Even people who've served on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee find it difficult to understand how The Rating Percentage Index had Kansas ahead of Kentucky last week. After all, Kentucky beat (humiliated?) Kansas by 32 points in November. It was the most lopsided loss in Bill Self's 12 seasons as Kansas coach.
Yet, there it was: Kansas No. 1 in the RPI and unbeaten Kentucky No. 2. Let the head-scratching begin.
When asked to explain, Wake Forest Athletics Director Ron Wellman said, "I have no idea. I really don't."
Wellman ought to know. He served on the Selection Committee the last five years, including as chairman in 2014. But this instance of one-plus-one somehow equalling three baffled him.
"I must say that doesn't make an awful lot of sense," he said.
Georgia Tech Athletic Director Mike Bobinski, also a former member of the Selection Committee, offered a possible rationale: Artificial intelligence knows what it knows, and doesn't know what it doesn't know. The RPI computer crunches numbers, but it did not see Kentucky toy with Kansas.
"It's purely a mathematical formula," Bobinski said. "That's the flaw in the system or the inherent weakness. That's when the committee comes in and says, 'Hey, hold on a minute.'
"You can't discount how the game was resoundingly in Kentucky's favor."
Kudos to Kentucky basketball, which seldom lets any perceived slight pass without comment. The Big Blue Nation mostly shrugged at this kerfuffle. It was January, a time when the RPI, mock drafts and bracketology serve only to occupy idle minds.
This evoked memories of then-coach Rick Pitino's sage advice when some trifle in the 1990s stirred the ever-boiling UK basketball pot. Overwrought fans should take their significant other to dinner, he said. Sip a fine wine. Return home, put on "the Chairman of the Board" ...
As ex-Cat James Young might say: Chill.
Wellman and Bobinski noted how the RPI (Rating Prevents Intelligence?) is highly overrated. It's one tool, among eight or nine, that the Selection Committee uses to get a sense of teams. Nothing more. Chairman after chairman have made that point in the NCAA's annual pre-tournament teleconferences. But somehow the fascination with the RPI endures.
"If you only rely on the RPI, you don't need 10 folks in the room," Bobinski said. "It's an element, for sure. And it's an easy thing for the media and the basketball public to attach themselves to."
Bobinski said he found the RPI useful as a starting point in evaluating teams. "I never let the RPI be a dominant factor," he said. "I watched as many games as I could get my eyeballs on. It just didn't tell enough of the story. I wanted more."
Wellman suggested the RPI and old-school observation should hold complementary roles: Those who like data and analysis should also watch games, while those whom UK Coach John Calipari would call "Basketball Bennies" should be aware of the various metrics.
Both athletic directors acknowledged that sports fans can drown in numbers. With an apology to Joel Justus ( UK's director of basketball analytics), sabermetrics and various difficult-to-decipher efficiency ratings reduce athletics to mere science.
No one cared whether da Vinci or Michelangelo was the better painter, brushstroke for brushstroke. There were no fantasy leagues during the Renaissance. (The Dark Ages? No comment.)
Wellman noted the contrast between the RPI and final judgment of a team.
"There were a number of times during the five years I was on the committee a team didn't look that great," he said. "A team's numbers may not have been all that impressive.
"All they did was beat people. And that's ultimately what we're trying to attract to the tournament. Those teams that have an ability to win. It's not the team that looks best getting off the bus. It's not the team that statistically looks better than others. It's the team that wins. Often times there is a high correlation. Sometimes not."
Of course, Kentucky looks good on the bus, on the court and on the spreadsheet. That was especially true against Kansas.
Rest assured the Selection Committee, if not the RPI, will take that into account.
"Believe me, the committee will have all that information," Wellman said of UK's 72-40 victory over Kansas. "They're not just going to accept the RPI on something like that."
More or less?
The SEC coaches' teleconference last week served as a forum to offer ideas on how to improve college basketball. UK Coach John Calipari suggested:
■ College teams play "real" pre-season exhibition games. "Like the NBA does," he said.
■ College teams be allowed to go on foreign trips more often than the present limitation of once every four years. "College basketball should own August," he said.
■ College teams have a summer practice period. "Why don't we have like football has spring football?" he said.
Because athletics already takes up too much of players' time, further reducing the chance to be college students. That's the opinion of some people who seek to reform college athletics.
