Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Race For An Historic RPI

If you looked for the Ivy League where you normally do, you're going to come up empty.

An almost permanent resident in the 20s for years, the Ivies have jumped out of the gate this season, rising to 12th in the RPI (as well as 15th in the Sagarin Ratings and 16th in the Pomeroy Ratings).

The league's RPI record in the modern era was No. 13 in 2001-2002, when the top five finishers in the league posted above .500 records and two teams (Penn and Yale) won 20 games. Even last year, when three Ivy teams won 20 games, the league's final RPI was 21st, primarily due to the lack of depth beyond those top three. specializes in projecting the future RPI of Division I basketball teams and conferences, using the Sagarin ratings to predict future games and determining, from that, the RPI expectations for given teams. Currently, the Ivies are projected to finish 14th, just behind the No. 13 Western Athletic Conference and decently ahead of the No. 15 West Coast Conference.

How likely is it that the league will be able to hang on until league play, when the RPI positioning is almost completely locked in?

The team-by-team analysis is below, but the league probably has more downside risk than upside potential. Four squads appear to be primed to cede RPI points, while only two seem to have the ability to exceed expectations. The exact effect on each team and the conference as a whole depends on a complex set of factors, but a reasonable guess is that the overall effect would be to knock the league down by one or two projected spots. While 15th or 16th would be a record best for the Ivies, it would be the strongest finish since that 2001-2002 season.

BROWN (4-4)

RPI Must-Win Games: vs. Army, vs. Bryant
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: vs. Quinnipiac
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: at Central Connecticut
RPI Bonus Games: at American
Expected Non-Conference Record: 7-6
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 182

It's hard to look at the Bears and think "seventh," but it's not really Brown's fault. The Bears have really only had one bad game - an excusable mid-week bus trip to Hartford - and should take care of business at home against Army and Bryant, two similarly ranked teams to the Sacred Heart squad that Brown destroyed earlier this year.

The rest of the Bears' D-I schedule is tricky, but manageable. Quinnipiac and American are two definite Top 200 teams and potential Top 150 candidates, but getting the former at home should give the Bears a decent chance to pull off the win. Brown's trip to Central Connecticut is on a Wednesday during Christmas break, meaning that there shouldn't be much of a hostile environment with which to contend.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 7-6 (As Projected)


RPI Must-Win Games: vs. Bryant, vs. Elon
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: at Lafayette
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: at Maine
RPI Bonus Games: NONE
Expected Non-Conference Record: 8-5
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 197

The Lions have had a strong non-conference run to this point with surprisingly competitive games (at La Salle and at St. John's) and unbelievable comebacks (at American, vs. Stony Brook). The roller coaster ride stems primarily from the interplay between Columbia's horrible defense and above average offense.

The home games against Bryant and Elon should have the Lions as heavy favorites, but the trips to Lafayette and Maine will be challenging. Aside from the win at American, when the Eagles were missing their best player, Columbia has struggled in second halves on the road.

The Lions land somewhere between 2-2 and 3-1 (projections lean toward the latter) over these final four D-I games, but the shakiness of the defense puts 2-2 solidly in play.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 7-6 (~20 spots worse than projected)


RPI Must-Win Games: at Binghamton, vs. Stony Brook
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: vs. New Hampshire (neutral), vs. Bucknell
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: vs. Buffalo
RPI Bonus Games: vs. Wofford (neutral) OR at VCU
Expected Non-Conference Record: 6-8
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 154

The schedule for the Big Red was heavily frontloaded - something a young, inexperienced team would have probably preferred to avoid. Now the remainder of the non-conference slate is eminently manageable with the lone exception being the second game of the VCU Christmas Tournament.

Cornell should easily handle the visit to a terrible Binghamton team. From there, it's games against four dangerous but beatable teams in the 175-225 range - all of which are at home or on a neutral floor. If the Big Red goes 4-0 in those games, that would be worth almost 20 RPI spots, and with the defense Cornell has played, it's a definite possibility.

Wofford would be a much taller task and VCU in a true road game would be an incredibly difficult matchup in the second game of the VCU tourney.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 7-7 (~20 spots better than projected)


RPI Must-Win Games: vs. Army
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: at Colgate
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: at Drake, at Army
RPI Bonus Games: at St. Francis (NY), at Bucknell, at Iowa St.
Expected Non-Conference Record: 4-10
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 285

The Big Green returns from their exam break today against Army at Leede Arena - one of the two remaining games on the non-conference schedule, including a return visit to Colgate, that it has a decent chance of winning.

