If the decisions of last year’s NCAA Division I women’s basketball committee taught us anything, it’s that scheduling and winning games against the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) top 50 really matter. When a team didn’t make the NCAA tournament field, or questions arose around a team that was included, committee chair Terry Gawlik’s fallback answer invariably had something to do with one or both of those criteria.
The top 16 teams in the committee’s first reveal this season suggests a similar philosophy. And when also applied further down the S-curve, it sheds some light on the fate of a number of bubble teams, beginning with their status in this week’s bracket projection.
Creighton: The Bluejays haven’t been on the bracketology radar until now because they entered Big East play at just 6-4, but as the overall record has improved, some of the benefits of coach Jim Flanery’s scheduling have taken on greater meaning. Creighton is 13-8, has three top-50 wins, boasts overall strength of schedule (SOS) and nonconference SOS in the top 20 and is a top-50 RPI team itself. Everything there except overall record is better than last season’s Northern Iowa team that received an at-large bid.
South Dakota State: The Jackrabbits are just hanging on after their loss to rival South Dakota but are still a top-40 RPI team with an equally solid nonconference SOS. They played Louisville tough and have two other top-50 wins, including one over NC State.
Purdue: The Boilermakers are in a similar category. They scheduled wisely, if not with incredible daring, and have put together three top-50 wins. A few more upper-division Big Ten victories will help, but Purdue looks like a much better team than it was in November and December.
Nebraska: If the Cornhuskers had a better nonconference SOS, they would be in, easily, and not the last at-large bid in this week’s projection. They are the hottest team in the country outside the top 20. Nebraska has four top-50 RPI wins, all of which have come in the past four games. If the Huskers keep playing this well, it might not matter; but if they don’t make the NCAA tournament, it could be traced to a lack of quality wins pre-Big Ten and a nonconference SOS barely in the top 200.
TCU: The Horned Frogs recently moved into the AP Top 25 for the first time since the 2010-11 season, but they are not in the field this week and haven’t been all year. The reason is simple: The committee frowns on a nonconference SOS rated No. 231. Only three Power 5 programs played worse nonleague schedules. Victories over Texas and West Virginia are significant, but based on recent history, they are likely not enough to get TCU in the NCAA tournament alone.
Southern California: The Women of Troy have been in the field in previous weeks, but not this time around. The résumé remains spotty, and it largely stems from doing nothing significant against a far-too-weak nonconference schedule — except playing to within a point of Texas A&M and beating Purdue. If USC had done more to this point in the Pac-12, a tournament bid would be more in hand, but the Trojans — 5-5 in conference play — also have struggled to beat most of the better teams in the league. Without a couple of additional marquee wins, it will be easy for the committee to hold a nonleague SOS of 188 against the Trojans.
Buffalo: The Bulls’ résumé looks decent enough at face value — a top-25 RPI and two top-50 wins. However, their overall SOS has crept above 100 (it’s above 150 in nonconference) and their best win is over Nebraska. None of the that says tournament team.
Duquesne: The Dukes’ résumé looks similar, but the RPI and both schedule strength metrics are even worse than those of Buffalo. The win over Virginia looks increasingly better, but that’s about it. Last year’s edition of the Cavaliers was one of the first teams left off the committee’s list, and it was because Virginia played a nonconference schedule rated outside the top 200. Duquesne’s schedule this year is only marginally better.