Thursday, July 20, 2017

New selection guidelines. Break it down!

A change in the nitty-gritty sheet. In the past, the sheet divides games into 4 categories: games against the RPI Top 50, 100, 200, and 201+.

The big change is the change in cutoff for each of the 4 categories. The first tier is now Top 30 home games, Top 50 neutral site games, and Top 75 road games. And so forth.  We'll do a full breakdown below.

This is a significant on the following levels:
1) They're clearly listening to everyone else. Everyone knows road games are tougher. Now, instead of relying on the committee to view the sheet and make adjustments in their mind, the adjustments will be made on the sheet itself.
2) This shows the emphasis they were putting into these tiers in the first place....which is something most people have underestimated over the years.
3) This is the first step towards getting rid of the RPI as a whole and/or coming up with a better ranking system to analyze teams.  This is a positive step towards recognizing a single number cannot be representative of the value of beating a team.  More information is always needed.

There's still a problem with the arbitrary way they've chosen the cutoffs. There's nothing special about 30, 50, or 75, or any other numbers. Still, this is better than the alternative.

Now, let's look at the actual hard numbers they're using.

Tier 1:
home games against RPI Top 30
neutral games against RPI Top 50
road games against RPI Top 75
- Changes in the tier:  subtracting home games against 31-50 and adding road games against 51-75.

I like the selection of Top 30 for home games.  With very few exceptions, every team in the top 30 is a tournament team.  So every game there represents at least some kind of value.

However, by losing 31-50, something interesting happens.  Some teams in the past, like Kansas or Duke, in order to build a strong SoS, schedule prospective conference champions from mid-major conferences.  Many of these teams wind up in the tail end of the RPI Top 50, causing the SoS of the giant to be inflated higher than it should be, and causing their W-L vs. the Top 50 to be inflated as well.  Using last year as an example, home games against UNC-Wilmington, Middle Tennessee, and Illinois St lose value.  Now with this change, home games against mid-major conference champions lose value.  Will opportunities dry up?  And how does this impact mid-major at-large bid chances, when one precious signature win chance (home game at conference leader) comes off the board?

On the flip side, with road games against 51-75 now entering this year....there are actually more mid-majors in this range.  Now the giants can play the occasional road game and add a quality win that might not have been viewed that way in the past.  Using last year as an example, road games against New Mexico St, ETSU, Charleston, and Winthrop now represent signature wins.  So you could actually see more giants playing true road games instead of home games against these types of schools.  Maybe not more than 1 in a given year, but spread across a few dozen teams, the impact could be large.

Tier 2:
home games against RPI 31-75
neutral games against RPI 51-100
road games against RPI 76-135
- Changes in the tier:  subtracting home games against 76-100 and adding road games against 101-135.

One impact of swelling to 351 D1 teams is that you have more teams with winning records occupying RPI 101-150.  Now some of these road games represent solid wins in this structure.  This is an improvement.  If you look, this range has a fairly balanced mix of middling majors and quality mid-majors.  I don't see an advantage gained for either faction here.  The major teams will add a couple of road games to the quality win ledger; the mid-major should also add a few such road games, but now will lose home games against RPI 76-100 in this category.

One conference that might get hurt specifically is the A-10.  They've been very proficient at having a few teams in the RPI 75-125 range traditionally, usually leading to solid W-L records against the Top 100 that get them higher seeds (and more bids).  With only Top 75 home wins now counting, they might get hurt a bit.

You'll also see much more attention paid to unbalanced scheduling.  Most conferences will have 4 teams, give or take a team, ranked in between RPI 75-125.  In most conferences with 14 teams, it's probably a given team would only play one of those four teams twice.  In those 5 total games....if 4 are road games, that's 4 Tier 2 games and 1 Tier 3 game.  If 4 are home games...that's 1 Tier 2 game and 4 Tier 3 games, and a big resume hit (in terms of chances at quality wins, and strength of schedule).  In the latter case, the team might be criticized for a soft SoS when it was simply the luck of the draw.

One big challenge for each conference is finding a strategy for unbalanced schedules.  And more importantly, making sure every team has a solid mix of road games and home games.  An imbalance of road/home games and good/bad opponents will cause a team to skew more than normal in the bubble discussion.

Tier 3:
home games against RPI 76-160
neutral games against RPI 101-200
road games against RPI 136-240
- Changes in the tier:  subtracting home games against 161-200 and adding road games against 201-240.

If a bubble team is a tournament team, they really should handle games against RPI 161-200.  No issue moving those wins down a level.

Usually a bubble team will have a loss or two or maybe even three in this category in the past.  Stuff happens.  But losses in Tier 4 are usually devastating.  Some of those Tier 4 road losses now move up a level, to this tier.  I like it.  I almost want to put every road game in this tier, but I do suppose you should leave some for Tier 4.  This will help a team like Monmouth cope with conference play dragging them down just a little bit.

Tier 4:
everything else

Losses to sub-240 teams, even on the road, are pretty unforgivable...maybe a team can still afford one.  The big thing is home losses to sub-160 teams now slip into this category.  Note that for power conferences, only the truly bad teams slip to sub-160, so I don't think the big boys will be hurt by this.  In fact, I think they're helped in that road conference losses in the top conference will almost never slip into this category.