Why conference records are deceiving
by Patrick Stevens, Special for USA TODAY Sports
Days until Selection Sunday: 4
The big picture:
There are no comments that come off as more hilarious and short-sighted as fans insisting their school belongs in the NCAA tournament over another school because of conference record.
One reason it’s amusing is because it completely ignores the existence of the first two months of the season, more commonly known as “non-conference play.” Yes, folks, that counts in assessing the profiles of every team in contention for a spot in the field.
Another reason there is humor in it is because it seems like people are utterly incapable of learning lessons from the recent past.
From 2012 Washington (14-4 in the Pac-12) to 2011 Alabama (12-4 in the SEC) to 2010 Virginia Tech (10-6 in the ACC) to 2010 Illinois (10-8 in the Big Ten) to 2009 Providence (10-8 in the Big East) to 2007 Kansas State (10-6 in the Big 12), it isn’t hard to find power conference teams on a virtually annual basis that collect double-digit league wins and get left out. That’s because conference record isn’t a criteria for selection.
But just for fun, let’s say it was. What gets completely overlooked is how unbalanced conference schedules make for apples-to-oranges comparison.
Let’s take this week’s SEC tournament seedings, from second through sixth:
2. Kentucky, 12-6
3. Mississippi, 12-6
4. Alabama, 12-6
5. Tennessee, 11-7
6. Missouri, 11-7
Now, with a hat tip to Jerry Palm’s database over at CBSSports.com, let’s look at the in-conference RPI for each of those teams:
So how is Missouri the worst of these teams in seeding and have the best in-conference RPI, while Mississippi is seeded higher than all but one of this bunch yet has the worst in-league RPI?
Pretty easy, really. Missouri faced Florida, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana State twice. Mississippi played Missouri, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn twice. Missouri’s two-time opponents were 45-27 in league play; Mississippi’s were 25-47.
With that in mind, it isn’t difficult to see how Missouri’s 11-7 would be worth more than Mississippi’s 12-6.
But the truth is, conference record is not an important criterion. Why is Missouri safely in the field while Mississippi has … [For more on Bubble Watch: Why conference records are completely deceiving, click here.]