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THE RPI IS A JOKE
By Seth Greenberg


December, 2003

I cannot think of a more simple of way of putting it than to state that the RPI is an absolute joke. I would like to know who made this guy and his formula the ranking's authority for college basketball?

As of Dec. 13, Boston College was ranked No. 1 in the Ratings Power Index. Coach Skinner does an outstanding job and has an excellent team, but No. 1 in America?

I remember a couple of years ago when Tennessee spent more time at No. 1 in the RPI than Duke. That's not a knock on Buzz Peterson's program, but who is kidding who here?

The bottom line is that Angela Lento's Fashion Power Index -- on CollegeInsider.com -- is more accurate and has more credibility than the rating's power index.

It’s ridiculous!

The idea of a rating system is a good, but it needs to be re-worked, taking into account more things. In short, the equation needs to be reexamined. I have always been a supporter of the idea of having basketball people -- with a background in mathematics -- come up with a set of standards and a new calculating system. And a recalculation is long overdue.

With any point system comes criticism. Not everyone is going to be happy, but many will lose their argument when the necessary changes are implemented. The problem is, little change has taken place.

Let’s use the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 as an example. This is its sixth season of existence and every year modifications have been made to improve its worth. The Mid-Major Top 25 began as a Mid-Major Top 10, which was compiled by one staffer.

The following season there were numerous staff members contributing and it was expanded to a Top 25. In year three coaches --- including yours truly --- acted as unofficial advisers. One year later coaches -- including myself -- became official voters.

That’s quite a lot of progress in a short period of time, all in an effort to make the ranking system better and even more accurate. And in the past three seasons changes have been made to the voting panel to attract voters that are more diligent in rating the best 25 programs in a given week.

Furthermore, there are no politics involved. If you lose, you drop. The name of your institution doesn’t give you a free pass for another week.

A lot of coaches have commended CollegeInsider.com for this useful tool, which promotes so many deserving programs. But what they should really be commended for is a willingness to listen and a willingness to make changes. For some reason, other ranking system managers don’t want to change. The message is simple: Here it is, like it or not.

Well, I like the Mid-Major Top 25, but I don’t like the RPI.

Here is the basic formula for the Ratings Power Index:

1.) 25% is based on team winning percentage.
2.) 25% is based on opponents’ opponents’ average winning percentage.
3.) 50% is based on opponents average winning percentage.

The formula does not take into consideration how difficult certain places are to play at. We all know how tough it is to be the visiting team at Cameron Indoor, but how many fans know how difficult it is to play at Cal Poly, George Mason or Lafayette?

Winning on the road in the Big West, Colonial or Patriot League is just as challenging as winning on the road in the ACC. But because you play everyone in the ACC, everyone has a good RPI rating because teams like Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest have great win-loss records. And 50% of the equation is based on what those teams do.

Now, you won’t find three such great win-loss records in the Big West, Colonial, Patriot or virtually any other mid-major conference.

Fans do not realize how tough it is to win on the road, regardless of what conference you play in. In short, most have no clue. But forget about the fans for a second, the math people have no clue either.

Anytime you win on the road it's significant, but -- and this important to repeat -- there are certain venues that are even more difficult to be successful at and the RPI does not take that into consideration.

But that is only scratching the surface.

What about injuries?

Lets say it's early December and you go on the road to face a previously unbeaten team. You come away with a win, but in the weeks that follow injuries hurt the team that you just beat and they fall on hard times.

Because 25% of the formula is based on your opponent’s winning percentage, it doesn’t matter that you beat them when they had their full compliment of players. All that matters is what they are doing now, a month or two after your win.

That's ludicrous!

Sure it can work to your advantage if the team you defeated goes on to have success, but it should not hurt you if they don't have success.

Now let’s say that same team stays healthy and goes on to run the table in their conference. That should add up to a great result for you, right? Not necessarily.

If there are a couple of teams within that conference that have fallen on hard times, your win in December takes a hit. Now you never played those two teams that are struggling, but they both played the team you beat. Now you are paying the price for situations you had absolutely no participation in.

That’s disturbing!

When I was still coaching at Long Beach State, we finished one season with seven or eight consecutive wins. But while we gained ground in the standings with each win we continued to drop in the RPI.

Think about that for a second. You win seven or eight in a row and your RPI goes down. You win the games on your schedule, but some mathematician tells you that his formula has calculated that you should drop.

That’s insane!

I always thought the formula for success was predicated on winning games.

Now let’s take the team currently ranked No. 10 in the RPI (as of Dec. 13, 2004). Kent State is off to a great start, but there is no chance that their RPI will be anywhere near No. 10 in a month or so, even if they don’t lose a game. The simple fact is that some teams in the Mid-American Conference will bring Kent State’s RPI down before they even tip off.

The Golden Flashes could win convincingly, but they will drop because…

1.) Their opponent is struggling to get into the win column.
2.) Their opponent played games in November and December against teams that have not faired well since.

Are you kidding me?

It won't matter that they had to go into hostile environment, like Creighton. All that will matter is that the opponents' calculated power index is not good.

I would like to see some of these math guys venture out of their cubicles and try to solve algebraic problems in the middle of busy freeway with people yelling and screaming at them. I am sure they won't find it quite so easy to add and subtract.

