USD Men's Basketball 2001-2002

R.P. Why? Ahigh 'RPl ranking has become themost vital statisticneeded for a team to receive a tournament bid By Chris Weber

L ike the pretty girl who finds herself sitting by the phone on a Friday night hoping someone will call, Dana Altman sat patiently last offseason, waiting. But Altman is no high school beauty. As the men's head asketball coach at Creighton University, he is the overseer f a program that has advanced to the NCAA Tournament he past three years out of the Missouri Valley Conference.

conference games, with 10 of them at home every year." So what's a mid-major to do? According to Mike DeCourcy, senior college basketball writer for The Sporting News, there is an alternative to schedule prostitution. DeCourcy emphasizes playing in "exempt" tournaments such as the preseason NIT. Great Alaska Shootout and Maui Invitational to enhance a team's RPI. Although these tourna–

ments require travel to neutral sites, they provide the chance to play quality compe– tition while counting just once against the maximum NCAA allotment of 27 games. "Gonzaga has been successful by being able to compete with, and on occasion, beat a Pac-10 team like Washington or Washington State. That helps their RPI," DeCourcy said. As the Creighton-Western Kentucky series illustrates, if all else fails, mid– majors can always square off against each other. "It's an area these schools have neglected and a direction they are starting to move into," DeCourcy said. In the end, however, there is little doubt the advent of the RPI has favored the high-profile schools. Witness NCAA

ast season, Creighton was running oughshod over a tough non-league chedule that included wins against rovidence, Tulsa and Georgia State. But there he was by the phone, trying o complete the Bluejays' 2001-02 sched– le. In the end, like the girl whose good oaks intimidate potential suitors, the hone remained silent, leaving Altman ith no choice but to dial up Western entucky, also dateless after a 2001 ourney appearance, for an unusual non– onference home-and-home series. "We have a hard time getting people o play us," said Altman. "It's not our acility. We have a 10,000-seat arena and Omaha [Nebraska) is easy to get to. eople just don't want to play us because here's a chance they could lose."

The RPI has made schedulingvery difficult for Creighton'sDana Altman.

Tournament entry Georgia, which finished 2000-01 with a paltry 16-14 mark (No. 27 in the RPI). The Bulldogs, who played the toughest schedule in the country, also posted 13 wins against top 100 teams, eight versus top 50. In short, they were an RPI dream. With the NCAA Tournament's financial windfall ever blossoming, the RPI has taken on unprecedented signifi– cance, leaving coaches little margin for error, not only in who they schedule, but where they do and when. Strategy Session It's an RPI world. Here are some tips on how to survive... 1. Get great players: David Robinson (Navy), Lionel Simmons (LaSalle) and Wally Szczerbiak (Miami, Ohio) didn't play at Division Ipower– houses, but their teams were no strangers to the postseason. 2. Be schedule savvy: Taking on middleweights Oregon State or North Carolina State from premier conferences like the Pac-10 and ACC makes a lot more sense than lacing 'em up against heavyweights Stanford or Duke. 3. Pack your bags: If you can't bring them to you, at least get them on aneutral court. We hear Alaska is wonderful this time of year. Chris Weber is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh, Pa.

For successful mid-major programs like Creighton, such a quandary can be chalked up to, in part, a numbers game nown as the Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI. But what exactly is it? The RPI is derived from three component factors: Division winning percentage (worth 25 percent), schedule strength (50 percent) and opponent's schedule strength (25 percent). Games against non-Division I opponents are thrown out. But the NCAA selection committee does not divulge to the ublic how it interprets the RPI, maintaining secrecy that CIA rotocol looks like an Internet chat room by comparison. Regardless of how the NCAA looks at the RPI, its impact as clearly seeped into the art of scheduling. With no distinc– ion made by the index between home and road victories, the ukes, Stanfords and Michigan States of the world are leav– ng their mid-major brethren boxed out Bluejays at Duke? elcome to Durham, N.C. Blue Devils at Creighton? No way "The bigger schools have seen that playing at home eally improves their chances of winning and having a igher RPI number," said Altman, whose team finished ith an RPI ranking of 23 last season. "They'll play 12 non-

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