David Ridpath, a former executive director of the Drake Group, wrote that he was "ambivalent" about pre-season exhibition games. And he opposes a formal summer practice period for college basketball teams.
"We need to reduce the time commitment for all sports and certainly with a two-term sport like basketball," he wrote in an e-mail. "Even though most of the athletes are already tethered to the campus during the summer, there appears to at least be some talk about reducing the time commitments of athletes, and we should not be talking about more time during the non-traditional seasons.
"It will just add more layers of differences between the athletes and the general student body. I see no practical reason why a basketball team needs to have formal practices during the summer unless they are getting ready to go on a foreign trip."
Ridpath, an associate professor in the department of sports administration at Ohio University, also scoffed at the notion of spring practice in football.
"It is not needed and highly overrated," he wrote. "To think Alabama and Ohio State will start spring football in a month? Where is the time off for these kids to be students?"
Amy Perko, the executive director of the Knight Commission, echoed that sentiment.
"The Knight Commission has continued to push for reducing the athletic time demands on college athletes," she wrote in an e-mail.
Perko noted that five conferences recently adopted resolutions to address time demands on athletes through new regulations within the next two years.
"Changing rules to allow for exhibition basketball games in the 'off-season' heads in the opposite direction," she wrote.
24-second shot clock?
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has called college basketball "unwatchable." Too slow, he said.
During the SEC teleconference last week, coaches welcomed the idea of a shorter shot clock to speed up the action: say, go from 35 seconds to 30 or even 24.
UK Coach John Calipari had no objection. "In most cases, we're going to shoot it inside 20 seconds," he said.
Here's two reasons why a 24-second shot clock is a debatable idea:
■ A shorter shot clock means more possessions, which means less chance for underdog teams to compete. Therefore, fewer chances for a compelling upset drama. Auburn Coach Bruce Pearl conceded the point. "Would it make the rich richer?" he said. "Yeah, it would. But I think it might make for a more entertaining game."
■ A shorter time to shoot probably means more times when a team throws the ball toward the basket just to beat the shot clock. What's so entertaining about that?
Here's five better ideas for increasing the pace of college basketball games:
■ Eliminate television timeouts. Play on.
■ Reduce the number of timeouts each team is allowed, and limit the number of timeouts that can be called in the final, say, two minutes. Play on.
■ Strictly enforce a 60-second maximum on all timeouts. Play on.
■ Eliminate referees checking a sideline monitor. Play on.
■ No game tips off later than 7 p.m. local time. Play on.
Via e-mail last week, former LSU Coach Dale Brown weighed in on who should be considered the best college basketball coach of all time.
He sent a copy of an e-mail he received from someone named Gary Froeba.
"With Mike Krzyzewski winning his 1,000th game Sunday, many have wondered aloud if the Duke coach is the greatest college basketball boss of all time," Froeba wrote Brown. "You could certainly make an argument for Coach K. He's the first Division I men's basketball coach to win 1,000 and he's captured four (national championships)."
"Gary, it isn't even close. It is John Wooden, and he was even a better human being. In his book Practical Modern Basketball , he stated, 'I believe the best coaching in basketball is in the high school ranks.'"
Brown concluded: "There are so many great coaches that no one has ever heard of.
"Babe Ruth was asked by the media how he felt about his fame. He replied, 'Millions of people know my name. Most of the people who counted in my life were not famous. I knew an old priest who wrote his name on just a few simple hearts. How I envy him. He was not trying to please a crowd. He was merely trying to please his own immortal soul. So fame never came to him. I am listed as a famous home run hitter, but yet beside that obscure priest, I never reached first base."
Not to belabor the point, but a reporter once asked Wooden, then in retirement, who he considered the best coach. Instead of saying Dean Smith or Bob Knight or some other sideline luminary, Wooden said the guy who led, say, Butler to a 13-13 record that season might have done the best coaching job.
To Truman Claytor. He turns 58 on Monday. ... To Stan Key. He turns 65 on Monday. ... To Josh Carrier. He turned 32 on Friday. ... To Andre Riddick. He turns 42 Sunday (today). ... To Walter McCarty. He turns 41 Sunday (today). ... To C.M. Newton. He turns 85 Monday.