaching jobs. Will the Jayhawks be placed in the St. Louis Region or the Phoenix Region?

North Carolina (27-4)

Don’t start crunching RPI numbers with this team, just open your eyes. The Tar Heels are clearly one of the nation’s four best teams.

Speaking of college basketball’s strongest conference, the Big Ten tournament begins Thursday with a triumvirate of regular season champions trying to distinguish themselves with a run to the title. But while Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan hope to battle it out until Sunday, Northwestern likely needs to win one — or possibly two — games to reach the program’s first ever NCAA tournament. As Cindy Boren and Matt Brooks reported:

It’s extremely unlikely to happen, but the Michigan Wolverines probably should send the Ohio State Buckeyes a fruit basket or a nice candy-gram.

After the Wolverines beat Penn State 71-65, they were left to wait and watch and hope for an OSU win over Michigan State on Sunday. It wasn’t easy to endure, but they got what they needed as Ohio State rallied to for a 72-70 win that left MSU, OSU and Michigan all tied at the top of the Big Ten with 13-5 records.

“I was going crazy, man, No. 1,” Michigan’s Zack Novak said. “I was standing in the video room with my shirt off on my head, jumping on chairs, going crazy. On the bus [to Ann Arbor], we told the bus driver to drive fast, he was driving too slow. It was nerve-wracking.”

The conference tournament begins Thursday and Michigan State, the No. 1 seed with a 24-7 record, plays the winner of the Iowa-Illinois game on Friday. No. 2 Michigan (23-8) plays the Northwestern-Minnesotawinner Friday and No. 3 OSU (25-6) plays the Purdue-Nebraska winner Friday.

The Spartans aren’t rolling into tournament play; they coughed up a 15-point lead against the Buckeyes and lost freshman Branden Dawson to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. ESPN, in fact, has Ohio State atop its conference power rankings, with Michigan No. 2 and MSU No. 3.

The Spartans had a two-game lead in the conference with two regular-season games left and lost to Indiana before falling to OSU. The Buckeyes, who lost last week to Wisconsin, “never thought Michigan State would let their guard down against Indiana and give us a chance to play for a share of the Big Ten title,” Jared Sullinger said. “With them doing that, there's nothing better.”

Hands down the best conference in the country this season, the Big Ten could get as many as seven NCAA tournament bids. The Spartans, Buckeyes, Wolverines, Wisconsin BadgersIndiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers are all considered locks, and Northwestern helped itself with a big road win at Iowa to close out the regular season. But for the Wildcats to make their first NCAA tournament field ever, they probably need to beat Minnesota on Thursday and avoid a blowout loss to Michigan. Beating the Wolverines would likely ensure their spot in the field.

More from Washington Post Sports:

No shortage of alternatives to using the RPI to find the best teams in college basketball

UNC’s Tyler Zeller, Harrison Barnes, John Henson named to all-ACC first team

Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, Kansas’s Thomas Robinson battling for national player of the year

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