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Utah's college hoop teams staring at monumental RPI challenge to reach NCAAs


If the College RPI index is so important in choosing who goes to the NCAA tournament, BYU, Utah, Utah State, Utah Valley and Weber State are climbing an uphill battle at this stage of this season.

Right now our instate schools exist in the RPI Netherlands, well outside the realm of receiving invitations to the Big Dance unless they create some nifty win streaks or capture their respective conference tournaments to earn automatic bids.

And, yes, that is a Captain Obvious statement. Call me Horatio Hornblower. C.S. Forester would be pleased.

Here is how the locals stack up in Jeff Sagarin’s power rankings published in USA Today through Dec. 15. It is a metric considered by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee:

BYU: 65th

Utah: 69th

Utah State: 118th

Utah Valley: 161st

Weber State: 185th

Ken Pomeroy, the respected analytics master who makes Utah his home, has the following breakdown as of Dec. 15:

BYU: 59th

Utah: 66th

Utah State: 138th

Weber State: 177th

Utah Valley: 230th

Utah can get away with an orbiting RPI in December because it has more opportunities to chisel away at that figure during conference play. USU, Weber State and Utah Valley do not. And unless BYU sweeps Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s or wins three out of four, the Cougars also have an uphill RPI battle.

This is why Saturday’s BYU’s game with Illinois is so important and why Utah’s game against Prairie View A&M is not.

Utah has plenty of chances in Pac-12 play to make RPI hay. According to Jerry Palm’s RPI rankings, in that league, USC is No. 13 and UCLA is 14. Then you have Arizona at No. 37 and Oregon 45. Beat a combination of those teams and Utah edges up.

In the WCC, Gonzaga is ranked No. 6 nationally and St. Mary’s is 20. Then you drop to San Francisco at 144 and the Cougars hover at 178th. The Cougar victory over 97th ranked Colorado last week helped. Illinois is 96th.

For the Aggies, Nevada has the top-ranked RPI at No. 20. But then you drop significantly with Colorado State at 101, Wyoming 124 and New Mexico 127.

In the WAC, Utah Valley has a No. 132 ranking in Palm’s metric. The league’s best is New Mexico Sate at 75th, followed by UVU then University of Missouri-Kansas City at 142.

Weber State is 300th and the Big Sky’s best is Eastern Washington at No. 64.

The good news is that these RPI rankings in the third week of December reflect schedules of many schools that have scheduled easy opponents, rarely left home courts and have been far from the rigors of competitive conference schedules.

So, in a word, the RPI has yet to find traction for the locals.

But the strength of teams in league play does matter. This is why Gonzaga coach Mark Few called out the WCC last year for programs that have continued to mire themselves in mediocre scheduling and performances. What that does is penalize the league’s top teams when it comes to tournament selection and seeding.

Gonzaga should be battling for a No. 1 seed come March, but a weak WCC schedule could stop the Bulldogs from reaching that lofty goal.

Right now, Palm has the Pac-12 getting seven NCAA berths, the WCC two and the Mountain West, WAC and the Big Sky with just one each.

Preseason schedules are winding down. Programs' players are finishing finals and heading into the holidays. The wiggle room created by schedulers is about to end and when conference play begins, it will be an entirely new season.

League play is like starting over.

This will be fun to watch.


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