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Kevin Schnepf, Published February 17 2008

NDSU’s RPI drop due to better competition

According to the RPI, there are 221 Division I men’s basketball teams better than North Dakota State this season. And there are 119 teams worse than NDSU.

It’s called the Ratings Percentage Index, which ranks Division I teams according to winning percentage, the opponents’ average winning percentage and the opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage.

In other words, the strength of your opponent and the strength of your opponents’ opponents account for 75 percent of the ranking. Your overall record accounts for one-fourth.

Last year, NDSU finished with an RPI ranking of 157 out of 336 Division I schools. So far this year, the Bison sit at 222 out of 341 teams.

Why the drop?

The Summit League.

Last year, 12 of NDSU’s 28 games were against six Division I independents who had a combined record of

52-91.

This year, 18 of NDSU’s 29 games will have come against teams from the Summit League – a 10-team conference the Bison have found to be a good fit, but perhaps a bit more competitive than they thought.

“One thing you learn in a hurry is the depth of these teams is better than those independent teams,” said Bison head coach Saul Phillips. “You can’t just focus on one or two players. More schools have more kids who are capable of stepping up.”

“I don’t think people realize that this is a very good league,” said Ron Hunter, head coach at Indiana Purdue-Indianapolis.

It’s the best league the Bison have ever played in. But according to the RPI, there are 21 Division I conferences that are better than the Summit League. And there are nine Division I conferences that are worse – including the Big Sky, a conference NDSU was hoping to get into before the Summit League came along.

Without Oral Roberts and IUPUI, the Summit League’s No. 22 ranking could be lower. That’s because the league’s top two teams are among the top 100 in the latest RPI rankings.

Based on respectable losses to Texas (No. 7 RPI), Texas A&M (No. 24) and Arkansas (No. 30), Oral Roberts is ranked 50th in the latest RPI. Its only win against a top-100 team has come against IUPUI – currently ranked 92nd.

“That’s hard to do,” writes Andy Glockner of ESPN.com, who thinks Oral Roberts could get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament if they happen to lose to IUPUI in the title game of the conference tournament.

“If they run the table until the conference finals, including a home win over Creighton (No. 64 RPI) in a BracketBuster game, before losing a barn burner to IUPUI, is it possible? It would be unusual for sure. But they would be 25-6 in D-I games.”

Make that 24-7 after Oral Roberts lost at IUPUI on Saturday 69-66. NDSU would love to make it 23-8 when it hosts Oral Roberts on March 1 in a regular-season finale.

“It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility,” Phillips said of his team’s chances of finishing the season with five straight wins. “A win over Oral Roberts would be special.”

It would mark NDSU’s first win this season over a Division I team with a winning record.

Yes, the Bison have wins over nine opponents that rank lower in the RPI (IPFW 237, Colorado State 238, Centenary 258, Western Illinois 263, Southern Utah 266, North Carolina Central 278, Tennessee Tech 285, Missouri-Kansas City 301 and South Dakota State 308).

Their only win against a team ranked higher has come against No. 209 Bucknell. The rest of the losses are to Oral Roberts 50, Florida 63, California 82, IUPUI 92, Wisconsin-Green Bay 104, Minnesota 112, Oakland 165 and Rutgers 203.

“I don’t think our level of play has been particularly poor,” Phillips said. “It’s just that the level of competition has gone up.”

Which explains why the RPI ranking has gone down.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com