The RPI, a mathematical formula used to rank basketball teams according to a variety of factors, isn’t Georgia State coach Ron Hunter’s favorite topic of conversation.
“The RPI are for fans and media,” he said dismissively.
While partially true, a bad RPI near Selection Sunday can make a team RIP when the invitations to the NCAA tournament are issued.
The RPI is important for Hunter and the Panthers this year because they aren’t eligible to play in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, whose winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
The only way Hunter’s team can make it is by receiving an at-large bid. One of the proven ways to earn an at-large bid is by being relevant on Selection Sunday. A way to be relevant on Selection Sunday is by finishing with a high RPI, especially when you don’t play in one of the power conferences.
Georgia State’s schedule, which starts with Friday’s season-opener at Duke, seems strong enough that that if the Panthers can win a lot of their games, they may warrant consideration as an at-large team, according to ESPN college basketball reporter Eamonn Brennan.
“They are set up relatively well in terms of their opponents,” he said.
Hunter composes his non-conference schedule according to how difficult he thinks the conference schedule will be. This year’s non-conference schedule is tough, which could help the team’s chances at making the NCAA tournament, if it can make it through without too many blemishes.
After Duke, which Brennan describes as “high reward, no risk” game, Georgia State will play several teams that should provide an RPI boost, if the Panthers can either play well or beat them. That includes Southern Miss (finished No. 21 last year in collegerpi.com), BYU (No. 45), and others like East Carolina (No. 164, but plays in Conference USA). Georgia State, which went 22-12, finished No. 140 last year.
Wins, especially against Duke (RPI rank of 5 last year), would obviously boost Georgia State. Wins are needed because the CAA, which has been weakened by the defection of Virginia Commonwealth to the Atlantic 10, could potentially drag down the Panthers’ RPI, according to former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, who is now an analyst for ESPN. The Rams finished No. 38 last year. Drexel (No. 66) is the highest-rated returning team. Playing 18 conference games against teams that may not be as strong as the Southern Miss’s and BYU’s will likely make the hope of the NCAA tournament that much fainter.
“I think it’s going to be really difficult,” Greenberg said of Georgia State’s chances to get in as an at-large. “The loss of VCU takes away two low RPI games which would enhance their resume if they won those games.”
If the Panthers hope to make it to the NCAA tournament for just the third time, they likely need to try to finish with an RPI in the 40s, according to Brennan. But even an RPI in the 40s doesn’t mean an automatic invitation. Last year, three teams with RPIs in the 50s were at-large selections in last year’s tournament: No. 52 South Florida, No. 53 Virginia, and No. 57 West Virginia. But there were teams with similar RPIs who weren’t selected: No. 44 Marshall, No. 51 Oral Roberts and No. 54 Central Florida.
That’s part of the reason why Hunter doesn’t pay too much attention to the rating.
“You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure, ‘I got to get this game to get this.’ At the end of the day it’s very difficult for the mid-majors, period,” Hunter said. “We know that.”
But Hunter knows the burden can be lifted if he can make sure his team is being talked about on Selection Sunday. His goal, as he has said many times, is to become the best mid-major program in the country.
The process began last year with the team winning the second-most games in program history.
It can continue this year if the Panthers can upset Duke, or BYU, or both, which may vault them into “bubble team” status in a few months.
So don’t talk to Hunter about RPI.
“What I want to make sure is that Georgia State is being discussed in March,” he said. “Then, when it comes to when you have the high RPI, you are part of the discussion and part of getting in. Talking about we have to do, x-y-z, to get in, we are too young in the program. Relevancy is more important to me than any RPI.”
Date Team 2011-12 RPI
11/9 at Duke 5
11/13 at BYU 45
11/19 Monmouth 236
11/20 Tennessee State 107
11/21 South Alabama 169
11/26 East Carolina 164
11/30 Louisiana Tech 160
12/02 at Liberty 284
12/8 Southern Poly NA
12/15 at Troy 260
12/18 Southern Miss 21
12/22 at Rhode Island 257
12/29 at Georgia Southern 203
– Doug Roberson, AJC and AJC.com. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu