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Runnin' Utes step closer to possible NCAA bid



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SALT LAKE CITY — The Runnin’ Utes do not have a guaranteed spot in the NCAA tournament, but a 63-59 win over Cal Wednesday night moved the Utes one step closer to that becoming a possibility.

Prior to the season’s start, analysts ranked Division I teams’ non-conference schedules, finding Utah to have the worst — or easiest — schedule in the nation. As a result, Utah would have an uphill battle on its hands for any chance of being invited to the coveted NCAA tournament. But from day one, the goal of head coach Larry Krystkowiak has been to make it to the Big Dance.

“If I didn’t believe that, then I’d be crazy,” Krystkowiak said.

Sitting at 20 wins on the season with one game to go before the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas next week, Utah is still holding onto a chance — albeit slim.

Pac-12 Statistical Ratings

RPIBPIKenpomSagarinMassey
Arizona11111
Arizona State3935353132
California5665666357
Colorado2548595137
Oregon3320292927
Oregon State103801008987
Stanford4838413643
UCLA1811161717
USC170156168155162
Utah7234323542
Washington8699899573
Washington State209179201183171

The NCAA committee, which ultimately determines approximately 33 of the 68 teams’ fate, looks to several factors in determining what teams deserve to be invited to the tournament. One statistical measure the committee uses when choosing teams is that of the Rating Percentage Index, which ranks teams based on wins, loses and strength of schedule.

And that’s exactly the problem for Utah, which had an “easy” non-conference schedule but has performed well in conference play. The wins are there, but the quality of opponent prior to conference play does not quite matchup with other teams considered to be tournament-bound teams.

Approximately two weeks ago, Utah’s RPI was as high as 100. But that number has quickly improved after beating teams like Arizona State, Colorado and Cal. Now, a day after winning their second road game of the season, Utah has improved their RPI to 72, which means Utah is considered a “bubble” team.

#poll

However, the disconnect comes when looking at other statistical models that show Utah should easily get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Examples of some models include ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, which has Utah at 34; Kenpom, which has Utah at 32; Sagarin, which has Utah at 35; and Massey, which has Utah at 42.

While all statistical models use the same factors as that of the RPI, ESPN’s BPI, Kenpom, Sagarin and Massey all include variations of the game’s final score, absence of key players, pace of play and location of the game played.

All the Pac-12 teams projected to be considered for an NCAA 
tournament invite.
All the Pac-12 teams projected to be considered for an NCAA tournament invite.

As a result, a more accurate snapshot of a team’s potential is to be expected. According to ESPN.com, the BPI was the most accurate model when picking tournament teams between 2007 and 2011, picking with 74.4 percent accuracy. Sagarin picked 73.2 percent accuracy.

However, that’s not to say the RPI hasn’t been a good predictor of tournament teams. During that same time, the RPI predicted tournament teams with a 71.9 percent accuracy. But with every model looking to Utah as a tournament team, the value of RPI has many Utah fans questioning its weight by the committee.

Whether Utah is a tournament team could largely come down to its performance against Stanford Saturday. And while winning the Pac-12 tournament is a solution for getting to the tournament, it would be nice for the program to not have to worry about their postseason depending on a championship run.

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Josh Furlong

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