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A Closer Look at Littlepage's Comments

3/16/2006

Check out this post-Selection Sunday interview w/ Craig Littlepage:

http://www.ncaasports.com/basketball/mens/story/9303376

Let's look at some of Craig's responses to see if they shed any light on some of the strange decisions that were made in this year's brackets.

CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: "First of all, I think it would be worthwhile congratulating each of the 65 teams that have earned their way into..."

Sorry Craig, but I think the RPI needs to be fixed. (Since it's perfectly okay for Nantz and Packer to interrupt Craig, I thought I start off by doing it here.)

MISSOURI ST AND CONFERENCE AFFILIATION

Q. It looks like with the exclusion of Missouri State or Cincinnati, the RPI isn't everything in your eyes. Can you talk about how you use the RPI and about Missouri State being the highest RPI team ever to be excluded?

CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: "Well, again, the RPI is one of those tools that we have at our disposal. It gets probably far too much attention in terms of it being a determinant.

I think the fact that we made the decisions that we made, again, will dispel some of the feeling that this is what teams are evaluated on, and this is what is going to get a team in or not.

What gets a team in the tournament is a team that performs well in its conference, a team that attempts to schedule solidly outside the conference, and does its share of business in terms of success in those games season long.

In the case of Missouri State, when we looked at the head to head competition with them and the other five schools that we evaluated in the Missouri Valley Conference, we took that into consideration."

Q. Can you elaborate a little bit on Missouri State in terms of what is the message to them? They got a high RPI. Non conference was not what you were looking for?

CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: "Well, again, decisions are not are RPI driven. RPIs are just a relative reflection of team's strength. But decisions are not RPI driven. Maybe this is just one example of how the committee is very deliberative in its approaching to selecting teams.

When we looked at Missouri State as it compared to the other five schools in the Missouri Valley Conference, their record against those other five schools was not as solid as the schools that we put into the bracket."

It looks like they used Missouri State as the scapegoat so they can say RPI doesn't matter. CL even said so in a recent e-mail to me: "Generally we don't rely on the RPI as was evidenced by the Missouri St situation." I agree the RPI shouldn't be the end all, be all (especially given its flaws), but I think I've shown that the RPI and all of it subcomponents were the primary thing driving many of their decisions (committee influence being the other key driver). The simply chose not to use it in the case of Missouri St.

If you read between the lines in his Missouri Stare example, you can see that despite what they say about conference affiliation not playing a role, it certainly did in this instance. The fact that they compared Missouri State to the other worthy teams in the MVC tells you that they had a mindset to include no more than 4 teams from that conference in. Otherwise, why do the comparison? It's not like the 5 MVC teams were competing for the last 4 at-large spots. So maybe Nantz and Packer did have a legitimate beef, although they went about it completely the wrong way and asked the wrong questions (imagine what the veins in Packer's head would've looked like if MVC had gotten 5 teams in).

The Value of One Game

Q. Follow up on Cincinnati. Can you talk about the impact their loss had? Is it accurate or fair to say that's one of the situations where a team's fate was decided by one last second shot?

CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: "No, no. Again, we looked at every possible aspect of the Cincinnati resume. I talked about the record in the last 16 games or so of the regular season. We talked about the other factors in terms of, yes, the Big East, et cetera, et cetera. But to try to pin it on one particular game, we don't put that much importance on one game."

Well, I would believe this comment if it weren't for Utah State, which got in based on the strength of one game...an overtime loss to Nevada in the conference tournament finals. Check out my analysis of the Utah State situation.

BODY OF WORK AND TENNESSEE

CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: "because we're looking at a full resume of work, a full body of work, if you will."

"I think also, again, if you look at the full body of work..."

Q. A fair amount of discussion on Gonzaga's seeding, they could have been a No. 2, and also some surprise that Tennessee was a No. 2. What was the reckoning there?

CRAIG LITTLEPAGE: "We looked at the success that the University of Tennessee had season long in the Southeast Conference. We looked at, again, the body of work that they presented us. We looked at the overall relative strength of the schedule that they played, both in the conference and out of the conference, the number of games that they won. We just felt as though in this case that they were deserving of that position."

You can look at this a million different ways, and you'll never be able to justify the Tennessee decision based on any kind of body-of-work criteria. The only answers are RPI inaccuracies (Tennessee RPI = 6; SOS = 6) and committee member influence. Sadly, that's the only answer.

THE RIGHT QUESTIONS

Littlepage and the Selection Committee are definitely worthy of criticism this year, but nobody's asking the right questions. Nantz and Packer blew it. The guys in this press conference blew it. A couple of questions that I'd like somebody to ask include:

  1. How does Utah State get in on the strength of a close loss to a 5 seed? Is the Committee going to start to give teams credit for losing games to quality teams?
  2. Are you concerned about the increased risk of programs gaming the system in order to make their RPI and SOS look better than they actually are? Is the NCAA going to look to adjust the RPI formulas to combat this?
  3. Is the NCAA concerned at all that the numbers that play a role in the selection process, such as RPI, SOS, NC RPI and NC SOS might not be accurate representations of a team's performance or the true difficulty of a given team's schedule? Is there any concern that misleading or inaccurate information could lead to less deserving teams getting into the tournament at the expense of more deserving teams? Is the NCAA looking at ways to improve the data that it provides the Committee to make these tough decisions?
  4. Why do injuries/suspensions factor into the decision to drop/exclude some teams such as George Washington, Cincinnati and perhaps Maryland while a suspension to a key player on George Mason didn't factor in their decision.
  5. Why does performance over the last 10 games make a difference for teams like Michigan and others while it didn't count against Tennessee?
  6. Did the role of committee influence play a role in the inclusion of teams like Air Force and Utah State? Do you think they've would have made the tournament if they had no conference respresentation on the committee?

Unfortunately, these questions will go unanswered.

Up next: A even closer look at the role of the RPI and all of its cousins in the selection process. Stay tuned.

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