History told us that the traditional cutline falls somewhere around the shaded area on the chart below. The teams to the left were safe, with only rare exceptions. The teams to the right? Far more often than not, they didn’t need their dancing shoes.
More specifically, history told us that any team with an RPI of 30 or better would be securely locked into the bracket. And then the committee excluded the Colorado State Rams and their No. 29 ranking in the RPI from last year’s field.
History told us that any team with an RPI of 60 or worse would need a minor miracle to make the bracket. And then the committee doubled the total number of RPI 60-plus teams to ever earn at-large bids from two to four in 2015, inviting Ole Miss (RPI 60) and Indiana (RPI 61) last season.
What does that all mean for Selection Sunday 2016? For starters, it means the following teams are going to be extremely interesting to monitor when the bracket is finally revealed. Here’s how history says their fates will unfurl, along with a best guess as to where they project based on the committee’s altered emphases from 2015.
Their RPI has benefited from the Pac-12’s insane strength of schedule that was only honed into an abominable snowman by the snowballing effect of conference play. On Sunday morning, half the conference resided in the Top 50 of the RPI, which has helped mask some unsightly numbers once you peel back a layer of Oregon State’s resume.
The knock on the Beavers is simple — they can’t win away from their home court in Corvallis. They posted a 4-8 road record this season, and none of those road Ws will impress anyone. Their KenPom rating hovers at 60, a huge disparity from their impressive RPI ranking, and a factor the tournament committee seemed to weigh more heavily in their decisions last season.
Could Oregon State be the first major-conference team to miss a 68-team tournament with an RPI in the Top 50? Probably not. The Post bracket projections from Patrick Stevens have them in the field, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi likewise has them in. It would be pretty stunning to see a team with a strength of schedule ranking in the top 20 (No. 14) shut out from the field after the committee seemed to emphasize it so much last year.
History says: In | Projection: In
St. Bonaventure | RPI: 29
Again, the emphasis on advanced metrics would be bad news for a bubble team, as the Bonnies sit 78th in the KenPom.com rankings. But their RPI puts them in near-lock territory, based on history. As noted above, just one Top 30 team (Colorado State and its triple-digit strength of schedule) has missed the field since 2011. That omission seemed to be directly related to soft scheduling. The Bonnies’ slate wasn’t particularly strong (82nd nationally) but nor will it be a selling point for advocates.
Further scuffing the picture in the crystal ball: Two of the top-30 RPI teams — Louisville and SMU — are ineligible for postseason play. Will it help if St. Bonaventure is the 27th-best eligible team in the RPI?
History says: In | Projection: In
Again we get back to scheduling. The committee showed a preference last year for teams that scheduled well, even if they didn’t win. If there was one thing Monmouth did well this season, it was to construct a formidable schedule that challenged some of the biggest brand names in college basketball.
Even though their wins over UCLA and Georgetown lost some luster with the downfall of those two teams, the Hawks still boast wins over Notre Dame, USC and nearly toppled Dayton … and all three of those games came on a neutral court. For a non-power conference team to schedule that well and then have that level of success is exceptional. Losing to Canisius, Army and Manhattan, however … less than stellar. But if the committee wants to reward smaller schools that will travel to take on anyone, the Hawks will be in the field. History says otherwise, but personally, I think they’ll get the nod.
History says: Out | Projection: In
The Gaels are an interesting chicken vs. egg argument for the committee. Saint Mary’s had zero Top-50 RPI wins entering the WCC final against Gonzaga, which the Gaels lost after beating the Zags twice during the regular season. The bump from the WCC title win pushed Gonzaga into the Top 50. Lo and behold, Saint Mary’s now enters Selection Sunday with two wins over the RPI Top 50. (Now see why everyone hates the RPI?)
KenPom is picking up what the Gaels have put down this season though, ranking them 33rd. Their RPI of 37 is strong, but not traditionally a lock for teams outside of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the six traditional power conferences.
With San Diego State falling in the Mountain West Conference final, it could very well come down to which team the committee prefers for an at-large bid. The Aztecs have a better strength of schedule — 53rd compared to St. Mary’s 149 — and a win over a common opponent to which the Gaels lost (Cal). But San Diego State has more losses and (by far) the worst between the two teams after falling to San Diego (RPI 302). This is going to be a really tough call. And if Memphis beats Connecticut in the American Conference final Sunday to steal a bid, they could both be NIT-bound.
History says: Not likely | Projection: In
Akron is likely to be the highest ranked team in the RPI to miss the cut this year. Top 40 rankings have traditionally only proven safe for major conference teams, so losing the MAC final to Buffalo will likely cost the Zips a spot on the dance card. There’s no mitigating help from KenPom (85th), their strength of schedule (125th) or their 0-1 record against the RPI Top 50.
History says: Not likely | Projection: Out
Did someone say strength of schedule? The Gators rank 11th nationally in that category. That’s good. They also lost 14 times. That’s bad. But it’s not terminal. Five at-large teams have made the field with that many defeats since 2011.
They carry only two Top-50 RPI wins into decision day, the same number as fellow bubble teams Vanderbilt, St. Mary’s and Pittsburgh. But the Gators boast, by far, the best SOS of those three teams. Will that give them the edge?
History says: Coin flip | Projection: Out
There was very little that was special about the Wolverines’ profile until they upset regular season conference champ Indiana in the Big Ten tournament. But even then they carry a 4-11 record against the RPI 100 into Selection Sunday. A strength of schedule ranking of 51 is okay, but not a major differentiator. But aside from Connecticut’s three-quarter court season-saving heave, there aren’t many bubble teams with a more memorable win than the Wolverines’ upset of the Hoosiers. The recency effect will be put to the test here.
History says: About 78% in, based on history | Projection: In
A major-conference team with only eight losses should be a shoo-in for the field of 68. But consider this: The Gamecocks enter Selection Sunday with an RPI of 65, which historically makes them a longshot. Second, they have just one win over a top-50 RPI team. Even if that did come on the road against Texas A&M, that’s worrisome, especially when they only played two top-5o teams all season. That’s contributed to the not-so-small matter that their SOS ranks 169th.
This feels very similar to what SMU faced when the Mustangs missed the cut in 2014 despite being ranked in the AP Top 25. If the selection committee is serious about making a statement on the importance of scheduling, barring a team that started 15-0 thanks in large part to a non-conference schedule that ranked 297th would probably be as powerful a statement as the committee could make.
History says: Longshot | Projection: Out
Ever since the Big East broke up, it’s been an open question of just how the committee would regard the power of the American Athletic Conference. We should find out definitively Sunday.
Only major-conference teams have made the tournament as at-large bids with an RPI this high since the field expanded to 68. But five wins against the RPI Top 50 are impressive. Also consider that the Owls won the regular season title. If the committee considers a conference to be a power conference, there’s no way a regular season champion misses the cut.
History says: Coin flip| Projection: One of the last teams in
It seems pretty clear that the committee will not show the Orange any leniency for their performance while Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim sat out due to his NCAA-mandated suspension. But it’s not like the Orange lit it up once the coach returned to the sidelines either.
Syracuse would be the highest RPI team to make the bracket since the field expanded to 68 and the first to carry a ranking in the 70s. The case for their inclusion? A KenPom ranking of 40 and wins away from home against Duke, Connecticut and Texas A&M, three of Syracuse’s five wins against the RPI Top 50.
History says: Way out | Projection: Out, but closer than you’d think