Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pac-12 Volleyball: An RPI upgrade?

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  Filling in the blanks for Washington's 2012 volleyball schedule

Teams seem to be trying to schedule tougher preseason opponents

During last season’s Selection Sunday—November 27—USC Coach Mick Haley famously compared the frustration of Pac-12 fans, coaches and players with the frustration of those who were part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

USC Coach Mick Haley

Responding to the shockingly low seeds handed to the Pac-12’s volleyball teams by the NCAA Tournament Committee, Haley joked that “occupy NCAA may be the way to go.”

Earlier that same week, Washington Coach Jim McLaughlin called the NCAA Selection Committee’s use of RPI ratings “hocus pocus” and a “joke.”

The NCAA’s use of Ratings Percentage Index (see: RPI Primer) to seed the top 16 teams in last year’s tournament fired a shot across the Pac-12’s bow. In essence, the NCAA was telling the conference to: (1) schedule tougher preseason opponents, and (2) beat those opponents.

Of course, the Pac-12 got the last laugh, as (once again), half the Final Four teams were from the conference, including eventual national champion UCLA.

Now that a number of 2012 preseason schedules have been released, it seems evident that the conference—however reluctantly—has kept an eye on the hated RPI.

Based on last season’s final RPI, the preseason schedule includes such heavyweight matchups as:
#4 USC vs. #9 Northern Iowa & #19 Texas A&M
#5 UCLA vs. #6 Nebraska, #10 Hawai’i & #15 Pepperdine
#21 Stanford vs. #10 Hawai’i, #13 Penn State & #16 Florida
#31 Washington vs. #8 Purdue & #13 Penn State
#32 California (2012 schedule not yet released)
#33 Oregon vs. #11 Kentucky

Several decent matches there. But it should be pointed out that the conference always schedules several marquee nonconference matches. For example, last season Oregon beat Penn State, Stanford beat Penn State, Penn State beat USC, USC beat Minnesota, Minnesota beat Oregon, UCLA beat Hawai’i, Hawai’i beat Arizona.

Once you get past the top-20 matchups, you notice (see below) that most schedules include many more opponents in the RPI 20-100 range than in recent seasons. If the conference can do well in those contests, it will have a multiplier effect: a win against a high-RPI Stanford team, for example, gives its Pac-12 opponent a bigger RPI boost than if Stanford were rated lower. And so on. (That may help explain why the Big-12 Conference had such an inflated RPI last season.)

Washington has a long history of scheduling overmatched preseason opponents. Notable exceptions include wins against Florida and Minnesota in 2009; a loss to Hawai’i in 2008; a loss to Texas in 2006 and a two match sweep of Hawai’i in 2005. But in each case, the Huskies had to travel; powerhouse teams have been reluctant to spend the money to fly all the way to Seattle, forcing Washington to sacrifice limited training days (and budget) to get higher-caliber opposition.

As we reported yesterday, McLaughlin emphatically denies that the RPI influenced his 2012 scheduling decision. Of the RPI, he says, “We’re not going to follow some formula that isn’t sound.”

Here, then, is a preliminary peek at how the Pac-12 preseason is coming together. Please note:
  • We’ve not yet heard from California, Arizona, Utah or Colorado
  • We still don’t know the names of two of Washington’s opponents at the Penn State Tournament
  • Oregon and Arizona State have each posted just three of their four preseason weekends
  • All of these schedules are still subject to change, especially if television gets involved
  • The number to the left of each school is its final 2011 RPI, calculated by the NCAA after the Final Four:

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