primer on how USU can be ranked and still get shut out
of March Madness
By Connor H. Jones
February 9, 2009 | Plenty of sports fans have become
interested in the college sports championship system
-- NCAA baseball's system where a team can lose four
times and still be champions, the endless controversy
with the BCS that even the president has thrown in his
two cents at, and of course March Madness, three weeks
of hard-fought war to crown the nation's best Division
I basketball team.
But how do the basketball teams that get to play for
that one title spot get picked, and could a team that
deserves a shot be left out?
The tournament bracket comprises 65 teams. Two teams
compete in the opening game, leaving 64 teams to play
in the first round. The 32 winning teams then make 16,
8, 4, 2, and finally the championship game.
Thirty-one of the 65 teams automatically qualify by
winning their conference, and according to the NCAA's
Web site, the selection of the remaining 34 teams is
made by the Division I Men's Basketball Committee. It
makes its decisions by studying reports from the coaches'
regional advisory committee. There is no limit to how
many teams from each conference the committee can choose,
so it often works out that six teams will be selected
from one conference, say the ACC or Big East, and the
only team representing a conference such as the WAC
will be the conference champions.
The official transcript for the NCAA Tournament structure
says, "It is the intention of the committee to select
the best at-large teams in the nation, regardless of
geographical location. There is no limit to the number
of teams the basketball committee may select from one
Is this fair?
Some Aggie fans sure don't think so. In the 2003-04
season USU's record was 25-4, and 17-1 in Big West Conference
play. Throughout the year they had been ranked in the
AP poll, and on Feb. 9 they were ranked as high at No.
19. They ended up finishing the season tied for first
in the conference but because they lost in the Big West
Tournament they missed out on an automatic NCAA bid.
And although they had one of the top 20 records in the
nation, sixth-best winning percentage, seventh-best
defense, sixth-best road record, and sixth-longest winning
streak that season, they were still snubbed out of a
A couple of the contributing factors the committee
looks into while making their decisions are stats like
the RPI and the SOS.
According to Sports Illustrated.com, "the Rating Percentage
Index (RPI) has been used by the NCAA since 1981 to
supplement the selection of at-large teams and the seeding
of all teams for the NCAA basketball tournament. This
list is an independent duplication of the RPI without
input from the NCAA, which does not release the RPI
to the public. It is derived from three component factors:
-Division I winning percentage (25 percent)
-Schedule Strength (50 percent)
-Opponent's schedule strength (25 percent)"
The RPI formula is 1/4x(Winning Percentage) + 1/2x(Opponents'
Average Winning Percentage) + 1/4x(Opponents' Opponents'
Utah State's current RPI ranking is 33 in the nation.
That's behind in-state rivals BYU (32) and Utah (12).
SOS refers to each team's strength of schedule. The
SOS is the last two components of the RPI formula: (2/3)xOpponents
winning percentage + (1/3)xOpponents opponents winning
The strength of schedule is often Utah State's downfall.
This season USU's strength of schedule is ranked 287
out of 344. It's hard to impress the selection committee
when the hardest team played is in-state rival Brigham
Young. Columnists and NCAA fanatics around the country
often criticize Coach Stew Morrill's easy schedule.
"Morrill has built a pretty good program in Logan,
but it could be so much more," Adam Papagiorigo a columnist
for fanhouse.com, said. "Utah State does have all of
those 20-win seasons. None of them are that impressive.
Morrill seems obsessed with winning 20 games. Not so
obsessed with playing the best schedule possible.
"The Aggies have not played a team currently
ranked in the Top 25. There are the rivalry games against
BYU and Utah, but that's about it. Weber State, Cal
Poly, Utah Valley State, Idaho State, Howard and Houston
Baptist are not going to impress the NCAA Tournament
selection committee. And what's funny is that Utah State
thinks it is getting into automatic bid territory,"
And the fact is Papagiorigo is right. Although the
24 wins of seasons such as 2004 sound impressive, how
can the committee take a serious look at USU when its
24 wins come against teams such as Long Beach State,
San Fransisco, Fort Lewis College and Jackson State?
So although Aggie fans might pout, moan, blame the
selection committee and the made-up formulas like the
RPI and SOS for not being picked to play in the Big
Dance, could the blame really be on Coach Morrill's
concern about traveling to schools such as Gonzaga,
UCLA and UConn?