Friday, January 13, 2012


It’s time for RPI to RIP


It never hurts to dream. Permanent world peace. Full employment. A shining sun every day. Last, but far from least, a Selection Sunday in which the acronym RPI never is mentioned and is not in any way a part of the process.

Administrators tend to like the Ratings Percentage Index because it gives them indirect but not insignificant influence over a team’s rating. Scheduling in such a way as to manipulate the RPI can be an art form. Avoid teams that figure to have super-low ratings, and try to identify beatable teams that should have higher RPIs.

It’s the worst of the computer rankings and puts far too much emphasis on strength of schedule.

For example, Kansas entered Wednesday night’s game in Lubbock against Texas Tech ranked 18th in the RPI.

KU played such suffocating defense for a 20-minute stretch that encompassed roughly the final third of the first half and the first two-thirds of the second half, it outscored the Red Raiders, 52-12, on the way to an 81-46 rout.

So, naturally, after a domination not often seen in Div. I conference play, the winning team dropped in the RPI, and the hammered one moved up. Kansas dropped from 18 to 25. Texas Tech, which couldn’t hit water if it fell out of a boat, to steal Tommy Lasorda’s line about Kurt Bevacqua, hit pay dirt in the RPI, soaring from 202 to 186.

The RPI enables selection committee members charged with such difficult decisions to hide behind their computer numbers. Take that distorted crutch away.

It’s not even close to the best resource available, if it’s necessary to bank on something other than common sense and extensive discussion. Sagarin (Kansas at No. 10), Sagarin predictor (Kansas No. 2) and (Kansas No. 2) are better computer rankings, the Associated Press poll (Kansas No. 10), the best of all.

Kansas and Baylor both will climb in the RPI next week, regardless of the outcome of their much-anticipated Monday night match-up in Allen Fieldhouse. They’ll be rewarded for nothing more than playing each other.

Anywhere but in the RPI, Kansas is a Top-10 team, despite losing four starters, two of whom were lottery picks.

KU is a Top-10 team, even though the point guard, Tyshawn Taylor, has had trouble securing the ball, averaging four turnovers per game, the shooting guard has had trouble shooting (.293 from three-point range) and the bench is the program’s weakest in decades.

It’s a testament to a winning culture that doesn’t accept the phrase “rebuilding year” and maintains lofty expectations regardless of how many stars have moved on, to Thomas Robinson playing as well as anyone in the country and to the exceptional team defense.

“As a team, I think that was a pretty good defensive effort,” Taylor said after the Tech rout. “Justin Wesley came off the bench and played amazing defense. Jeff (Withey) was in there blocking shots and making their guards and their bigs have tough shots. Thomas as well. I think defensively we did a pretty good job.”

Especially for a team ranked no better than 25th in the nation, according to the computer ranking that needs to rest in peace.


kusportsdotcom 10 years ago

Holy crap, am I actually agreeing with something Keegan wrote? I guess so.

Theonlythingthatexceedsyourbad 10 years ago

Excellent points in the article. Keegan's RPI example is awesome!

Jeff Coffman 10 years ago

Keegan than why are you averaging the RPI and Kenpom predictor to come up with KU's ranking on your poll? Shouldn't you actually lean towards using one of the other metrics to base your value?

Just curious.

zsn 10 years ago

Ken needs to change his URL: I am sure I am not alone in wondering why a basketball rating website has this risque name - at least on my screen, the 'M' in lower case looks like "RN" in corresponding font. So, KENPOM appears suspiciously close to KENPORN (of course, in lower case).

10 years ago

Well, Ken can expect a lot more hits from aspersioncastingexperience now.

JayHawkFanToo 10 years ago

I have issues with Ken Pom as well. He has Wisconsin as #3, a team that is not even in the top 25 on the human polls. I agree with Keegan though, the RPI should be abolished; it is worthless.

Sam Constance 10 years ago

Well, that's largely due to the fact that the committee is told to use RPI as one of their primary guiding factors for selection.

It's a terrible guideline because it's not accurate. But the fact that it is used by the committee means that it's near impossible to have a team in the RPI top 25 miss the tournament.

I think part of Keegan's point is that maybe some of those RPI top-25ers shouldn't be getting credit for their high RPI if they are woefully inadequate in the more accurate regression analyses like Sagarin and Pomeroy.

irvan moore 10 years ago

i'm happy to see you are still here mr. keegan

Chris Shaw 10 years ago

Death to the BCS! That's what we're talking about, right?

Jack Wilson 10 years ago

But don't you know, those poor young men (only the ones in D-I football) will have much difficulty playing a few extra games in a playoff, the extra games will interfere with their studies (over Christmas break, and more than basketball players deal with, or other classifications), the regular season really means something now (when only two teams get a shot to play for a title, teams can really be eliminated in September, the SEC always gets one team in, and a playoff would keep more teams in the mix longer), and we cannot simply trash the wonderful tradition of the bowls (you know, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the Beef O Brady's Bowl, the Maaco Bowl -- traditional stuff).

