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Are the Rice Owls a lock for the NCAA Women's Tournament bound? Not quite.
POSTED: February 18, 2019 -- 4:45 p.m. CST
For the first time the history Rice University women's basketball, the Owls are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
Rice's RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) is 36 out of 351 division one teams. The basic RPI consists of a team's Division I winning percentage (25 percent weight), its opponents' winning percentage (50 percent weight) and its opponents' opponents' winning percentage (25 percent weight). The RPI is one of many factors the committees use for selecting and seeding teams.
Currently, Rice owns a 22-3 overall record; a perfect 13-0 Conference USA record; and a 15-game winning streak. If Rice did not win the C-USA Conference Tournament Championship, those stellar numbers seem like a recipe for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament this season, correct?
Not quite. Take a closer a look at a few numbers.
Rice is a perfect 15-0 versus teams with an RPI of 151 to 351. Eight of the 15 wins occurred in non-conference; and, obviously, the remaining 7 wins were against conference foes.
Next, Rice is 0-1 (lost 65-54 to Texas A&M) vs teams with RPI ranked between 1 and 25; 0-2 (lost 71-50 to North Carolina and lost 59-50 to UCLA) vs teams with RPI ranked between 26 and 50; 3-0 (wins over Little Rock, Middle Tennessee, and Old Dominion) versus teams ranked between 51 and 100; and 4-0 (wins over UAB, WKU, Georgia State, and Charlotte) versus teams ranked between 101 and 150.
Rice is 1 of 29 teams with exactly 3 Top 100 wins. Of those 29 teams, Rice is among 4 teams (Tulane, Rice, Old Dominion, and Wright State) who are 3-3 against the Top 100 while two (New Mexico and Northern Colorado) are 3-2 against the Top 100. Eighteen teams have records ranging from 3-4 (UCF, Penn, Denver, Drexel and Tulane) to 3-9 (Georgia and Wisconsin) versus the Top 100.
As a conference, Conference USA is ranked 14th in Conference RPI. Fourteenth is slightly above the middle of the pack among the 32 NCAA Division I conferences.
I've had the opportunity to attend 4 or 5 NCAA Mock Selection Exercises at NCAA Headquarters which provided me an opportunity to see the process determining how the 32 at-large teams are chosen to complete the field of 64 for the bracket.
Ten members of the Basketball Selection Committee watch copious amounts of basketball; speak to as many coaches and folks "in the know" as possible; crunch myriad numbers; and, finally, agree on the best 32 at-large teams.
Despite all the information at the fingertips of the committee members, the process is still subjective. Some members prefer the "eye test" over numbers; some members make decisions based on numbers like the RPI, conference record, overall record, strength of schedule, etc; while other members prefer advanced metrics which have really taken hold in men's college basketball.
Personally, I think Rice is one of the best 64 teams in the NCAA women's basketball. But, I also believe the Owls' chances of earning an at-large berth are not ideal because of the lack of top 50 wins.
I contacted Charlie Creme, ESPN.com's Bracketologist for NCAA women's basketball; and asked him what he thinks Rice's at-large chances are to get into the Tournament. As of February 11, 2019, Charlie has Rice an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament. (Rice is listed on the bracket as the C-USA representative because Rice is in first place in the conference as February 11. No other C-USA team is in his bracket.)
"While the Owls don't have that one win that the committee could point to in a year where teams 30-40 just keep losing there is an opportunity there," Charlie said. "I wouldn't risk it by losing in the CUSA tournament; but, they would be strongly (in) the mix."
Winning the C-USA Tournament clinches an automatic spot in the NCAA Tournament. The C-USA Tournament takes place, in Frisco, TX, March 13-16.
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