The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses the RPI as a "tool." They've been notoriously vague as to their criteria and over the years they've shown themselves to be tools as well. With the move to the ACC I've been paying extra attention to the RPI this season. For the most part the ACC has been a 4 or 5 bid league the last few years, and as a mediocre 4 or 5 bid league I figured SU's RPI would likely suffer with the watered down conference slate. How much is yet to be seen.
This year (and hopefully every year here after) it doesn't look like it'll matter much. Winning 25+ regular season games tends to have that affect. But at some point in the future we may slog through a season that sees us go 10-8 in conference play and actually sweat the bubble again. So just how much does the RPI Matter?
The answer is a lot. In fact over the last five years no team from a power conference that should of been in the field of 65/68 based strictly on the RPI, has missed the field of 65/68. In contrast, the committee has not reached outside of the RPI projected field to include a mid/low major. In fact over the last five Tournaments, there have been only 15 total deviations from the RPI for at-large bids, and all 15 of those went in favor of power conferences at the expense of a mid or low major. More interesting, is that the number of deviations has been shrinking over the last few seasons. Below is a break down of the last five NCAA Tournament Fields vs. the RPI Rankings:
2013 NCAA Tournament vs. 2013 RPI: 1 deviation
Based on the RPI, the cut off should have been a ranking of 50. That's 37 at-large bids, plus the 13 automatic qualifiers that fell into that range. The Selection Committee only made 1 deviation from what the RPI said the field should be.
Snubs: #31 Southern Miss (C-USA)
Gift: #52 Villanova (Big East)
2012 NCAA Tournament vs. 2012 RPI: 2 deviations (RPI cut-off was #51)
Snubs: #44 Marshall (C-USA), #48 Oral Roberts (Summit)
Gifts: #52 South Florida (Big East), #53 Virginia (ACC)
2011 NCAA Tournament vs. 2011 RPI: 5 deviations (RPI cut-off was #50)
Snubs: #35 Harvard (Ivy), #42 Cleveland St. (Horizon), #43 Missouri State (MVC), #46 St. Mary's (WCC), #50 Colorado State (MWC)
Gifts: #52 Michigan (Big Ten), #55 Florida State (ACC), #57 Clemson (ACC), #64 Marquette (Big East), #67 Southern Cal (Pac)
2010 NCAA Tournament vs. 2010 RPI: 4 deviations (RPI cut-off was #48)
Snubs: #40 Rhode Island (Atlantic 10), #43 Wichita State (MVC), #45 UAB (C-USA), #47 Kent State (MAC)
Gifts: #49 Notre Dame (Big East), #50 Marquette (Big East), #56 Florida (SEC), #62 Minnesota (Big Ten)
2009 NCAA Tournament vs. 2009 RPI: 3 deviations (RPI cut-off was #46)
Snubs: #34 San Diego State (MWC), #40 Creighton (MVC), #46 UAB (C-USA)
Gifts: #55 Maryland (ACC), #60 Boston College (ACC), #62 Arizona (Pac)
Snubs By Conference
Conference USA: 4
Missouri Valley: 3
Mountain West: 2
Horizon, Summit, Mid Am,, Atlantic 10, Ivy, WCC: 1
Gifts by Conference:
Big East: 5
Big Ten: 2
Pac Ten: 2
1. Southern Miss 2013: 19 spots
2. Harvard 2011: 15 spots
3. San Diego State 2009: 12 spots
1. Southern Cal 2011: 17 spots
2. Arizona 2009: 16 spots
3. Marq '13, Minnesota '10: 14 spots
So while the RPI may just be a "tool," over the last five years 164 of 170 (92%) potential At-Large bids have been given out exactly the way the RPI says they should (seedings are another issue). More telling yet, is that without exception the only deviations made have been to snub a mid/low major in favor of a school from a major conference. While this may be alarming for principles such as fairness, merit, and objectivity, I don't care about any of those things. I only care about Syracuse. So it's nice to see the Orange are on the right side of the Committee's bias. But recent trends also suggest the RPI is a much more important "tool" than it used to be and is worth monitoring. Less we end up like those guys below (2011 St. Mary's).
It's also a pretty severe indictment of that fat self-important butthead Joe Lunardi. Using just the RPI and knowing the 31 automatic qualifiers your mother in-law could pick 65-66 of the 68 teams in the field. Paying off the travel secretaries of the typical 4 or 5 teams vying for the last 2 or 3 spots (play-in teams get notified early to make travel arrangements to Dayton) with ESPN swag, tickets, or maybe even cash would let you fill in the other 2 or 3 teams. It's not science, it's just exploiting the ignorance of the television viewing public.