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College Basketball Rankings - MRI 2011-12, Week 14

February 27, 2012  |  By Benjamin Miraski

The MRI has had its ups and downs in terms of predicting which teams will make the NCAA basketball tournament. There is a reason for this: it was never designed to do such a thing.

That said, it was designed to determine what teams are the best at playing basketball. That doesn't always mean they get selected to play in the big dance.

There has been some criticism that the MRI relies too much on the team's record, with the understanding that wins equate to a better team (if you don't lose, you are doing something correct).

What is lost by that argument is that the MRI does take into account who you played in order to rack up those wins. It isn't enough just to run through the SWAC. You might get a bulky win number that way, but you might not be ranked highly in the MRI.

Instead, you have to do it convincingly because year after year, the SWAC is among the bottom three conferences ranked by this computer (and this year, clearly the worst).

That is why Murray State of the one-loss and long unblemished record makes its first appearance at No. 25 in this week's rankings. It took an entire season for the computer to even give credit to the Racers, who play in what the MRI considers the 23rd best conference in the country.

The team was always near the rankings, just not in them. They should have gotten an at-large bid to the tournament even if they somehow tripped in the conference tournament.

They are good, just not among the top 10 best teams in the country as many would have you believe, namely the AP rankings.

That the MRI considers who you play also leads to teams like Florida State, with a 19-9 record getting into the rankings, or a 21-8 Wisconsin team cracking the top 20.

You have to play the best to be ranked highly. You have to win some of those games, and you have to be consistent and win convincingly to get high marks.

This site has always been of the opinion that the tournament should be more open to the mid-major conferences. For many of these leagues, there are few chances to play up against the teams in the top 50 in the RPI, and therefore, the tournament should allow more bias towards teams in smaller conferences that performed exceptionally well, versus those in bigger conferences that were somewhere in the middle.

In some ways, the RPI is an odd measure. There was talk back when the Missouri Valley landed so many teams in the tournament that they had gamed the system.

The league did this by doing well in scheduling during the nonconference season (by playing teams that ENDED UP being good, not necessarily ones that were good at the time). They won some of those games, enough that when the league schedule started, every game was bump up in the RPI, as opposed to being dragged down by teams that were shutout early in the season.

What people forget is that the big conferences manage to game the system every year. Very few of the teams in the best conferences are going to perform poorly in the nonconference season. There might be a couple of losses here and there, but for the most part, they win.

When the league starts, they are constantly getting a boost in the RPI, because no team has such a dreadful record as to be a drag on the overall mark.

Yes, those are usually the best teams anyway, but it doesn't mean that a team like Drexel, whose RPI is 67 isn't just as good.

I bring up Drexel, not because I went there, and there might be a small amount of bias in how I feel about them. After all, they were the reason the MRI was created: to show that teams in smaller conferences were just as good as the big boys, if you evaluated teams based on actual game performance, not just schedule.

Drexel has lost just a single game since the calendar changed to 2012. They have excelled in playing the game of basketball. They are now 25-5 against Division 1 teams, and they will be a tough sell come selection Sunday if they do not keep up the winning streak through the CAA tournament.

They have no top 50 wins, and played just one team in that group, Virginia, early in the season, without one of the team's best scorers.

But because schedules are set a couple of seasons in advance for the most part, Drexel had games against teams that could have been good, but weren't. They may have been better off, because at less than full strength, they may not have won those game anyway. Still the schedule could look better, if say a St. Joseph's weren't struggling, or one of the MAAC teams they played had turned it on.

The Colonial did a bad job up and down the chart of scheduling this season. That is why many believe that between Virginia Commonwealth and Drexel, only the winner of the conference tournament will get in. And if it isn't one of those two teams, the league will not get a second bid. (Drexel at least gets an automatic entry into the NIT, for what that is worth. Barely missing the NCAA tournament has not been a recipe for success in the minor league bracket lately. Call it some sort of hangover effect).

It is also why Drexel's margin for error to get to even the brink of consideration has been so small. The Dragons lost just two games in the conference season, but they couldn't have slipped up much more without it becoming a problem. Every game they played was a fight against a big drop in the RPI. A loss could have tanked whatever small chance they currently have.