Road games and conference play are both examples of things that a computer program simply cannot calculate.

I remember a couple of seasons ago when UC-Irvine notched a great win at Utah State. They broke the Aggies' 34-game home winning streak. I took some teams into Logan, UT so I can tell you what a great win that was for the Anteaters.

But for all they gained with that win, they lost more with a home loss to conference-opponent Cal-State Northridge. It wasn't taken into account that Northridge was playing their best basketball heading into that contest. All that counted was their slow start.

That's absurd!

Lets take it a step further. How can you account for the human element?

Lets say for example that a key player breaks up with his girlfriend on game day. It's fair to say that his frame of mind may not be where it needs to be. Or maybe a player is concerned about a paper he has due for one of his classes.

Trust me, these things happen all the time.

When I was at South Florida, we had to travel to Tulane for a conference game. Before we left we hit a few snags and were almost unable to hold a practice. It was an adverse situation that we had to deal with and it’s an example of something that would never show up in a box score. Such circumstances directly affect the outcome of a game.

I agree with the idea of a rating system, but we need a rating system that calculates more. The RPI is not only unfair, but it's flawed. We need basketball people to be more involved in any rating's system. In the meantime, the RPI and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee.

So calculate that!

 

NOBODY SCREWS WITH COACH LOBALBO
By Seth Greenberg


January, 2002

One of the great keys to the success of any team is getting your players to buy into your system. And that goes well beyond the game plans. It's about guidance, dependability and leadership.

Young men enroll in school with different ideas as to their future. Some aspire to be doctors; others want practice law or seek a position in the business world. Often that plays a major role in his or hers' determination as to choice of school.

When I made my decision -- as to where to attend school -- it was also based on where I could get the best education for the profession that I wanted to pursue. I knew that I wanted to -- one day -- be a college basketball coach. And the best place for me to get an education as a coach was at Fairleigh Dickinson University, under the tutelage of Al LoBalbo.

When I first met coach LoBalbo I was very impressed with his approach to the game and his great ability, to not only teaching the game, but also conveying it in such a way that one could teach it to others.

At that time he had already put together quite a resume, having coached since 1947. He was an assistant under Bob Knight at Army and they had a point guard at that time named Mike Krzyzewski.

He spent a little time in the NBA with the Buffalo Braves and would later coach with Lou Carnesecca at St. John's. But from 1969 to 1980 he was the head coach at FDU.

According to the transcripts I was a communications major at FDU. But in fact the best classes that I attended were with professor LoBalbo on the basketball court. And just like in the typical classroom setting, I brought a notebook to every practice and wrote down all the lessons taught in that lecture hall.

Coach LoBalbo was a very emotional guy, which is a characteristic that I display at times myself. From time to time, he would really get after us and I can remember it like it happened yesterday. He would be ranting and raving and he looked to me and said, "one day you are going to be dealing with the same issues and the same problems that I am dealing with now. And you will handle them in the same manner. You just don't know it yet."

He was exactly right.

Everything that I am doing today at the University of South Florida all goes back to the education that I received from professor-coach LoBalbo at Fairleigh Dickinson.

As coaches we are sponges to some degree, picking up little things from others and incorporating them into our particular styles of play. While virtually everything that I do now comes directly from coach LoBalbo, I was in the unique position to absorb things from so many other coaching greats because of him.

Back then, the Fairleigh Dickinson coaching clinic was a 'who's-who' in coaching. Coach LoBalbo was one of the few coaches in America that could get the likes of Bob Knight, Hubie Brown, Mike Fratello, Mike Krzyzewski and others to speak at the camp.

The only draw back to that was that I was always the demonstrator for the different drills so I took a lot of abuse. But, in all seriousness, it was a great classroom setting for me. And it was not only just another part of my plan to do what I wanted to do one day, but it was also part of coach LoBalbo's plan for what he wanted me to do as well.

Coach LoBalbo was an old-school type of coach. He was cut out of the same mold of Vince Lombardi. Everything that he did as a coach had a well-served purpose. As young players, it was sometimes difficult for us to understand his methods. And that is still true today.

Something he said to me I still convey to my players today. And that is, "if I am not on your butt, it means that I don't care about you anymore."

Sometimes young people misinterpret the words of others to be disrespectful or condescending. But the fact is that you often give the most hell to those you care for the most. That is something I learned early on from coach LoBalbo.

He had is own style, driving into practice in his Lincoln Continental, chewing on those big cigars before it was fashionable and taking the team to that steak-dinner before every game. And he was a true character who possessed great character. That was evident in the very first practice I ever attended at FDU.

I walked into the gym and there were 13 chairs lined up on the court. No basketballs, just chairs. We all sat down and waited for five minutes and then ten minutes. It seemed like an eternity as fifteen minutes passed and finally twenty minutes later he came strolling down from his office.

He walked back and forth a few times, chewing on a cigar and staring at us. Then he said, with a little twang in his voice, "hey," and there was a long pause. That was a coach LoBalbo staple, "hey." You never knew if you were supposed to respond or just keep quiet. It was his way of getting your attention.

So after what seemed like forever, he follows up with a little speech that I will never forget. He said, "I'm your coach Al Lo. I want you to like me, not to love me because loving leads to screwing and nobody screws with Al LoBalbo."

We are all going to miss you coach Lo.