Are we on the bubble?

Mike Fazzini

There comes a time towards the middle of every basketball season when college teams and their fans begin to wonder if they have what it takes to qualify for the NCAA tournament. But what is it exactly that the selection committee looks at? It’s actually quite a number of factors that are taken into account.

One of the most important factors that the committee uses is a team’s RPI, short for Rating Percentage Index. The basic formula factors in 25 percent of the team’s winning percentage, 50 percent of the opponents’ average winning percentage and 25 percent of the opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage.

The NCAA also builds in bonuses for beating teams in the top 50 of the basic RPI and for scheduling 50 percent of their non-conference games against opponents ranked in the top 50. There are also built-in penalties that are assessed for losing to non-Division I teams, losing to teams ranked 150 or below in the basic RPI and for scheduling 50 percent of the non-conference schedule against teams ranked 150 or below. Also, there are smaller bonuses and penalties based on game locations, but these only count if teams earn a “good win” on the road or have a “bad loss” at home.Another major factor that’s taken into account is the team’s conference record. Teams in major conferences should usually have at least a .500 record in conference play; however, this isn’t set in stone. There have been teams who made the tournament with sub- .500 records.

A team’s record in the last ten games is also a factor. The selection committee wants teams who are playing their best basketball when the tournament starts, not a team that had a great record at the beginning of the year and slid through the rest of their season, as Syracuse did last year.

The committee also looks at quality wins on the road. There are no home games in the tournament, so if a team wants to qualify, it needs to prove to the committee it can win away from home. Wins on the road against non-conference opponents are more meaningful that those against conference opponents, although a win at Connecticut would still be a great boost for Villanova’s tournament resume.

Now that you know what the committee does look for, let me tell what they don’t look for.

Past tournament performance and experience have nothing at all to do with a team getting an invitation to the tournament. Each team needs to stand on its own performance each season. The committee doesn’t try to pick “big-name schools” that will boost its revenue. Every TV ad is sold long before selection Sunday and attendance has never been a problem at NCAA tournament games.

The committee does not include or eliminate a team based on the number of teams from their conference who have made the tournament. Every conference gets one automatic bid, and that’s it. Every other team must qualify at-large, while individual teams, not conferences, get tournament bids.

At this point, you are undoubtedly wondering how Villanova’s tournament resume looks this early in the season. It is extremely early to be talking about this and most of ‘Nova’s resume will be based on how the team actually performs against its schedule, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look.

Villanova has a particularly tough schedule this year. The Big East is as strong as it’s ever been and Villanova will be competing in the Big Five again this year. The Big Five provides Villanova with games that have a tournament atmosphere due to the intense rivalries in the city series. This is a major plus on the resume. Villanova also is playing a very strong Marquette team at Madison Square Garden (a neutral site which counts almost the same as an away game), a potential second round match-up with 10th-ranked Michigan State in the Great Alaska Shootout (another neutral site), and away games scheduled against Daytona and Memphis.

So far, Villanova looks to be in excellent shape. They have quite a number of games scheduled against tough out-of-conference opponents and a very tough conference schedule that should add up to one of the strongest Strength of Schedule rankings, which is built into the RPI formula.

Now all the ‘Cats have to do is win.