College Basketball

Selection committee considering new metrics

The coming months could be a test run for a new tool that eventually replaces the RPI in the NCAA tournament selection committee’s evaluation of potential at-large teams.

RPI is the traditional and polarizing barometer used in the analysis process leading into Selection Sunday. For the first time, committee members will see rankings from ESPN’s BPI and Strength of Record, KPI, Jeff Sagarin Ratings and KenPom.com next to the RPI on the official team sheets used to assess each program.

They’ll also see the average score of the six advanced metrics for each team, which could be repackaged as a new, official tool that replaces the RPI next season, said David Worlock, media coordinator for the NCAA tournament.

He said the catalyst for the change was a request from the National Association of Basketball Coaches to include advanced metrics in the evaluation process.

“The composite metric replacing the RPI is a possibility and we are looking at other options too,” Worlock told ESPN.com on Thursday. “Either way, the other metrics that have been introduced to the team sheets will still be used as a resource moving forward.”

Worlock said committee members have always had access to the five additional advanced metrics, with each member having the power to use those tools at their discretion.

“Again, this isn’t anything new that’s being provided to the committee,” Worlock said. “It’s just being presented in a different, more convenient and more efficient format. As with any resource that the committee has at its disposal, a committee member can use it as they see fit.”

But the RPI, long criticized by modern analysts as an outdated measuring stick because it fails to consider margin of victory or location, had been the only official metric endorsed by the NCAA to date.

That’s why this move matters.

The tools all vary in how they assess a team. The RPI, KPI and ESPN’s Strength of Record aim to capture the quality of a team based on its current résumé. And ESPN’s BPI, Sagarin and KenPom.com ratings attempt to predict how a team will perform in the future.

It’s important to understand how these tools differ.

Entering Thursday’s rivalry game at Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s was ranked 46th by RPI, 17th by ESPN’s BPI, 41st by ESPN’s Strength of Record, 23rd by Sagarin, 19th by KenPom.com and 51st by KPI.

The selection committee will now see those differences on the same official team sheets.

Kevin Pauga, creator of the KPI, and other analytics experts met with the NCAA last season and stressed the value of using advanced metrics leading into Selection Sunday.

He said adding new information will enhance the selection process.

“It is beneficial for the committee to have as much relevant information appear in the most accessible way possible,” he said Thursday. “Having additional information — including the additional metrics and factoring road, home and neutral-site games into categories — is helpful so they can access the information efficiently and quickly when needed.”

Last month, the NCAA announced a new system that emphasizes the value of road and neutral-site games.

This season, as a part of a new four-tier system, wins against teams ranked 1-30 at home, 1-50 on a neutral court and 1-75 on the road will all qualify as quality wins and possess the same value. In past years, only top-50 wins in the RPI — which does not consider location — earned that billing.

The new emphasis on location, for wins and losses, and the addition of the advanced metrics to the official team sheets signal a change in the committee’s philosophy. The “eye test” seems like an ancient concept now with the changes this season and the embracing of modern tools.

“You need to stay relevant in the age that you’re operating in,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said last year, per NCAA.com. “Certainly relevant today is embracing analytics and technology to the appropriate level.

“In an imperfect process, I think what the committee strives to get as perfect as possible is to have justification and rationale for their decisions. And the more that can be rooted in fact and in data, the more comfortable they can be with those decisions and the more justifiable they can be in explaining them.”

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