The poll was conducted with coaches via telephone, and a list of Top 20 teams was then produced. The contributors continued to consist of coaches until 1994, when the Associated Press took over the administration of the poll from Greenberg and switched to a panel of writers. And thus began the first way for coaches to keep current with the top teams outside of their own playing schedules.
The Ratings Percentage Index (“RPI”) was formulated in the fall of 1980 by Jim Van Valkenburg, a staff member of what was then called the NCAA’s Statistics Service. The RPI has been the central team-sorting mechanism as the NCAA’s men’s basketball committee has selected, and seeded, each year’s field. Results were sent to NCAA schools beginning in 1992 at the completion of the season. And thus began a way for coaches to measure how their teams stacked up against teams they would play on their own schedules.
The combination of the major polls and the RPI has created an interesting dichotomy among teams. While playing Team A, Team B wishes to beat Team A. But what is Team B’s desire after the game- win or lose- with Team A? It is then to root for Team A to beat “good” teams and to not lose to “bad” teams basis the polls and the RPI, thereby keeping Team B’s status intact or improving it. In short, Team B now wants to be friends with Team A.
No. 21 DePaul (21-7, 13-2 BIG EAST) has an NCAA RPI of 20 (all data as of Feb. 15, 2016). The following is a synopsis of how the Blue Demons’ friendship has improved, stayed the same, or deteriorated with opponents of key games during this season.
St. Bonaventure (20-5, 8-3 Atlantic 10). DePaul beat the Bonnies 77-54 in the preseason WNIT. St. Bonaventure has an RPI of 39. Won 16 in a row before going 3-3 in last six games. Quality wins versus James Madison and Dayton. Bad loss: UMass (7-17). Friendship status: Before Anything Else.
RV Indiana (17-9, 9-5 Big 10). DePaul beat the Hoosiers 84-69 in the preseason WNIT semi-finals. The Hoosiers have won four straight and seven of their last eight. RPI of 47. Quality wins versus Rutgers and No. 25 Michigan State. Bad loss versus Wisconsin (7-15). Friendship status: Call Me. Maybe.
No. 4 Baylor (25-1, 12-1 Big 12). DePaul lost to the then-No. 5 Bears 86-72 in the preseason WNIT title game. RPI of 4. Have won 12 in a row since losing to No. 17 Oklahoma State, which has won six of its last seven. Quality wins versus No. 19 South Florida, No. 25 Michigan State, No. 18 Miami, James Madison, No. 20 Oklahoma, No. 8 Texas, and RV West Virginia. No bad losses. Friendship status: Before Anything Else.
No. 1 UConn (24-0, 13-0 AAC). DePaul lost to the Huskies 86-70. The point differential in that loss was the closest of any of UConn’s games up to that point. DePaul trailed 44-41 at the half. RPI of 2. Quality wins versus No. 5 Ohio State, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 10 Florida State, No. 6 Maryland, and No. 3 South Carolina. Friendship status: Before Anything Else.
No. 2 Notre Dame (24-1, 12-0 ACC). DePaul lost to the then-No. 3 Irish 95-90. The Blue Demons outscored the Irish 51-30 in the second half. The Irish have won 17 in a row since losing to UConn. RPI of 1. Quality wins versus South Dakota State, No. 12 UCLA, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 7 Oregon State, No. 24 Tennessee, No. 23 Syracuse, and No. 11 Louisville. Friendship status: Before Anything Else.
No. 12 Texas A&M (17-7, 7-4 SEC). DePaul beat the then-No. 15 Aggies 80-66 in College Station. Texas A&M is 3-3 in last six games, including a 59-58 loss to No. 3 South Carolina. RPI of 14. Quality wins versus No. 20 Oklahoma, RV Georgia, and No. 24 Tennessee. Bad loss versus Arkansas (10-14). Friendship status: Before Anything Else.
South Dakota State (21-4, 11-1 Summit League). DePaul lost to the Jackrabbits 88-79. SDSU is 12-1 in its last 13 games. RPI of 62. No quality wins or bad losses, but has played seven teams with RPI over 300. Friendship status: Call Me. Maybe.
Northwestern (14-12, 3-11 Big 10). DePaul beat the then-No. 12 Wildcats 77-64. Northwestern has lost eight of its last nine since beating No. 5 Ohio State. RPI of 95. Quality wins versus Nebraska and Ohio State. Bad loss versus Penn State. (9-15). Friendship status: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Again.
Loyola (12-12, 8-5 Missouri Valley). DePaul lost to the Ramblers 88-75. Loyola has won four of its last five games, but four of its last seven opponents have an RPI over 240. Loyola’s RPI is 167. No other quality wins. Bad losses versus Western Michigan (11-10), Indiana State (9-12), and Wichita State (6-18). Seven of its wins have been against teams with an RPI over 275. Friendship status: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together Again.
St. John’s (18-7, 9-5 BIG EAST). DePaul has beaten the Red Storm twice, 71-61 and 77-71. St. John’s is 4-3 in its last seven games. RPI of 42. Quality wins versus No. 19 South Florida and twice versus Seton Hall. No bad losses. Friendship status: Before Anything Else.
Seton Hall (18-7, 8-6 BIG EAST). DePaul has beaten then-No. 25 Pirates 86-74 and lost to the then-RV Pirates 83-74. Seton Hall is 1-3 in its last four games, but it does have winning streaks of seven, six, and four games this year. RPI of 34. Quality wins versus Princeton and North Carolina State. No bad losses. Friendship status. Before Anything Else.
Villanova (16-10, 9-6 BIG EAST). DePaul lost to the Wildcats 64-60 and beat them 75-47. Villanova is 6-4 in its last 10 games. Has beaten eight teams with RPI under 100. RPI of 54. Quality wins versus North Carolina State, Seton Hall and St. John’s. Bad loss versus Creighton (12-13). Friendship status: Before Anything Else.
The desire for any college basketball team’s friends to do well can be considered Machiavellian. If friends win, you like them even more. If they lose, well, they weren’t great friends to begin with. But there is no mistaking what end the means take: each and every team wants to be friends with the NCAA tournament committee. But how they get to be friends with the committee depends, ironically these days, not only on how a team plays, but also on how their friends play.
DePaul plays three more regular season games and then the BIG EAST tournament. One can’t know how these games will play out for the Blue Demons, but based on the season to date, this much seems certain: DePaul has a good amount of solid friends and only a minimal amount of ex-friends.