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Diet of Rice and Y. causes Utes to plummet 12 spots

Barring a seven-game losing streak, the Utah basketball team will be invited to the NCAA tournament this year for the fifth time in the past seven years. Even with a seven-game skid, the Utes would still likely find their way into the 64-team field with a 20-8 record.One of the keys will be how the Utes end up in RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) rankings that are supposedly one of the main criteria for selecting the NCAA field and the seedings.

After climbing steadily from the 59th spot in early January to the 21st spot last week, the Utes suddenly dropped to No. 33 this week.

How can that possibly happen, you ask, when the Utes are ranked No. 5 in the two major polls and won two games last week by comfortable margins?

It's the schedule.

The Utes happened to play two of the worst teams in the WAC, 6-18 BYU and 5-17 Rice last week. They could have won by 50 points in each game, and it wouldn't have made a bit of difference.

That's because the RPI is weighted heavily toward schedules, 75 percent in fact, and playing bad teams drops your rating.

The computer formula is weighted 25 percent on the team's won-lost percentage against Division I competition, 50 percent on the team's strength of schedule and 25 percent on opponents' strength of schedule.

Utah was initially hampered by a diluted preseason schedule and lately has been hurt by weak WAC opponents. But Utah coach Rick Majerus doesn't seem too bothered by how his team stacks up in the RPI.

"I don't pay much attention to it," he said. "It isn't necessarily a definitive tool. I talked to Terry Holland (of the NCAA selection committee) two weeks ago about this, and he said they use a variety of measures. I only know what people tell me. "

Bill Hancock, the NCAA's director of the Division I men's basketball championship last year, said the RPI is overrated.

"People make too much of the RPI," he said. "If the RPI was the end-all, be-all, then we'd have a computer select the teams."

However, it is interesting to note how close the last year's final RPI ratings were to the top seeds of last year's tournament.

The top four teams in last year's final RPI ratings received the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tourney. The No. 2 seeds went to Utah, Duke, South Carolina and UCLA, Nos. 5, 7, 9 and 10 in the RPI rankings, respectively. All of the top four seeds in the four regions were ranked No. 19 or higher in the RPIs.

Despite the Utes' low rating in the RPIs, we're putting them as a No. 2 seed in the first Deseret News NCAA Watch, which will track what we believe will be the top four seeds in each region right up until the week of Selection Sunday.

The four No. 1 seeds are obvious and have pretty much been easy to figure since November. Connecticut, Kentucky and Purdue head the next tier and the Utes got the edge over UCLA after the Bruins were beaten handily by Oregon last week. The Utes' RPI rating will start climbing as they play some of the WAC's tougher teams the next couple of weeks. A year ago at this time Utah was No. 21 and ended up No. 5.

Michigan State, one of the hottest teams in the nation, gets a No. 3 spot in our seedings, while slumping Stanford barely gets a No. 4. The last of the No. 4 seeds was given to Maryland, which despite a mediocre 14-7 mark, is ranked No. 7 in the RPI ratings and holds that big win over North Carolina.



Subregionals Projected seedings*

West Midwest

(March 12 and 14) (March 13 and 15)

Where: Boise, Idaho, Where: Oklahoma City,

Sacramento, Ca. Okla., Chicago, Ill.

1. Arizona 1. Kansas

2. Utah 2. Purdue

3. UCLA 3. Arkansas

4. Maryland 4. Stanford

East South

(March 12 and 14) (March 13 and 15)

Where: Hartford, Conn., Where: Atlanta, Ga.,

Washington D.C. Lexington, Ky.

1. Duke 1. North Carolina

2. Connecticut 2. Kentucky

3. Michigan State 3. New Mexico

4. Princeton 4. South Carolina

On the bubble: Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Cincinnati

*By the Deseret News if the NCAA selections were held today.