RPI Currently Has Kansas Ranked Higher Than Duke or Virginia

By Jason Lisk
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Three college basketball teams remain undefeated as we head into the first full week of January. Kentucky is the clear #1 team, and the ACC has two of them: Duke and Virginia. Both programs have plenty of quality wins this year, so there really is no debate that they both have earned their spots.

Oh.

I’m just going to bookmark this one, because I remember a few years ago debating with Seth Davis after he tweeted, “I don’t get the argument that NCAA should value Pomeroy ratings ahead of RPI. Would you rather be efficient and lose or inefficient and win?”

Currently, the Pomeroy rankings have Kentucky-Virginia-Duke as 1-2-3 in the rankings. That’s also the order that Sagarin has.

At least the RPI entering conference play has Virginia just ahead of 3-loss VCU, though Duke still trails them. (Virginia won at VCU by 17, for whatever that’s worth).

So why is Kansas ahead of Duke and Virginia when the Jayhawks got hammered by Kentucky, and then hammered by Temple on the road? Well, Bill Self and the Kansas athletic department make it a priority to operate within–can we say game?–the RPI system. This story from last March details how Larry Keating plays a role in setting up the Kansas schedule to maximize potential seeding.

“When you’re playing teams in the leagues below you, you want to play teams that are going to win the most games,” Keating said, “because that’s what helps your RPI.”

So it’s no accident that Kansas keeps showing up at the top, but it shows just how much the system can be gamed that a team that is more likely about the 15th best team in that nation, with plenty of flaws, can rank ahead of two undefeated teams in the selection committee’s top tool.

Why is Kansas ahead of Duke and Virginia in the RPI? It has nothing to do with quality wins. Kansas’ best win is against Utah, the only one against another top 25 team in the RPI rankings (Michigan State, Georgetown, and Florida will likely elevate their rankings as well). Virginia has three such wins, and Duke won at Wisconsin.

I detailed the funny math at the bottom of the RPI, in talking about the Maryland-Boise State bubble choice a couple of years ago. It’s the “bad” wins over the bottom dwellers in Division I that decide these rankings. Don’t play them. It makes no sense from a “how good is this team?” standpoint, but that’s now why Kansas is ranked higher.

Larry Keating is doing his job, as Rider (#191) is the only team that Kansas has played even outside the top 150. Meanwhile, Duke has played three teams below 280 in the RPI rankings, and Virginia has played two teams outside the top 300. Those two teams could have replaced those blowout wins with blowout losses to other tournament teams, and the RPI would say they were better for it.

Just ask Kansas, because the RPI rewards being an inefficient loser if you play your cards right.

 

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