The remainder of the slate is varying levels of difficult, especially because the final six games of the non-league slate are on the road, where Dartmouth has won just one out-of-conference game since January 15, 2008. The Big Green should be able to hang around at Drake, at Army and maybe even at St. Francis (NY) or Bucknell, but it's unlikely to be better for 40 minutes in any of the four.

Dartmouth has been better than expected this year, but it would have to be a lot better to post a decent record against the upcoming slate.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 3-11 (~10 spots worse)


RPI Must-Win Games: vs. Monmouth
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: vs. Boston University, at George Washington
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: NONE
RPI Bonus Games: at Boston College, at Connecticut
Expected Non-Conference Record: 8-4
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 79

The Crimson faces a more defensive schedule than anything else with no real chances for RPI upside short of springing the huge upset at BC or UConn. Today's matchup with crosstown-rival Boston University is probably the most pivotal game left, as the Terriers are America East contenders and home losses are particularly devastating in the RPI world.

A lot of Harvard's potential record depends on Kyle Casey. With a healthy Casey as an added weapon, the Crimson should be able to find a way to 8-4 while giving one of the BCS teams a scare along the way. Nothing is a guarantee with Casey, so until he returns to the court with full health, it's probably smart to approach Harvard with a measured conservatism.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 7-5 (~15 spots worse than projected)


RPI Must-Win Games: at Marist
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: vs. St. Joseph's
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: at Delaware
RPI Bonus Games: at Kentucky, at La Salle, at Temple
Expected Non-Conference Record: 6-8
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 175

For a team that hasn't won a Big 5 game since 2007, having a projected RPI based on winning one has to be a new experience. But that's what the Quakers have earned since shooting up from rock bottom back to respectability.

A team that has been horrendous on defense over the past three years has finally returned almost to the level of that title winning 2007 squad, as now it's the offense that is lagging behind. Penn should have no problem winning at Marist, but that's where the easy ones stop. The Quakers need to find a way to split with St. Joseph's and Delaware (with a win on the road against the Blue Hens providing more of a boost than home against the Hawks). If Penn could win at La Salle - and the rapidly improving Quakers could get Mike Howlett back by then - that would further improve its non-conference RPI.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 7-7 (~20 spots better than projected)


RPI Must-Win Games: vs. Marist
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: at Towson, at Wagner
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: vs. Northeastern (neutral)
RPI Bonus Games: at Tulsa, at UCF (vs. Furman (neutral) would be an RPI 50/50 Downside Game)
Expected Non-Conference Record: 9-6
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 83

For the Tigers to be a successful team, the second half collapses have to stop. Otherwise, Princeton has looked like an incredibly dangerous team with the ability to hang around in the Top 100 of most ranking systems.

Of all the Ivy teams, Princeton probably has the widest range of potential outcomes, as it could possibly run the table except a loss to UCF and wind up pushing its RPI up almost 30 points, but it could just as easily lose everything but its visit from Marist and fall over 30 points.

The Tigers have been an up-and-down team, and it's reasonable to expect nothing less over the final month of non-conference play.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 9-6 (As Projected)

YALE (5-4)

RPI Must-Win Games: vs. Sacred Heart, vs. Lehigh
RPI 50/50 Downside Games: at Holy Cross
RPI 50/50 Upside Games: NONE
RPI Bonus Games: at Stanford
Expected Non-Conference Record: 8-5
Expected Non-Conference RPI: 89

Everyone has been waiting for Yale to trip up. Well, time is running out.

The Bulldogs have four non-conference games left and should be a heavy favorite in one and a heavy underdog in another. That really leaves just two pivotal contests with Yale needing to win both to secure a Top 100 out-of-conference RPI.

The Bulldogs are undefeated at home this year, having just blown out Albany. It's hard to see that changing against a Lehigh team that, while dangerous with super sophomore CJ McCollum, has struggled to find much consistency. Getting road wins is another story entirely, making that Holy Cross trip especially treacherous.

Prediction (RPI Effect): 7-6 (~15 spots worse than projected)

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