Happy number crunching: The winter-sports RPI edition
January 18, 2017
OK, Steve Harvey isn't in the house but this is the first look at the ratings-percentage index for winter sports. In both 4A basketball and hockey, conference winners automatically make the postseason. Everyone else gets in via RPI — it's a 48-team field in basketball and 24 for hockey.
A refresher course on RPI — 25 percent of the number is a team's winning percentage; 50 percent is a team's opponent's winning percentage; 25 percent is your opponents' opponents' winning percentage.
From this system being used in the fall, we learned this wasn't a perfect system. The general idea is that getting wins against a strong schedule helps you make the postseason, which is good.
Playing teams from different classifications doesn't hurt or help a team's RPI — 4A Battle Mountain volleyball received a bit of boost during the fall by playing some 2A and 3A teams. Playing everyone within conference twice can hurt a team's opponents' winning percentage, 50 percent of the formula, as Battle Mountain soccer saw.
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We'll keep an eye on that with particular regard to basketball. In hockey, every team in every conference plays twice.
Eagle Valley sits at No. 30 with Battle Mountain at No. 35. If the season ended today, then both teams would be in the playoffs, but not exactly where either team would like to be seeded.
The Devils are the highest-ranked team in the 4A Western Slope, with Battle Mountain No. 2 and Glenwood Springs, which actually leads the league standings at 3-1, at No. 37.
There are the usual head-to-head irregularities — Eagle Valley is ahead of Steamboat Springs (40) and Rifle (43), though the Sailors and Bears both have beaten the Devils.
Another interesting factor to watch is Palisade (60). The Bulldogs are 3-10 overall and 2-1 in the Slope, and, last year, lost a lot of games early and then surged to second in league play. Does a similar run this year, boost Palisade in RPI?
The RPI does not appreciate Eagle Valley's strength of schedule so far this year — the Devils' opponents' winning percentage, again, 50 percent of the formula, is .468, which is why the team with a 7-5 record is below teams that are under .500.
That probably explains why Battle Mountain at 5-8 is only five spots behind Eagle Valley. The Huskies' opponents' winning percentage is .544.
Eagle Valley's 34th and Battle Mountain's 43rd. Like the boys, both teams are in, but both teams would doubtless like to be in better position.
This would probably be a good time to remind everyone that the computer doesn't know or care about a team not playing for several weeks due to the holiday break or weather. Nor does the formula give a hoot that Battle Mountain's 8-3 record is pretty good, given the program's history.
What is ominous is that Palisade is ranked eighth and Rifle 14th. Consider it an opportunity for Devils basketball that the Bulldogs come to town on Friday. Beating the 12-1 Bulldogs would doubtless be an RPI boost for Eagle Valley since it increases the Devils' winning percentage and their opponents' winning percentage.
Battle Mountain (5-0-2) is No. 11 and in playoff position. Like the basketball teams above, there are a lot of games to be played. These rankings aren't locked in stone. In fact, they'll be changing daily. And all five of the winter teams still have a shot of winning their respective league titles and make the RPI completely irrelevant with regard to postseason fate.
For Huskies hockey, consider the first posting of the RPI as a bit of a carrot. Battle Mountain is off to a good start and the computer agrees.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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