(EDIT: Excellent post. Read it. -- ross)
As if we didn't know it before, this year made it painfully clear that when the NCAA says the RPI is "just a guideline" in tournament selection, they actually mean that it's basically their entire guiding principle. As many have pointed out, there's no way the committee can justify the inclusion of a team like Middle Tennessee State without heavy emphasis on their RPI. So as much as that stat is BS, Iowa's got to figure out how to make RPI work for them next year.
How do you do that? Ideally, there are a few easy steps any team can take:
*Schedule true road games in the nonconference: Did you know that, since 2004, a road win is actually worth 1.4 wins in the RPI calculations, while a home win is only worth .6? Did you realize that Iowa went 2-8 on the road this year, for a total of 2.8 RPI wins, whereas their 16 home wins only counted as 9.6 in the RPI?
*Get into an exempt tournament that only has excellent teams and guarantees everyone a lot of games: This is why Minnesota was a lock. They played in the Battle 4 Atlantis, which started with 8 games on the mainland and then brought only the winners to the Bahamas. Minnesota beat Toledo at home, and then found themselves in a bracket with Duke, Memphis, Louisville, UNI, Stanford, Missouri, and VCU. Even though they lost their first round game to Duke, they got conso games against Memphis and Stanford, winning both. (This is also how UNI and their 17-14 record is nipping at Iowa's heels in the RPI.)
*Schedule your cupcake home games against teams from
good conferences conferences that know how to work the RPI: Duquesne won 8 games this year. Duquesne is in the Atlantic 10. Duquesne's RPI is #228. They would've been the seventh-best RPI team on Iowa's noncon slate this year, and they ended the year on a 1-17 skid. Other conferences that know how to boost RPI numbers: Summit, West Coast Conference, Ivy League, Patriot League. Possible sub-rule: I have seen a lot of schools that had very strong RPIs but played multiple D2 schools. Boise State played two of them. Those games do not count as wins in the RPI formula, but they also don't count for SOS-- it's as if they weren't played at all. So would Iowa be better off scheduling Minnesota State for a home game than Coppin State and their 300+ RPI? Someone should run the numbers on that.
Here's the problem for Iowa. They aren't going to schedule any extra road games in the noncon. They're already slated to play away from Carver five times: three games for the Alaska Shootout, one game at Iowa State, and the Big 4 game vs. Drake at Wells Fargo. That leaves 8 games, and I'm guessing they're all going to be at Carver. Last year they had 9 noncon home games; I don't see them dropping to 7 or 6. They are also already scheduled for the Great Alaska Shootout, with Detroit, Harvard, Indiana State, TCU, Alaska-Anchorage (DII), Pepperdine, and Tulsa. There are some decent teams there. I don't see a single one, though, that's guaranteed to be better than, say, UNI.
The one thing they can do is schedule better teams for their home games. With that in mind, here's my crack at their schedule for next year. I'm trying to be realistic. Before you accuse me of being soft, remember this: major conference schools aren't lining up to play road games at Carver. We can make all of the schedules we want with home games against Kansas, Arizona, Tennessee, etc. It's not going to happen.
This year's RPI ranking in parentheses
They played: Texas Pan-American (306)
They should play: Either a similar team or a Division II team, as explained above. Yes, there will still be cupcakes, and it's hard to get good teams to open their season on the road. There are also a lot of tournaments at this time that limit Iowa's options.
They played: Central Michigan (266), Howard (334), Gardner-Webb (195) (Howard and GW were part of the Cancun Challenge)
They should play: Central Michigan (revenge!), Temple (41), Yale (198). Temple has a history of playing good teams on the road. Take advantage of that. Yale played at Ames this year.
They played: Western Kentucky (150), Wichita State (37)
They will play: in the Great Alaska Shootout. They'll get a very easy opening round game, probably Alaska Anchorage, which isn't D1. They have to hope to get Detroit (64), Harvard (92), or whichever teams look poised to have good years in later rounds. Pepperdine (212) ain't gonna cut it.
They played: Virginia Tech (176), Texas A&M CC (323)
They will play: based on alternating home games, they'll get either Duke (nope), Miami (probably not), Florida State, Wake, or Clemson. I don't know what the hell is going on in the ACC, but some of those teams are very bad. Wake and Clemson were both 170+ in the RPI this year, as was VaTech. Florida State loses Michael Snaer, their best player. Barta needs to get on the phone with Delaney and explain to him that Iowa has put up with a lot of shit for the Big Ten lately-- the "rivalry" with Purdue, the Nebraska television fiasco, the loss of the Wisconsin football game, the refusal to schedule them vs. Illinois-- and that Iowa needs to be in the conversation for a game against Miami. If the Big Ten wants to showcase exciting basketball, that's the way to do it.
They played: South Dakota (241), Iowa State (45)
They should play: North Dakota State (75), @Iowa State (45)
Iowa really, really needs to win at Iowa State next year. I expect road wins in the B10 will be difficult to come by, as usual. They need one to get them started.
They played: UNI (83)
They will play: Drake (144) Ugh.
They played: SC State (342), Coppin State (313)
They should play: Duquesne (228), Missouri State (203)
I'm being realistic here. Fran's going to want a breather heading into the Big Ten schedule. That's fine. Do it with ~200 RPI teams, not 300+ ones.
So that makes the non-conference schedule look something like this: home games vs. Texas P-A, Central Michigan, Temple, Yale, Florida State, North Dakota State, Duquesne, and Missouri State. Neutral site games against Alaska-Anchorage, Harvard, and Detroit (just a guess) and Drake. Road game at Iowa State.
I realize that doesn't sound like a huge upgrade. But just doing some quick and dirty calculations, if you add up the RPIs of all of those teams and average them, you get 145. Obviously, these things change from year to year, but the average RPI for Iowa's noncon this year was 216, an most of the 300+ teams they played were 300+ last year too. For Boise State, the average RPI of their non schedule was 170-- and they ended up with the 53rd best schedule in the country (that's for the whole season, not just noncon).