According to the MRI, Drexel is currently No. 44. That is by no means a lock for the tournament, even though this is an odd year. Currently, the cutoff point for an at-large berth would fall all the way down at No. 62, currently held by Wyoming. But a number of current small conference leaders fall within those 62 spots. If they lose and are near the bottom of the list (say Lehigh, or Texas Arlington), the bubble jumps up one more spot, leaving the Cowboys, who at one point were in the MRI top 25, in the dust.

The year everyone assumes that Drexel was snubbed for the tournament (with an RPI of 43, again, not putting much stock in the stat), the Dragons were a lowly 71 in the MRI on Selection Sunday.

Would I have been happy to see them in after beating Villanova and Syracuse that year? Yes. Did I think they were as badly snubbed as Dick Vitale did? No, not really, because they played well, just not well enough.

This season they are playing very well, and yet even though major conference contenders for the last few spots are playing soft, and some scheduling quirks, the Dragons will likely be playing in the NIT should they lose in the next week.

These mid-major teams live on the point of a needle, and some of them (not all) need to be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to whether they are among the top teams in the country, and deserve to be in the bracket.

Another school that seems to be on the verge of getting left out, despite its own RPI of 48 is BYU. The Cougars haven't excelled against the top part of their conference (1-3 against St. Mary's and Gonzaga, two likely locks), but they have performed well enough to be in the top 25 of the MRI for most of the year. The Cougars lost to Baylor and Wisconsin, and no one can fault them there. And the Cougars lost to Loyola Marymount, who also tripped up St. Mary's in case you were wondering.

They haven't done anything wrong necessarily. And yet, despite what experts claim is a "great" RPI number, BYU is also sweating it out.

That very few teams ranked at the end of the season in the MRI have missed the tournament probably doesn't help fans at this point (Missouri State and Akron are the two that come to mind off the top of my head).

In the end, my point is that if you are an Oral Roberts, with a 26-5 record, or South Dakota State, with a 24-7 mark, you deserve some consideration, even though only one of those two teams will play in the dance. Both had excellent seasons.

Can I argue that they are better than South Florida's season? You bet. The Bulls are 11-5 in the Big East so far, but the only significant win among those 11 is against Seton Hall, who is also fighting for its tournament life. Against the top four teams in the conference standings, South Florida has been shut out. Due to the fabulously bloated league, they don't have another chance against those teams.

Should they be rewarded for playing the bottom of the Big East which is not that good this season? Should they be rewarded over Drexel, despite losing to Old Dominion and Virginia Commonwealth in nonconference games, teams that the Dragons swept? (Heck, should they be rewarded over VCU for that matter?). Should they be rewarded just because the RPI puts them at No. 46, even though they couldn't beat Penn State, Auburn or Southern Mississippi?

Decide for yourself. Just know that the MRI has the Bulls at No. 103.

Here are all the rankings in week 14 of the basketball MRI.

MRI Top 25 Rankings

1Ohio State23-6201.261
3North Carolina25-4192.583
5Michigan State23-5175.515
6Wichita State25-4157.547
10New Mexico21-6137.218
12Saint Louis21-6135.0310
13St. Mary's23-5133.0417
23Florida State19-9123.3216
25Murray State25-1117.58NR(26)

Teams Dropped From The Top 25: Creighton (LW #24, TW #26), Virginia (LW #25, TW #28).
On the Bubble: Creighton, New Mexico State, Virginia, Alabama, Vanderbilt, Iona, Harvard, Louisville, Middle Tennessee State, Seton Hall.
Wofford Watch: Wofford (17-12) is currently 150th in the MRI, with a score of 39.86.
Most Average Team: Rice (13-13), with a score of 29.55.
Last Place this week: Grambling (3-22) at -126.58. 14th week in a row.
Biggest Gain this week: Dayton gained 14.87 points. (Beat Duquesne 74-62 and Massachusetts 76-43)
Biggest Loss this week: Tennessee-Martin lost 18.58 points. (Lost to Austin Peay 85-67 and Jacksonville State 77-46)
Conference rankings this week: Big Ten, SEC, Big East, Big 12, ACC, Mountain West, Atlantic 10, Missouri Valley, Conference USA, PAC-12.

Posted February 27, 2012 1:30 PM

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