Both of the Colonial Athletic Association’s improbable Final Four appearances – George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011 – were authored by teams that received at-large tournament bids. So with Selection Sunday less than a month away, it’s no surprise that league coaches are summoning their inner K Street.
The Rating Percentage Index, used by the NCAA selection committee and parsed hourly by coaches and fans alike, indicates otherwise. But that doesn’t deter the CAA from lobbying.
“In some respects, I don’t know why some people worship the RPI so much,” Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor said, conceding that he was baffled at times last season by the Monarchs’ top-25 RPI. “The old look test used to be pretty important, how you were playing in January, February, March was pretty important. The RPI thing seems to be like a new Bible people are printing.”
And this from George Mason’s Paul Hewitt: “I think the league will get at least two teams. At this point right now, it is so cloudy, the picture, because there is so much parity in college basketball. People may say, ‘Hey, the CAA is only going to get one.’ Then you look around and say, ‘OK, who else is going to go?’”
Taylor and Hewitt make salient points.
Parity does reign, and finding 37 worthy at-large teams – 31 conference champions receive automatic bids – is a chore. And the RPI, while a valuable resource, should not be gospel.
That said, based on the rankings updated this morning at CollegeRPI.com, an at-large for the CAA would be unprecedented.
Co-leaders Drexel and George Mason, both 14-2 in league play, are 87th and 89th, respectively, on the RPI. Third-place VCU (13-3), which lost at George Mason on Tuesday when Sherrod Wright made a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer, is 80th.
In the 18 seasons archived at CollegeRPI.com, the lowest-rated team to receive an at-large was No. 74 New Mexico in 1999. Next was No. 70 Air Force in 2004. (A detailed chart is below.)
Last season, the tournament’s first with 68 teams, the lowest-ranked at-large was No. 67 Southern California.
Moreover, unlike past CAA teams that received at-large invitations, Drexel, Mason and VCU lack signature non-conference victories. The Dragons’ most notable outside victim is No. 100 Princeton; the Patriots’ is No. 78 Bucknell; the Rams’ is No. 57 South Florida.
Another deduction from the Russian judge: non-conference strength-of-schedule. VCU's is 193rd nationally, Mason's 255th, Drexel's 269th.
Contrast that to the CAA’s two at-large teams last season. VCU defeated No. 44 UCLA on a neutral floor (Madison Square Garden, no less) and won at No. 60 Wichita State in the BracketBusters; George Mason beat No. 35 Harvard. On Selection Sunday, Mason was 24th on the RPI, VCU 49th. Their non-conference SOSs were 90th and 113th, respectively.
The opportunity for upward mobility comes this weekend as the CAA’s 12 teams play BracketBusters games that all agree are paramount. The conference needs collective success to bolster an image diminished by early-season disappointments; the top teams need wins to enhance their credentials.
Most important: VCU hosts No. 64 Northern Iowa on Friday; on Saturday, Drexel plays at No. 82 Cleveland State on Saturday, Mason welcomes No. 117 Lamar, and ODU travels to No. 88 Missouri State.
“If the CAA falls short in the BracketBusters, OK,” Taylor said. “But if the CAA steps up in the BracketBusters, I think that will revise the opinions of some people on a national basis.”
A final point: Hewitt spoke Monday of how different the at-large conversation about George Mason might be had guard Andre Cornelius not missed the season’s first 10 games, during which the Patriots lost to No. 224 Florida International and No. 164 Florida Atlantic.
True enough. But let’s be clear. Cornelius was not injured, which the selection committee would consider. Cornelius was suspended after pleading guilty to misdemeanor credit card fraud, and the consequences of that behavior include defeats that could damage his team’s chance of reaching the NCAA tournament.
As promised, here’s a year-by-year look at the lowest-ranked RPI teams to receive at-large bids:
2011: Southern California 67th
2010: Minnesota 62nd
2009: Arizona 62nd
2008: Oregon 58th
2007: Stanford 63rd
2006: Seton Hall 58th
2005: North Carolina State 63rd
2004: Air Force 70th
2003: N.C. State 53rd
2002: Wyoming 63rd
2001: Oklahoma State 49th
2000: Pepperdine 52nd
1999: New Mexico 74th
1998: Western Michigan 58th
1997: Georgetown 57th
1996: California 52nd
1995: Minnesota 66th
1994: George Washington 61st
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