After defeating the Seattle U. Redhawks, the University of Washington basketball team has an RPI rank of 35. How does that “35” compare to other UW teams that played in the NCAA Tournament?
First, a definition. The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is a formula used by the NCAA to aide in selecting teams and seedings for the NCAA Tournament. Computer generated, RPI is made up of a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponents’ winning percentage (50%), and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents (25%).
In 2004, RPI was modified to account for differences in home and away games. A home win now counts as 0.6 win, while a road win counts as 1.4 wins. Conversely, a home loss equals 1.4 losses, while a road loss counts as 0.6 loss.
An RPI rank of 35 (nationally) isn’t bad when you consider that in 2010 the Huskies had an RPI rank of 34 and reached the Sweet Sixteen after stirring victories over Marquette and New Mexico. But an RPI rank over 30 simply won’t cut it if a team has designs on advancing farther in the NCAA Tournament than the Sweet Sixteen.
Lots of people have lots of problems with the RPI measurement for lots of reasons. Disagree with the evidence if you will.
Since RPI rankings came into vogue a little more than decade ago, the Huskies have made seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The following were Washington’s RPI national rankings in those years, what happened in the tournament, and where the Huskies are today:
- 1998: Record: 20-10; RPI: 37: Result: Reached Sweet 16, lost to Connecticut
- 1999: Record: 17-12; RPI: 34; Result: Ousted in 1st round by Miami of Ohio
- 2004: Record: 19-12; RPI: 63; Result: Ousted in 1st round by UAB
- 2005: Record: 29-6; RPI: 6; Result: Reached Sweet 16, lost to Louisville
- 2006: Record: 26-7; RPI: 35; Result: Reached Sweet 16, lost to Connecticut
- 2009: Record: 26-9; RPI: 14; Result: Lost 2nd round to Purdue
- 2010: Record 26-10; RPI: 34; Result: Reached Sweet 16, lost to West Virginia
- 2011: Record: 18-8; RPI: 35: Result: To be determined
This would suggest that Washington, with a current 35 RPI ranking, can’t expect to go much farther than the Sweet Sixteen this season, if that. But that also depends on the UW’s seeding, where the NCAA sends the Huskies to play, and the matchup they get — if they get one (they probably will).
At the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Washington seemed to be a viable candidate to reach the Elite Eight. The Huskies had a proficient point guard in Abdul Gaddy, a shot-blocking center in Aziz N’Diaye, a good inside player in Matthew Bryan-Amaning, as well as a great shooting guard, Isaiah Thomas — attributes, historically, of Elite Eight-caliber teams.
In addition, before Pac-10 play started, the Huskies had scored more than 100 points in a game three times. They suffered narrow losses to nationally ranked teams twice, in the Maui Invitational, but those defeats mainly encouraged the optimistic view that UW would improve as the season advanced. Alas, it hasn’t.
The Huskies lost Gaddy to injury. N’Diaye emerged as more of an offensive project than anyone imagined, and still isn’t where he — or the Huskies — need him to be. Bryan-Amaning disappeared in several games. While the Huskies have won every home game by at least 10 points, they have had major trouble winning on the road, and they simply can’t win a close game, going 1-7 in such contests.
The Huskies now barely seem to be Sweet 16 material, based on RPI rankings. As far as being Elite Eight material, RPI says it’s not going to happen.
Last year, when Duke won the NCAA Tournament after posting a No. 2 RPI ranking during the regular season, the team with the highest RPI in the Elite Eight was Michigan State, which had a ranking of 19. A year earlier, 2009, the team with the highest RPI rank in the Elight Eight was Villanova at No. 13.
Since 2000, these Elite Eight teams had the highest RPI rankings:
- 2000: North Carolina, 27.
- 2001: Southern California, 16.
- 2002: Missouri, 41.
- 2003: Kentucky, 15.
- 2004: Xavier, 30.
- 2005: West Virginia, 28.
- 2006: George Mason, 18.
- 2007: Oregon, 18.
- 2008: Davidson, 38.
- 2009: Villanova, 13.
- 2010: Michigan State, 19.
Meantime, the average RPI ranking for all Elite Eight since 2000: 17. To reiterate, Washington currently stands at No. 35.
Although Missouri (2002) and Davidson (2008) reached the Elite Eight with higher RPI rankings that the 35 Washington currently has, the average and highest-ranked Elite Eight team listed above came in at 23.9, far better than Washington’s 35.
Looked at solely through the lens of RPI, a team needs to be in single digits to become a national champion. Since 2000, NCAA Tournament winners (and their RPI rankings) have been: 2000 — Michigan State (8), 2001 — Duke (6); 2002 — Maryland (3); 2003: Syracuse (6); 2004 — Connecticut (4); 2005 — North Carolina (4); 2006 — Florida (9); 2007 — Florida (4); 2008 — Kansas (6); 2009 — North Carolina (3); 2010 — Duke (2).
Based only on RPI, the Huskies need to rise 10 places in the rankings before they can seriously think about becoming an Elite Eight team, and about 25 places before they can entertain notions of winning a national championship.
Won’t be easy.
Nobody Asks But Us is published every Wednesday as part of Sportspress Northwests package of home-page features collectively titled, The Rotation.
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- Monday: That Was The Week That Was A snarky, day-by-day review of the week just ended.
- Tuesday: Wayback Machine Sports historian David Eskenazis deep dive into local sports history, replete with photo eye candy.
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- Thursday: Water Cooloer Cool: Art Thiel takes on the weekend for the benefit of the more casual fan.
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