Florida's up to No. 3 in the Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI, this week, a great place for the Gators to be. That lofty ranking should help Florida secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it keeps winning.
The RPI — usually just RPI, without an article — is a tool the NCAA uses to determine how good a team is based on strength of schedule, and it's got a deceptively complex formula: it's 25 percent a team's winning percentage, 50 percent a team's opponents' winning percentage, and 25 percent those opponents' opponents' winning percentage. Oh, and wins are worth 0.6 at home and 1.4 on the road.
So all you really have to do to calculate RPI on your own is to have a floating calculation of thousands of different teams' winning percentages based on arbitrary values for home and road victories. It's easy, really ... to see why everyone hates RPI. It's not opaque, but its complexity is both needless and misguided, considering that winning percentage, even adjusted for strength of schedule, is far from the best indicator of a team's caliber.
That said, it's a great thing that Florida gets to beat its chest about its own RPI right now. It might not get any better in the near future.
You see, Florida's win over Ole Miss, coupled with the Rebels' loss to Kentucky, sent Marshall Henderson's brigade tumbling 12 spots, from No. 31 in last week's RPI to No. 43 as of Monday. And Florida's second-best SEC win took a hit, too, as Missouri fell to LSU and dropped to No. 35 in RPI. Kentucky is on the rise, but the Wildcats' two road wins, one over Mississippi, were only enough to get them to No. 46 after a 16-spot jump.
Simply put, there's a cliff between Florida and the next SEC team in the RPI. And of the conferences with teams in the top 20 of the current RPI, only the West Coast (48 spots from No. 10 Gonzaga to No. 58 St. Mary's) and Ohio Valley (65 spots from No. 18 Belmont to No. 83 Eastern Kentucky) have wider gulfs between their top team and their second-best team.
This matters because the NCAA Tournament selection committee doesn't just look at RPI when determining seeding: The committee also X-rays résumés for top-notch wins, especially ones against the RPI top 50 and RPI top 100, and looks down on teams that beat up on teams outside the RPI top 200, ones that almost never make the NCAA Tournament. And Florida's RPI may look good now, but it has surprisingly few high-grade victories.
Florida's only played one team in the RPI top 10, Arizona, and lost to it. It's not that uncommon to have not played a team in the current RPI top 10 — neither No. 5 New Mexico nor No. 10 Gonzaga has — but it's rare to be in the top five without a huge win or a number of big wins, like New Mexico's over RPI top 25 teams Colorado State, UNLV, Connecticut, and Cincinnati, or Gonzaga's over Oklahoma and Kansas State. Florida's best win is over No. 16 Marquette (the Eagles' strong start to Big East play has been a huge boost), but its next best win is over No. 32 Middle Tennessee State, and it lost to No. 24 Kansas State; the Gators are 1-2 against the RPI top 25, 5-2 against the top 50, and, incredibly, just 7-2 against the top 100, with only seven SEC teams making the cut in that top 100 and only three (Missouri, Mississippi, and Texas A&M) showing up on Florida's schedule so far.
Compare that to No. 2 RPI Miami's performance, and it looks inferior at first: The Hurricanes are 1-1 against the top 10, and 3-1 against the top 25. But they're 4-1 against the top 50, 7-3 against the top 100, and have benefited from some good fortune: While there are just six ACC teams in the top 100, Miami's already played and beaten all of the other ones.
Smart scheduling against La Salle and Charlotte helped the 'Canes pick up two more quality wins in non-conference play, and Miami's top 100 record would look even better at 8-2 had it only taken care of Florida Gulf Coast, but that 63-51 road loss, assumed to be an albatross early in the year, looks more and more like the class of the Atlantic Sun catching Miami at home, and those Eagles played a nutty schedule (at Duke, at St. John's, at Iowa State) that has helped keep their RPI healthy despite a number of non-conference losses.
But, because the RPI ratings are so interconnected to opponents' performance, Miami's getting a ton of help from No. 1 Duke just like Duke is getting help from Miami. The Blue Devils are 2-1 against the RPI top 10, and 4-2 against the top 20, two very good marks, but while they're still just 4-2 against the top 50, they're a staggering 10-2 against the top 100, thanks to wins in home games against teams like Temple and Santa Clara that will play Duke for the money and the cachet of playing Duke. Playing a good team that played a good schedule helps a ton in the world of RPI even before factoring in the result of the game, and Duke and Miami both benefited from the 'Canes' romp in Coral Gables, bizarre as it sounds.
Florida doesn't have a dance partner like that, and, frankly, it won't get one. Kentucky and/or Missouri could win out in the SEC and never crack the top 10 of the RPI, and Marquette's got an uphill road to being in it, even though the Eagles get both Pittsburgh and Syracuse at home. Middle Tennessee State is in the same boat as any SEC team trying to rise, and Wisconsin's too far back of the best in the Big Ten for that.
So the Gators' fervent hope has to be that the SEC as a whole gets better, and that its non-conference foes don't pile up the losses, and that the teams SEC teams played in non-conference play play well, and that their own merciless romp through the conference doesn't kill their foes' RPI like it did Mississippi's. Oh, and they have to hope that there aren't four other great teams in the big conferences that climb the RPI rankings with big wins over other good teams in conference.
That's a lot of stuff to hope for, and it's clear that Florida's the best team that will have to hope many things outside its control break right to get a No. 1 seed. This No. 3 perch in the RPI is fine for now, and suggests that Florida is in line for one of those top seeds.
But that perch is only temporary.
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