Determining the Panthers' Future Seed

There are only three numbers you should associate with the Pittsburgh Panthers this Sunday:<br><br> 2, 3, and 4.<br><br> Those are the three most likely seeds for the Panthers come Selection Sunday. Depending on the Big East Tournament results, the Panthers could land as high as the #2 seed in the West or as low as the #4 seed in the East.

The Panthers (23 - 4) arguably are a #1 seeded team based on their rankings throughout the year, but unfortunately, come Sunday's rankings, those rankings will be thrown out the door for the more complex and (mostly ridiculous) R.P.I. Index. That's the only reason to explain that Syracuse was ranked outside of the top 10 but will most likely end up with a higher seed than the Panthers.

This is not to say the Panthers don't have an outside, very outside shot at a #1 seed. But, to get a #1 seed the Panthers would need a number of things to fall into place this week as the major conferences battle in tournament mode.

In no particular order:

  • Pitt must win the Big East Tournament (convincingly).
  • Florida must not win the SEC tournament.
  • Marquette must not win the Conference USA tournament.
  • Wake Forest must not win the ACC tournament.
  • Oklahoma and Kansas must not reach the finals of the Big 12 tournament.

Possible? Science says yes. Science also says an elephant can hang over the edge of a cliff by its tail (Guess what movie that analogy came from).

Probable? No.

So the Panthers are left with three possibilities.

  1. A #2 Seed could occur if the Panthers win the Big East Conference. As a side note, Syracuse, barring a huge upset on Thursday in the tournament, seems locked for a #2 seed unless they win the tournament.
  2. If the Panthers fail to win the tournament but reach the finals, a #3 Seed seems very likely. A #3 seed is also very likely if the Panthers lose in the semifinals.
  3. If the Panthers suffer an early exit in Thursday's quarterfinal round, they will (based on the weak R.P.I) most likely land a #4 seed.

Now, it's granted that the latter two possibilities depend on what happens in the other tournaments, but the Panthers can rest assured of their highest seeding since 1987-88 if they take care of their own business.

So what is this business of the R.P.I.? Well, unless you've followed Joe Lunardi's bracketology, you'd think the selection process would follow the AP rankings more than a complex version that is not unlike the BCS in many ways.

The R.P.I., according to ESPN, "is derived from three component factors:

  • Div. I winning percentage (25%),
  • Schedule Strength (50%).
  • Opponents' Schedule Strength (25%).
Games against non-Division I opponents are not used in calculating the RPI."

Pitt's strength of schedule (playing in the Big East) was 68 and they played only one team (Georgia #4) that was not Big East and was within the R.P.I.'s top 64 teams. Ohio State falls at #70 and Rhode Island comes in at #85.

This does terrible damage to Pitt's "computed" credibility as a top team. Regardless of whether the Panthers in person are one of the top 4 teams in the country, Pitt's schedule and the schedule of the other Big East teams hurt their chances for a #1 seed.

What's worse is the effect of Georgia (the one meaningful non-conference match-up) deciding to hold out of the SEC and NCAA tournament due to its current scandal investigation. If the computers are forced to take Georgia off the board, the Panthers' slim chance at a #1 seed is completely destroyed.

The R.P.I. is not the be-all and end-all of determining factors used on Selection Sunday, but it is a factor that in some ways (for good and for bad) means more than a national ranking.

--John Biles (formerly The Steel Apple)

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