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RPI helps, but doesn't tell it all

By BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2001


Mike Tranghese would like fans to realize that the ratings percentage index is not the end-all, be-all for teams hoping to receive an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

"The RPI is a tool," said Tranghese, the chairman of the men's basketball selection committee. "But I think it's almost getting out of control. With some of the stuff I see and hear (it seems people think) that the RPI in and of itself is going to get people in or out. That's just not the case. I don't believe it's ever been the case."

The RPI is a mathematical formula that attempts to objectively rank all the teams based largely upon a team's Division I won-loss record, its strength of schedule and its opponents' schedule strength.

Although the NCAA doesn't release its RPI publicly, fans easily can find independent -- and apparently accurate -- facsimiles on the Internet or in newspapers.

If a team's RPI is above 70, it's NCAA chances essentially can RIP.

While Tranghese insists the committee hasn't talked about a cutoff point during his five years, the team with the worst RPI to receive an at-large bid was New Mexico (74, according to Collegiate Basketball News Co., which is in its 10th year of calculating a RPI) in 1999.

"When we get to the end and we're trying to figure out those final four or six teams, I've never heard anybody say, "I'm going to take this team because its RPI is 48 and someone else's is 54," he said.

Tranghese, however, understands why fans have come to view the RPI as gospel. It's something easy "you can wrap your arms around," he said. But there's a reason teams with low RPIs earn at-large berths -- they've done the right things, such as playing tough teams and beating some of them, at home and on the road. It's those specifics that the committee uses to distinguish teams, which makes the RPI the handiest tool in the shed.

CASEY AT THE BAT: With Duke sophomore center Carlos Boozer out with a broken right foot for Sunday's showdown at North Carolina (and for next week's ACC Tournament, if not longer), the Blue Devils will be counting on former Tampa Prep star Casey Sanders to take center stage.

Sanders, a sophomore, is averaging 2.3 points and 1.5 rebounds, but has had moments of late. In limited minutes the week before against Virginia and St. John's, he was "a presence," coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

But he will have to be at his best against the Tar Heels' powerful frontcourt of 7-0, 264-pound senior Brendan Haywood and 6-11, 243-pound junior Kris Lang.

"They're going to try to get the ball inside. We lose a guy 6-9, 265 pounds and replace him with a guy 6-11, 220 and not much backup, they'd be silly not to," Krzyzewski said.

MOVING ON: Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson isn't going to try to diminish the impact of junior point guard J.R. Raymond's dismissal from the team. During a 10-game stretch, culminating with a Feb. 19 game at Missouri, he averaged 18.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists. OU went 9-1 in those games.

"You adjust and go on," Sampson said. "We're not going to make any excuses. That's not what we're all about. Hollis Price is probably a better two-guard at this point and Kelley Newton and Tim Heskett are certainly much better off the bench, but that's not the hand we have right now."

Instead, Price must man the point and be the floor leader, Newton becomes a starter at shooting guard for Price and Heskett, a senior co-captain, must play a larger role off the bench. The No. 17-ranked Sooners, 1-1 without Raymond, host rival Oklahoma State tonight in a nationally televised game on ESPN.

"I think we're still good enough to win basketball games," Sampson said, "and that's what our expectations are."

- Brian Landman covers men's college basketball. He can be reached at (813) 226-3347 or by e-mail at landman@sptimes.com

Florida State at Clemson

WHEN/WHERE: Noon today, Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson, S.C.

TV/RADIO: Sunshine; WWBA-AM 1040; WZHR-AM 1400; WAMR-AM 1320.

RECORDS: Florida State 8-20, 3-12. Clemson 11-17, 2-13.

COACHES: Florida State -- Steve Robinson (51-68, fourth season; 97-86 overall). Clemson -- Larry Shyatt (41-50, third season; 60-60 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Florida State -- Delvon Arrington, G, 5-11 Sr. (11.8 ppg, 4.8 apg, 4.3 rpg, 1.9 spg); Monte Cummings, G, 6-4 Jr. (10.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg); Michael Joiner, F, 6-7 Fr. (9.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg); Adrian Crawford, G, 6-5 Sr. (10.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg). Clemson -- Will Solomon, G, 6-1 Jr. (20.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Adam Allenspach, C, 7-1 Sr. (8.3 ppg, 5.9 rpg); Chris Hobbs, F/G, 6-7 Fr. (7.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg); Tony Stockman, G, 6-1 Fr. (12.1 ppg).

NOTES: The Seminoles, off a 69-59 upset of Georgia Tech on Wednesday, will try to end one of the worst seasons in the program's history -- they last lost 20 games in 1951-52 -- on a high. They last won two ACC games in a row to start the 1999-00 conference season. A win also would mean an eighth-place finish in the league, not tied for last with Clemson. ... Regardless of who wins, the two teams will meet again in the first game of the ACC Tournament on Thursday at 7 p.m. ... The Tigers will honor their lone senior, Allenspach. He missed much of the conference season with back spasms and left a hole in the middle of the lineup. He had had six double doubles in the first nine games, during which they were 7-2. Since his return, Clemson is 1-4, but the win came against then No. 1 North Carolina. ... FSU leads the series 18-14, including an 88-84 overtime win in Tallahassee on Jan. 31. -- Compiled by Brian Landman

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