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RPI meant RIP for ASU in NCAAs

The Arizona Republic


The Arizona Republic

TEMPE – Four vs. 301.

That’s why Arizona is in the NCAA Tournament and Arizona State is in the NIT.

Despite what the selection committee says, it’s all about the numbers. The Sun Devils were snubbed because their nonconference strength of schedule was ranked 301st out of 341 teams.

“The reality check is that (Arizona’s) strength of schedule was extremely high,” said Tom O’Connor, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee. “It was way up there. Even though the RPI is a data point collection, it does tell you something.”

It tells you that the committee played it safe, which is tough to reconcile. Did the best 34 at-large teams get in, or the 34 at-large teams with the best numbers? There’s a difference.

Are you telling me if you put ASU on the same court as No. 10 seed South Alabama (which has an overall strength of schedule worse than ASU’s), the Sun Devils don’t win? I don’t buy it.

O’Connor said there is room for subjective observation. So why not take into account how the Sun Devils were victims of their own good intentions?

When they agreed to play in the Maui Invitational, they had high hopes that Illinois, Louisiana State, and to a lesser extent, Princeton, would help their nonconference strength of schedule. But the RPI of all three team took major tumbles this year.

Illinois had an average RPI of 17 the past five years and it fell to 113 this season. LSU went from 41 to 171, and Princeton fell from 170 to 331.

Sunday’s selection show couldn’t have been more painful to watch for ASU fans. Pac-10 representation was slow to come.

Slivers of hope occurred when Washington State was announced as a No. 4 seed, a big nod of respect for the conference. More optimism came when Oregon was awarded a nine seed when many expected it to land a 10 or 11.

Was this a sign that the Pac-10 would get in its much-coveted seven teams into the tournament?

Alas, no. The Wildcats were the last conference team to receive an invitation.

“We know they beat Arizona twice,” O’Connor said. “We’re very cognizant of that. But in the final analysis, when the committee looked at it, while Arizona State was a very good basketball team, the committee didn’t feel that they were one of the 34 best at-large teams in the country.

“(Arizona was) 16-6 with Nic Wise and Jerryd Bayless in the lineup. So that would say when they weren’t in the lineup, they were a different team.”

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