Razorbacks’ RPI respectable, for now

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson walks along the sideline against the Clemson Tigers at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson walks along the sideline against the Clemson Tigers at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas figures to keep improving its record the rest of December and early January leading into the start of SEC play, but the Razorbacks’ Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) no doubt will take a serious hit.

The RPI is a scale used by the NCAA Selection Committee to rank Division I basketball teams by their performance in light of strength of schedule. Low RPI ranking numbers denote strong teams; and high numbers, weaker ones

Arkansas (6-2) is rated No. 16 by ESPN and No. 29 by the NCAA after beating Clemson 74-68 on Saturday in Walton Arena.

“It was a good win for us against a good team,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said.

Massachusetts has the No. 1 RPI in the ESPN and NCAA rankings, and is the only team other than Arkansas to beat Clemson (7-2). The Minutemen, No. 21 in the most recent AP poll, beat the Tigers 62-56 in the championship game of the Charleston (S.C.) Classic.

In the world of computer rankings, opponents’ strength of schedule has a big impact, too.

The first half of Arkansas’ nonconference schedule has given the Razorbacks a boost, with victories over Louisiana-Lafayette, Minnesota and Clemson, along with losses to NCAA Tournament-caliber teams California and Gonzaga.

But Arkansas’ next five games are against opponents who will likely add to the Razorbacks’ victory total, but drag down the RPI.

Arkansas’ next game is Thursday night in Fayetteville against Savannah State, which among 351 NCAA Division I teams is No. 348 in the NCAA RPI rankings and No. 350 in the ESPN rankings. Then comes Tennessee-Martin (RPI No. 310 NCAA and No. 331 ESPN) on Dec. 19 in Fayetteville, South Alabama (Nos. 178, 188) on Dec. 21 in North Little Rock, High Point (Nos. 209, 207) on Dec. 28 in Fayetteville and Texas-San Antonio (Nos. 339, 348) on Jan. 4 in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks don’t play their first true road game until they travel to Texas A&M for their Jan. 8 SEC opener. The lack of a road game was among the reasons ESPN.com in a preseason story ranked Arkansas’ nonconference schedule as among the 10 worst for teams in major conferences.

Anderson defended the Razorbacks’ schedule before they played in Maui.

“There’s no apologizing about the schedule here,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got a darn good schedule - a schedule that is going to hopefully prepare us for SEC play, and that’s the most important thing.”

Anderson commented before Saturday’s Clemson game that how the Razorbacks performed in Maui - where they lost to California 85-77, beat Minnesota 87-73 and lost to Gonzaga 91-81 - did nothing but raise his expectations.

“I expect a lot out of us, to tell you the truth,” Anderson said. “The record we came back with was not what I envisioned, but I think what took place, the experience alone, I’m looking forward to that continuing to benefit us.

“Hopefully, we’ve continued to strive to get better in the areas where we were deficient over in Maui, and we’re not that far off. As all teams are early on now, they’re kind of putting those pieces together, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“We’re trying to make sure we can put in the right people at the right time, that depth continues to develop. I think that’s what we’re seeing more importantly, is the depth. Guys coming off the bench and lifting us up.”

Sports, Pages 13 on 12/09/2013