Crunching the numbers on Cougs' RPI

THE RESOUNDING VICTORY over the Huskies on Sunday night no doubt put a spring in the steps of Cougar fans. But a look at the latest RPI numbers brings a healthy dose of realism to the table.

If the Cougs win their last two regular season games against the L.A. schools, and take a couple games in the Pac-10 tourney, will that get them into the NCAA Tourney? Alas, the evidence suggests nothing short of winning the Pac-10 Tournament would punch the Cougars' dance ticket.

Washington State's win at Montlake increased their RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) to No. 76 – or about where it was (79) before the Cougs suffered an excruciating loss to Pac-10 cellar dweller Arizona State.

The virtues of the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) are debatable, but the reality is that it plays a key role in the NCAA tournament selection process. A high RPI isn't the only barometer but consider that no team with an RPI worse than 63 has earned an at-large bid in recent years. The Cougars' opponents might not have enough juice to help WSU close the gap – and that's assuming WSU would be able to sweep both USC and UCLA this week.

USC has an RPI worse than Washington State's, at No. 80, so that doesn't help much. UCLA, coming off their upset win over Arizona, has an RPI of 35.

The bottom line is a school from a major conference needs an RPI at or below 60 just to have a shot, given the number of smaller schools that earn NCAA Tourney invites. But even if WSU were able to make up ground and get to right around 60 or a bit below, Selection Sunday history is rife with examples that do not portend well for Cougar fans.

Mississippi and Ohio State, with RPIs of 48 and 49 respectively, didn't receive an invitation a few years back. Neither did Florida State the year they had an RPI of 41. Virginia Tech (56) and Miss. State (55) were snubbed last year.

WHAT KILLED WSU's chances most was a win they let get away, against Arizona back on Jan. 22 (65-63). Even with two upset losses this past week, ‘Zona still holds a robust RPI of 19.

Two teams Wazzu beat earlier this season (Baylor [72] and Gonzaga [65]) are having sub-par years and that's hurt the Cougs' RPI. But the real villain is the weakness of the Pac-10 this season.

The Pac-10 conference ranks a sub-standard No. 7 in the RPI, just ahead of Conference USA, and behind the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern.

If Wazzu wants to go dancing, unless the big picture unexpectedly and markedly changes in the next 7-10 days, they'll need to win the Pac-10 tournament. The top six teams gain a first round bye in the conference tournament. WSU currently resides as the No. 6 seed, and if the season ended today would meet UW in a No. 3 seed vs. No. 6 seed matchup on March 10.

ESPN bracketology expert Joe Lunardi lists the last four into the tournament as Richmond (62 RPI), Michigan (57), Alabama (89) and Baylor (72). His first four out are Memphis (33), Clemson (69), Boston College (42) and Colorado (77). The next four after that are Colorado State (47), Maryland (83), Wichita State (52) and Nebraska (82).

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