Sunday, March 11, 2007

RPI Means RIP for the Zips

If you're a fan of the Akron Zips, you probably think that the only things missing from yesterday's MAC championship game were Alexander Belov and Soviet bloc officials. As disheartening as the loss to Miami was, the worst for Akron fans is yet to come. Despite winning 26 games this season, the Zips are likely to find themselves on the outside looking in when it comes to this year's NCAA tournament.

Coach Keith Dambrot is lobbying hard for an at-large NCAA bid, and Terry Pluto agrees that the Zips deserve one. That probably isn't going to happen. Sure, the MAC sent Miami to the Sweet 16 in 1999 and Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002, and yeah, MAC teams have been a thorn in the side of higher-seeded opponents in almost every other tourney appearance in recent years (Kent's 2001 victory over Indiana, Central Michigan's 2003 defeat of sixth-seeded Creighton and Ohio's five point first round loss to fourth-seeded Florida in 2005 all come to mind), but give them more than one bid? You've got to be kidding. After all, what would Billy Packer say?

It's all in the numbers when it comes to an at-large berth for a team like Akron, but unfortunately, the numbers that count the most aren't wins and losses. What matters is RPI, and the Zips are lacking in that category. As of last week, Akron had an RPI of 68, and that is not likely to be enough to get them a bid. Good news though -- thanks to RPI and a big reputation, we'll get to see Duke play for a change. The Blue Satans, despite finishing 6th in the ACC with an 8-8 record and being bounced in the first round of the ACC tournament, had an RPI of 14 last week and are a lead pipe cinch to get a bid.

As much as I hate Duke, I'd be more upset if teams like Clemson or Florida State made the dance at the Zips' expense. If you check out the ACC standings, both of these teams have losing conference records. Clemson started 17-0, and just totally collapsed down the stretch, but it had an RPI last week of 42, while the Seminoles had an RPI of 51. Clemson's loss to Florida State means that they're probably out, but the Seminoles are likely to find themselves with an RPI in the mid-40s to go along with their 20-12 record. Teams that win 20 games and have an RPI in the 40s usually have a fighting chance for an at-large bid. If that holds up, and NC State upsets North Carolina today, then the ACC could send as many as eight teams to the tournament this season.

That's a ridiculous number of teams for a conference that shows a lot of signs of living off its reputation. Only one ACC team is ranked in the top 10 and the two or three others who cracked the top 20 all lost in the preliminary rounds of the conference tournament. The ACC pissed and moaned when "only" four of its teams made last year's tournament. If they get seven or eight places this year at the expense of a team like Akron (or, even worse, teams like Butler and Southern Illinois) then they ought to hang their heads in shame.


Ben said...

No NCAA? I'm not pleased, but I can understand. No NIT? For shame!

Erik said...

In five years, when the NIT is pared down to 16 teams and they start playing the first-round games in high-school gyms, not even Toledo will make it in.

Maybe the NIT selection committee did Akron a favor. They saved Akron an extra road trip, during which they likely would have gotten bounced by a middle-of-the-pack major conference team in the first round of a tournament that nobody besides total hoops junkies watch with any degree of real interest.

Once a legit postseason invitational, the NIT is now simply the consolation bracket for the NCAAs, and each year, it gets a little less relevant. At some point, the tourney administrators might just decide to pull the plug.