Chris Shaw 10 years ago

seriously, why do they take 4 to 5 weeks off and play into January? They should be getting this stuff done before Christmas. At the very latest, the first beginning of the first week of January. No reason to be playing until January 9th if they were truly worried about the academics.

Jack Wilson 10 years ago

This is too easy ... Cotton, Sugar, Orange, and Rose (yes, I replaced the Fiesta with the Cotton) ... the four traditional big bowls. 8 team tournament starting with these bowls. Each of the 6 big conference champs are in, with two wildcards determined by BCS standings. BCS standings determine seeds. Semis are on campus sites, with the better seeded team hosting. All of this really makes the regular season matter.

Championship rotates as it does now, as the BCS championship game.

Way, way too easy.

Steve Gantz 10 years ago

Your idea is good, but mine is better! Two of the four New Years Day bowls will become semifinals, we can rotate them around each year so each gets a part of the action. Then the winners play a week later, just like now. Thus, the bowl traditions are kept intact and we get 2 more teams in the mix with a chance to win it.

actorman 10 years ago

That's a good plan, but 16 makes more sense. Teams like Boise State and other non-BCS schools should have a chance to show what they can do against the big boys. And the "extra games" argument looks especially hollow after they somehow managed to go from 11 games a season for every team to 12, then added in extra pre-season games that don't count against that 12, and then added in conference championship games. If they truly cared about not having teams play too many extra games, they would stick to 11 games per team, with no extras, and then have the 16-team playoff (along with the minor bowls for other teams, which would work like the NIT does in basketball).

nuleafjhawk 10 years ago

The rankings should be based on three things:

How pretty the uniforms are.

How cool the mascot is.

How loud the home crowd is.

We win. We win and we win.

(and by those same standards - K-State has to fold up their athletic department STAT)

Jack Wilson 10 years ago

Add how hot the cheerleaders are .. USC, then the rest.

nuleafjhawk 10 years ago

Dude............ you are right about that!

When it comes to cheerleaders

USC = University of Scrumpdillyicious Cheerleaders

KU79 10 years ago

I remember in '88 through injuries, losses, and a lack of a stong offense (except for Danny, of course) Larry Brown saying the one constant we can count on, every night, is defense. And that's what fueled our run and the national championship. If we stay tough on defense, this team could ride that a long way.

hawk316 10 years ago

You're right, 79. It's interesting to note the similarities between this team and the '88 team. Two of the most obvious is that we had one player on each squad considered, perhaps, the best in the country (TRob has some competition, but certainly is in the discussion). And the other, as you have pointed out, is great defense.

I'd love to see us get hot at tournament time like the '88 Champs did! More than once, we have failed to meet expectations (partly because expectations in Lawrence are always so high!) throughout our glorious history. It would be fun this year to see this team surpass expectations.

Steve Gantz 10 years ago

In no way do I want to denigrate TRob. However, Danny carried that team, but he had some help. Pritchard was a pro for a while I believe.

But Danny was a four year player (starter?) who contributed a lot all four years. Danny had a much more all around game, he could run the floor, pass, shoot, etc. I've seen no player at KU like Danny Manning since. If not for his knee problems in the pro's he's probably an NBA hall of famer.

But that being said, let's hope TRob can carry this team a long way!

Ben Kane 10 years ago

keegs must have turned a new leaf this year because he has had multiple good articles in 2012.

though i'm still not aware of the link between TT's turnover average and the rpi???

jgkojak 10 years ago

Yes, the RPI is a joke.

I get that the NCAA doesn't want to encourage teams to blow people out, so you don't get really much credit for beating Long Beach St by 8 vs. another team by 40.

Every year we see a good mid-major ranked #35 or so in the RPI get left out of the tournament, and we see a so-so major ranked #70 get in. So I think it really isn't the only criteria the committee uses.

Sam Constance 10 years ago

If that's really what's driving the NCAA's insistence on using RPI, then the NCAA is infinitely more stupid that originally thought.

I know it doesn't "feel good", but the simple truth is that margin of victory is immensely important--especially in college basketball--as it relates to determining relative team strength. Well, maybe not absolute margin of victory so much as margin of victory within the context of game pace (number of possessions).

This is why Ken Pomeroy's system has been so good over the last 8 years at "predicting" the national champion--his use of points scored/allowed per possession. It's a stronger indicator of team strength than perhaps any other individual metric.

Phoggin_Loud 10 years ago

For numbers geeks, check out this guy form the KC Star. The defensive numbers for this KU team are incredible...since the Davidson game.

COOL FACTOID: …Kansas has allowed an average of 49.2 ppg over the last six games. That’s the lowest consecutive six-game average against KU in the last 60 years – going back to 1951.

dylans 10 years ago

About the same as the football team.

Stephen Simmons 10 years ago

AP is best of all???? Seriously? You had me until that point. Do you really mean to tell me that a sports writer from the Raleigh-Durham Fishwrapper isn't biased toward his home teams, or at least the ACC? And a guy from Long Island Newsday isn't biased toward the Big East?? How many sports writers who contribute to the AP live on the east coast, and how many of them actually stay up late enough to watch Pac 10 games? Most will just read box score or new clippings from those games, and we all know how little actually gets communicated in what a team really looks like in 500 words.

Somewhere between Sagarin and Kenpom there's a good balance. Both the AP and ESPN polls are glorified popularity contests.

WilburNether 10 years ago

You are absolutely right. It is utterly disgusting when lazy, ignorant journalists attempt to pat themselves on the back. The fact of the matter is that the poll was created to give idiot sports writers something to write about, and is in no way, shape, or form a good, accurate (let along the "best") representation of where teams stand.

"Glorified popularity contests" are exactly what that those stupid polls are.

Stupid assertion, Mr. Keegan, just...plain...stoo-pud.

dylans 10 years ago

Kegan gets to vote in the AP poll and has no influence over the others. Do you think that maybe that last comment was a bit of a joke? Like mines better than yours, haha. But if you want to hate on Kegan after a well written article...

Stephen Simmons 10 years ago

I'm not hating on the guy. It didn't sound like humor to me. Maybe he needs to go back to comedy school.

Phoggie_Thinking 10 years ago

Interesting article. Always good to get in your early morning BCS bash. The RPI is more or less harmless in comparison.

Mike Kendall 10 years ago

RPI is a joke, and, Tom Keegan---you wrote a nice article. Thanks---enjoyed reading it.

peter56321 10 years ago

Love this. Only change I would make is you need to do 1 OR 2. If you didn't do 1 or 2, then you need to do 3 AND 4.

KU_Alumn_2000 10 years ago

The guy that wrote the RPI used to be an adjunct professor at KU. He taught business statistics back when I was there. He was very proud of the RPI...and talked about just about every day.

Joe Joseph 10 years ago

"RPI to RIP"

I see what you did there.

REHawk 10 years ago

Phoggin_Loud, thanks for the fine post. Solid defense seems bound to keep us in the Top 10 mix this season.

jaybate 10 years ago

Calling for an end to use of the RPI is a classic case of destroying a good thing with some problems, rather than fixing it.

Americans hate fixing anything judging by a stroll through any thrift store.

Buy. Use. Throw.

The RPI is a terrific egalitarian force for equality of opportunity in college basketball.

The RPI was created, because all the majors were ducking each other and getting fat on cupcakes.

<p> is a nice stat data base that coaches may use to dope out opponents, even though it seems pretty unsophisticated in terms on statistics for team and individual dynamics over various periods.

But the fact remains, the RPI was created to force majors to quit ducking each other, and especially to stop them from ducking lesser, but still good programs.

Before the RPI, everyone played a few heavy weights for some publicity, then lots of cup cakes.

After the RPI, everyone began to look at the lesser good programs and the good mid majors and play them, because those teams winning their conferences could, via the RPI, drive up a team's chances of being recognized for a higher seed in the Madness.

The last five years, Self and KU have assiduously scheduled lots and lots of very good lesser majors and good mid majors, when the upper crust programs like UNC, UK and Duke were ducking KU.

KU has benefitted enormously from the RPI. KU has been consistently seeded very highly, despite UNC, UK and Duke ducking us until this year. KU's repeated high seeding due to the RPI has finally smoked these schools out.

Unless KU is very careful, a shift to another index will be an exercise in marginalizing itself again.

Ozarkace68 10 years ago

As one who highly values my graduate education at KU which was heavily based on statistics and research, but I must add the caveat was also undertaken in the 20th Century when TI and HP calcualtors used Reverse Polish Notation as a method of data entry, cost over $150, and the lap top was a dance at a bar in north Lawrence, I have had a distrust of all of the "computer rankings" for some time.
I would still be fumbling for punched cards in the basement of Summerfield Hall were it not for a more intelligent and resourceful lab partner for whom I will be forever grateful for the degree on my wall. The developers of the various indicies saw that somewhere down the road people would lock themselves up in 5 star hotel ballrooms, order expensive sandwiches and salads, and at the end of the day need something to support the decisions they had made. Among other factors, the indicies would not shed light on the subject but would support the conclusions they had drawn for March Madness.
There is a cute little adage that more succinctly states this but I forgot it along with much the other stat info I learned at KU. I imagine all this makes about as much sense as the RPI. Just wish I would have thought of it first so I could have actually afforded to retire. Bottom line is it is easy to say toss the RPI out (or the BCS?) but replace them with what? The dreaded word "play off" comes to mind. I think it does make more sense in basketball but what about the "student athelete"? NCAA claims the RPI is another tool to select the most qualified make the Big Dance. I suspect it is a left handed monkey wrench. By the way, I don't have the answer either.

ajmag 10 years ago

While agreeing with what Mr. Keegan has to say in this article, I have to say that his writing style drives me crazy. It is akin to that of which you would normally find in a high school newspaper

Martin Shupert 10 years ago

More weight should be given on the point spread so that killing a weaker opponent even more than the RPI might predict would up your value, and losing to someone badly when you were expected to lose, yet be fairly competitive, should knock you down. One would think that there would be a prediction logarythym (dammitall spell check!) built in. Possibly the RPI needs upgrading and not simply tossing?

Lost_in_the_Phog 10 years ago

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