Only once in the Lorenzo Romar coaching era has Washington made the NCAA Tournament field with a higher RPI than the RPI (55) the Huskies have now.
By defeating the Arizona Wildcats 79-70 Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena, the University of Washington basketball team improved its RPI from 63 to 55. If the NCAA made its selections today, the Huskies would, according to statsheet.com, make the tournament as a bubble team with a No. 12 seeding.
That projection makes a number of assumptions, but before we go there, a definition. The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is a formula used by the NCAA to aid in selecting teams and seedings for the NCAA Tournament. Computer generated, RPI is made up of a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponents’ winning percentage (50%), and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents (25%).
In 2004, the NCAA modified RPI to account for differences in home and away games. A home win now counts as 0.6 win, while a road win counts as 1.4 wins. Conversely, a home loss equals 1.4 losses, while a road loss counts as 0.6 loss.
An RPI rank of 55 is about as low as a team can go and still entertain realistic hopes of making the 68-team field as an at-large entry. Of course, the Huskies won’t be an at-large team if they win the Pac-12 tournament, which carries with it an automatic invitation to the Big Dance.
In addition to a bubble RPI of 55, the remainder of the Huskies’ resume is flimsy at best. Washington is 4-8 against the RPI Top 100, which includes an 0-4 record against the RPI Top 50. The Huskies are also 0-2 against Associated Press-ranked teams (the December losses at Madison Square Garden to Marquette and Duke).
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee places heavy emphasis on “quality wins.” The Huskies do not have a single quality win, not even their 69-67 triumph Jan. 28 at the McHale Center in Tucson, since Arizona’s RPI — 70 — is a lot worse than Washington’s.
Further, the Huskies have at least one “bad loss” that NCAA Tournament selectors won’t overlook, the 19-point setback at home to South Dakota State (RIP, 65) Dec. 18. It also didn’t help that Washington, winners of three of its past four, lost ugly (82-57) to RPI No. 67 Oregon Feb. 9.
Since RPI rankings came into vogue a little more than decade ago, the Huskies have made eight appearances in the NCAA Tournament. The following were Washington’s RPI national rankings in those years, what happened in the tournament, and where the Huskies are today:
|1998||20-10||37||Reached Sweet Sixteen, lost to Connecticut, 75-74|
|1999||17-12||34||Ousted in the first round by Miami of Ohio, 59-58|
|2004||19-12||63||Ousted in the first round by Alabama-Birmingham, 102-100|
|2005||26-9||6||Reached Sweet Sixteen, lost to Louisville, 93-79|
|2006||26-7||35||Reached Sweet Sixteen, lost to Connecticut, 98-92 (OT)|
|2009||26-9||14||Lost in the second round to Purdue, 76-74|
|2010||26-10||34||Reached Sweet 16, lost to West Virginia, 69-56|
|2011||124-11||32||Lost in second round to North Carolina, 86-83|
|2012||19-8||55||Result to be determined|
This suggests that Washington, with a current 55 RPI ranking, probably needs to earn at least a share of the Pac-12 title if it hopes to make the NCAA Tournament field as an at-large, and that even with an invite Washington probably won’t go far. The 12th seed statsheet.com projects practically translates into a one and done since not many 12s beat a No. 3 seed.
Washington has three games remaining before the start of the Pac-12 Tournament March 7 — at Washington State Saturday, at USC March 1 and at UCLA March 3. That’s a slightly easier path to a share of the conference regular-season title than the one facing co-leader Cal, which has to play at Utah, at Colorado (13-1 at home, 7-0 Pac-12) and at Stanford (13-3 at home, 6-2 Pac-12).
The optimum scenario is for Washington to sweep and for co-leader California to stumble at Colorado or Stanford. If statsheet.com is correct, and the NCAA invites two Pac-12 teams to the tournament (the web site predicts the Mountain West will have four entries), the Huskies probably wouldn’t have to win the Pac-12 tournament to go dancing.
Keys for the Huskies in their final three before the Pac-12 tournament: get to the line and make free throws, emphasize defense, force turnovers, and keep Terrence Ross out of foul trouble.