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Virginia Basketball NCAA Poll and Rankings Update: February 20th

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After a 1-1 week that included a meek road loss to a mediocre Clemson team followed by a dominant home victory over similarly mediocre Maryland, Virginia fans took to their refresh buttons to see if the Hoos would maintain a spot in the top 25 polls. Does being ranked really matter? In terms of "tangible" factors, like future wins and losses, ACC tournament seeding, and NCAA bids, of course not. On the other hand, there are some fun perks that come along with a national ranking. Virginia shows up on the sidebar, the ESPN bottom line, and the ESPN highlights. So basically, it's a bit harder for one media group to ignore us, and we get to see a number next to our name on TV - but I'd like to keep it that way.

However, those days are (temporarily) over, as UVA dropped out of the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll for the first time since December 19th. The Hoos received 73 votes, putting them 3 votes away from the top 25, but stuck in 26th place for this week. Though Virginia stayed in the AP Poll, coming in at 25th, the media outlets that use the Coaches Poll (like ESPN) won't show the Hoos. As per my practice of using whichever ranking puts us higher, I'll stick with the Associated Press on this one.

Ken Pomeroy, who lives outside the world of perception bias and pacism, has the Hoos 20th in his rankings. Virginia is 107th in adjusted offensive efficiency (104.7 points per 100 possessions), but 5th in the nation in defense (85.3 points per 100). Notably, the defense is in the top 10 nationally in effective FG %, defensive rebound %, three point %, and, yes, free-throw %, as opponents, terrified by the prospect of returning to defend Mike Scott, shoot just 63% at the line. Pomeroy's magic 8-ball predicts its basically a toss-up whether we finish the year 3-1 or 2-2.

Jeff Sagarin's computer model puts Virginia at 23rd in the nation.

The much-maligned but all important RPI formula spits Virginia out at number 38. RPI is a terrible measure of team strength, albeit a very simplistic one (The formula is simply 25% record, 50% opponents' records, and 25% opponents' opponents' records. Home wins are weighted as .6 wins and losses are 1.4, On the road, swap those two.). This makes it pretty simple to predict where we will stand at the end of the year, and you could play around with that at this site. Basically, ending the year with an RPI under 50 means there is virtually no chance we miss the tournament if past history holds, and we should be okay as long as we stay below 60. The Committee tells us that RPI is "just one factor" used, but it always ends up correlating pretty strongly with their selections. This post from "Wahoo Metrics" explains further:

In 2011, the top four seeds in the NIT, and thereby the first four out of the real tournament, were Virginia Tech, Alabama, Colorado, and Boston College. Their final RPIs were, respectively, 65, 59, 67, and 61. In 2010; Illinois 66, Virginia Tech 52, Arizona State 69, and Miss. State 59.

Because RPI is so silly, it is also important that our opponents make it into arbitrary cutoffs. The selection committee looks at schedule broken into "top 50" and "top 100" components, so seeing that we played a team that finish 49th holds more water than if they finish a virtually identical 51st. A few teams to keep track of: Miami is currently 49th in RPI, and RPIForecast predicts a finish of 49.7, barely keeping them in "top 50 win" territory. NC State, on the other hand, sits just outside the top 50. Oregon could finish in the top 50 as well, though a run to the Pac-12 Tournament Final seems necessary. A strong finish could propel TCU into the top 100, though it is more likely that finish just outside and stay in "bad loss territory." Bottom line: RPI is dumb, but it could end up giving us a lift if things break the right way come tournament time.