With just two regular season games remaining the Spiders men's basketball team sits at 18-11 with an 8-6 Atlantic 10 Conference record.
Last week, the Spiders dropped two road games to statistically inferior teams. Both George Mason and Rhode Island are ranked outside of the top 100 RPI. Before the start of last week the Spiders RPI was 54 but has since dropped to 63 following the aforementioned away losses.
The NCAA releases the Ranking Percentage Index (RPI) weekly throughout the college basketball season. The system has been used since 1981 to aid in the selection of the 68 teams for the NCAA Tournament ("March Madness"). The complicated formula factors in team's winning percentage, its opponents' winning percentage and the winning percentage of those opponents' opponents, as well as strength of schedule (SOS).
While an RPI of 63 looks, at first glance, like the Spiders are sure to quality for the tournament field of 68, this is not the case. Because every conference in college basketball offers an automatic tournament bid to its champion and because RPI isn't the only criteria in choosing the field of 68 the Spiders are currently well out of tournament contention. The NCAA selection committee gives 32 automatic bids (one for each Division-I men's college basketball conference) and 36 at-large bids (given to teams that didn't win their conferences).
For example, last season the University of Kentucky finished the season with a 56 RPI and was not selected for the 2013 NCAA tournament. On the other hand, a team like North Carolina A&T, that won the MEAC, automatically qualifying for the NCAA tournament with an RPI of 214. This being just one case in a year where many top 68 RPI teams were not selected because of these smaller, lower ranked RPI schools winning their conferences. Big picture, the Spiders need to boost their tournament resume if they want to make it back to the NCAA tournament. The good news is that the Spiders have a perfect opportunity to do this.
On Thursday night the Spiders will host cross-town rival VCU in a crucial game for both teams seasons. Beating VCU, currently at 15 in the RPI, would certainly be that signature victory that the Spiders need. Coming off two disappointing losses and seemingly one more blow away from watching this season slip away, some may call this a must win for the Spiders. If the team can pull off the home upset on Thursday night they will get another chance to put one of the last touches on its tournament resume. After the 9 p.m. home game against VCU the team will board a flight to Dayton to play the Flyers (49 in RPI) on Saturday night in their regular season finale.
Then, win or lose either of these last two games, the Spiders will travel to Brooklyn, N.Y. to play in the single-elimination A-10 conference tournament. Winning this tournament would give the Spiders that automatic NCAA tournament bid but teams like VCU and St. Louis may be better equipped to win. Games in the tournament are played back to back with no days off in between and this may not be suitable with the Spiders current thin rotation.
To put everything more simply, if the Spiders don't win in Brooklyn, they will need to win these next two games against VCU and Dayton if they want to have any chance at earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Even if all these good things happen for the Spiders there is still a very high chance that the selection committee will not overlook their losses to 100+ RPI teams last week. "Bad losses" is something the committee does not like to see in a tournament resume.
With the odds stacked up against them the Spiders begin their quest to get back to the NCAA tournament on Thursday against VCU. Surely, March Madness will be all the more enjoyable for Richmond students if they have a clear-cut team to root for.
Contact Collegian Contributor Oliver Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org