Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bear With It: Baylor Men's Basketball and RPI

A very unique situation in the NCAA this season is that of Baylor University's men's basketball team. As punishment for a previous regime's transgressions, Baylor is not allowed to play any non-conference games this season. This is unprecedented as a specific punishment (TCU football had their entire football schedule revoked, but a non-conference-only penalty had yet to be meted).

The result is that Baylor is the only NCAA team that has not played a game yet, and they won't until January 11th, when their Big XII season opens at Texas Tech.

This blog is unsure if the NCAA thought through the ramifications of this unique punishment, particularly in some specific areas. The first of these issues is fairly obvious. Because all NCAA teams have been allowed to practice since October 14th, Baylor will end up having just under 3 months to practice, and only practice.

This could end up being a huge advantage to Baylor. A team that did not fare too well last year (9-19), but they did have freshman All-America Aaron Bruce at point guard. Bruce, combined with a solid recruiting class, give Baylor reason for hope. Given three months to prepare for a total of 16 games and only 11 opponents could prove to be helpful. Potentially even more advantageous to the Bears is the fact that they will not need to "tip their hand" to opponents by playing in any games or being "caught on tape."

An obvious disadvantage, and most likely the reasoning behind the punishment, is that the Bears can't play any opponents in the meantime. The NCAA will not even allow Baylor to play exhibition games, so their second intrasquad scrimmage on 12/19 was the closest to game action that they've come.

Another interesting part of the Baylor situation is that their RPI will have some bizarre side effects. This blog corresponded with an RPI expert and got some interesting information about Baylor. First off, as one might expect, they'll have a darn good strength of schedule. Since they're only playing Big XII opponents, they don't have the typical non-conference fare to lower their RPI. Granted, anyone could schedule only top opponents for their non-conference schedule, but because this never happens, non-conference schedules typically lower major conference teams' schedule strengths (with the exception of Temple, who plays any team, anywhere).

With this strong of a schedule, the Bears' RPI will be inflated. The RPI expert noted that even if Baylor were to lose all 16 of its games this year, its RPI would be about 150th in the nation. If it were to win 8, Baylor's RPI would check in around the 25th spot. A top-25 RPI would be tough for the selection committee to ignore come tournament time. Even if they won around 10 though, the committee could reasonably say they don't have enough wins to earn an at-large bid.

Other strange RPI activity the RPI guru noted is that the Big XII's Conference RPI will be dragged down until Baylor plays their first game. Right now, the Big XII is ranked 14th in Conference RPI, which is extremely low for a BCS conference. A few weeks back, when they were 9th, the effect of Baylor playing 2 games would have vaulted them into 4th. Most likely a similar jump will occur when Baylor gets their first games under their belt (to say, 6th?). Besides this, any time a Big XII team plays against Baylor, per the expert, the opponent will see their RPI inordinately rise. Because all of Baylor's opponents will be Big XII teams, typically in the top 150 for RPI rankings; and most of BU's opponent's opponents will also be Big XII teams, giant leaps may be taken when a team plays Baylor.

This is interesting, because Conference RPI is usually static after the non-conference season has ended. For most conferences this will be the case this year. But the Big XII, while starting off with a big disadvantage, will be able to make significant jumps throughout the conference season. Very fascinating for stat geeks like this blog.


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