Ordinarily I subscribe to the belief that utterances made by the men’s basketball committee chair are not terribly important. The chair is, after all, just one member of a committee comprised of independent-minded equals. If I want to peer into the collective hoops soul of that committee I have the perfect means to do so in the form of the field they select and seed. Words — especially vague process-oriented words uttered before Selection Sunday — are secondary. The bracket is everything.
But something happened yesterday that made me reconsider my long held belief. It came midway through a dull game between Florida State and North Carolina, so I got the feeling not many people were watching. (You missed a mad display of pink sartorial skills by Doug Gottlieb.) During the halftime studio segment, Seth Davis asked men’s basketball committee chair Mike Bobinski about the use of non-RPI rating systems, such as those peddled by Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin. Bobinski replied that he “personally” uses such rating systems “fairly extensively,” setting hoops hearts aflutter all throughout the Twitterverse.
On a committee of independent-minded equals in 2013, some members will use non-RPI information fairly extensively, while other members won’t use such data at all. That’s fine. When it comes to selecting and seeding the field, I’m an amenable pluralist on process but an ardent essentialist on results. I don’t care which rating systems you use — or whether you use rating systems at all — as long as you arrive at a result that is coherent, just, and defensible.
Personally I find I have zero need for the RPI in my daily life, just as I have zero need for points per game, rebound margin, or bench points. The key word being “personally.” If on the other hand you can somehow translate the RPI’s immanently erratic evaluations into a bracket that’s well crafted and balanced, more power to you. Rating systems are secondary. The bracket is everything.
And last year’s bracket included Colorado State and Southern Miss, even though those teams weren’t very good at basketball relative to other at-large candidates. Why did last year’s bracket include the Rams and the Golden Eagles? I’ve recovered the black box from the cockpit on this particular evaluative plane crash, and I’ve concluded that the RPI may have been a contributing factor.
Year RPI KenPom Sagarin Massey
Colorado St. 2012 23 96 102 100
Southern Miss 2012 26 75 73 69
The NCAA insists annually that it uses information from a number of sources, and that the committee is particularly careful when “discrepancies” arise between the various rating systems with respect to a given team. It’s striking how often these discrepancies have been resolved in a manner congruent with the RPI’s aberrant and lonely evaluative verdicts.
Maybe the 2013 bracket will be different. I take comfort in the fact that time and mere attrition very often succeed where persuasion has failed, and Bobinski’s remark struck me as a welcome demographic sign post along this road. My working assumption all along has been that with each passing year the NCAA will find more and more of its committee members spouting the kind of newfangled nonsense we heard from Bobinski yesterday. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before the “discrepancies” start being resolved in a somewhat less doctrinaire manner. In 13 days we’ll get an accurate read on our current position along this particular road.