Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Arkansas gives hope to all the undeserving

For the most part, the NCAA Selection Committee did a very fine job selecting the 34 at-large teams. Since the Committee and I agreed on 33 of the 34 at-large selections, you might have guessed that I would have complimentary things to say following Selection Sunday. In a way, it actually made last season’s atrocious job look even worse. For instance, how does Air Force not get in after getting in last year? Don’t get me wrong—Air Force did not deserve a bid this season after choking away its season over the last couple weeks. However, Air Force’s 2007 resume was vastly more impressive than its 2006 resume. The ’06 squad had zero wins over NCAA Tournament teams. The ’07 squad had five. The ’06 squad had an RPI of 50. The ’07 squad had an RPI of 30. The ’06 squad had three wins in the RPI80. The ’07 squad had six wins in the RPI80. Air Force was only the beginning of the Selection Committee’s faux pas’ last year. Thankfully, the committee only made one such mistake this year—albeit an extremely glaring one.

I’m not as bothered this season simply because there weren’t any teams that didn’t make it that really belonged. Sure, there were six or seven teams that had beefs but they all had their chance to avoid the “bubble” and they all failed to cement their status as a “lock”. The reason why I was so disgruntled last season was because there were so many teams that should have made it over teams that did make it. This year, there is just one team that had no business making it. Any number of the six or seven “bubble” teams that did not make the field would have been fine. The only choice the committee could have made to make it not fine would be the team it ended up choosing: the Arkansas Razorbacks.

How this team garnered an at-large invitation is beyond me. The popular belief has been that Arkansas earned its spot in the tournament by embarking on a five game winning streak near the end of the season. I suppose a five-game winning streak could be impressive if it weren’t against a collection of average to below-average SEC teams. Since when did beating Mississippi St. twice, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt twice constitute a brutal, season defining stretch? What troubles me is that the head of the Selection Committee, Gary Walters, said that Arkansas was in before it even played in the SEC Championship game unless NC State upset North Carolina in the ACC Championship game. That makes me think that instead of waiting to see if Arkansas stole an automatic bid away from another team (i.e. Syracuse, Kansas St., Drexel), the Committee just decided it would just throw Arkansas in and not have to worry about it. You’ll never get anyone on the committee to admit that but that is the only sane explanation that I can come up with to justify Arkansas’ inclusion. Or, maybe the fact that the SEC had a representative in the ears of the Selection Committee while the Big East chose not to had something to with it.

Arkansas wasn’t even on the radar one week ago. That is why their five-game winning streak bothers me so much. It’s not as if Arkansas was 50/50 a week ago and then won five games in a row. That would at least be somewhat acceptable. Arkansas was headed to the NIT and everyone knew it—except, of course, the Selection Committee. How can a team that was universally slated to the NIT earn an at-large bid by winning five games in a row against a group of teams with an RPI no better than 47? A lot has been made of Arkansas’ march to the SEC Championship game. Few teams in NCAA history had an easier route to a major conference championship game. Yet somehow, Arkansas parlayed a modest five-game winning streak and a blow-out loss in the SEC Final into an NCAA bid.

As far as I’m concerned, any of the following teams were better choices than Arkansas: Syracuse, Drexel, Kansas St., and West Virginia. Like I said earlier, I don’t really feel bad for any of those teams because none of them had stellar seasons. But, it’s not fair to them that a team got in with an inferior resume. Since I had Syracuse in the tournament, I obviously feel they had the best resume of the bunch. So, I’ll do a little Arkansas-Syracuse comparison. I cannot come up with a single reason why Arkansas should be in over Syracuse other than having a better RPI.


Arkansas lost to 9 of 11 SEC teams.

No team in the SEC West made the Tournament with the exception of Arkansas AND there was only one team lower in the SEC West standings than Arkansas. How does that happen?

Arkansas only beat three tournament teams (Vandy (2) and Southern Illinois).

Arkansas went from Nov 23 to March 3 without beating a single NCAA Tournament team. I'm guessing that the 2006 Air Force team is the only other at-large selection to have such a futile streak.

Arkansas went 4-6 against Tournament teams.

Arkansas had one victory inside the RPI 45.

Arkansas was essentially awarded an at-large bid for finishing the season on a five-game winning streak which culminated in a thumping at the hands of Florida. The five game winning streak came against the powerhouse lineup of Mississippi St., Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi St. It’s too bad every bubble team can’t finish the season with a five-game stretch like that to cement a bid.

Four other SEC teams made the NCAA Tournament other than Arkansas. Arkansas only had to play each team once. Yet, Arkansas still only managed a 7-9 conference record. Compare that to Georgia which finished 8-8 in the conference while playing NINE games against the SEC teams that are in the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas had 12 conference games against teams that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.

Arkansas went 2-8 in true road games.

Arkansas was 6-4 in its last ten.

Arkansas went 9-10 after Jan 9.

Before Arkansas was bailed out by an incredibly easy SEC Tournament draw, it had finished the season on a 6-9 stretch.


Syracuse lost to 6 of 15 Big East teams.

Syracuse finished 5th in the Big East—tied with Marquette and one spot ahead of Villanova.

Syracuse beat five tournament teams including the Big East regular season and tournament champ Georgetown.

Syracuse went 5-5 against NCAA Tournament teams.

Syracuse had three victories in the RPI22

Syracuse went 11-6 after Jan 7.

Syracuse was 7-3 in its last ten.

Syracuse had nine conference games against teams that didn’t make the Tournament

Syracuse went 5-4 in true road games.


Nick said...

Great job with the projections this year.

I've been skeptical of the RPI. How is it calculated? If I had to guess, there must be past seasons' data in there. IIRC, at one point towards the end of the season, the SEC had Florida at #1, Tennessee at #10, and Kentucky at #11 in the RPI, or something like that. Considering the SEC's success last season (Florida, LSU... even South Carolina racking up some wins in the NIT), I wonder how much the RPI was weighted "towards" the SEC this year? It might take a rocket scientist to figure it out, but I'd be interested to see the results behind the RPI formula.

Jake said...

Thanks dawg,

The RPI is: (.25 x Winning percentage) + (.25 x Opponent's Strength of Schedule) + (.50 x Strength of Schedule)

I don't believe last year's results are taken into consideration. I think they are taken into consideration on Ken Pomeroy's adjusted RPI ratings.

The biggest complaint I have of the RPI is not taking into consideration margin of victory. That is beyond absurd. It doesn't matter if you go on the road and lose at #1 by one point or forty points. They both have the same effect. It's basically all or none.

I do really like the fact that the RPI counts a home win as .6 and a road win as 1.4. It makes sense to reward teams for winning on the road.

Here is more information on how the RPI is calculated. Like I said, I think it's a very good system with one major flaw.



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