Men's Basketball

Kentucky game a boon to Mountaineers’ RPI

MORGANTOWN — Over the final 11 regular-season games, the WVU men’s basketball team will play four teams ranked in the AP top 25 and five teams ranked in the top 20 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).

Of the 11 opponents, none are ranked outside of the top 100 of the RPI, meaning the No. 7 Mountaineers (No. 24 in the RPI) will be able to maintain a solid strength of schedule for the NCAA Selection Committee to see come March.

All of that may sound like a bunch of jumbled numbers and complicated rankings, but they all make sense to WVU players, who play host to Kentucky, at 7 p.m. Jan. 27.

WVU head coach Bob Huggins makes sure of that.

“They see it every day,” said Huggins, who has been a supporter of the RPI and what its numbers mean. “The RPI is adjusted daily on the teams that we’ve already played — win or lose — and the ones that are coming up.”

In short, RPI is a power ranking that rates teams based on their records and strength of schedule.

It is just one tool used by the committee, but a tool that can help determine which team played a more difficult schedule when it comes to determining seeding for the NCAA tournament.

“I sit down and explain the RPI to [the players] at the beginning of the year,” Huggins continued. “Periodically through the year, we talk about it. They are very aware of what’s going on.”

The numbers computed by the RPI make the game against Kentucky (15-5, 5-3 SEC) a marquee match-up, while showing a completely different vantage point of the national polls.

While WVU (16-4, 5-3 Big 12) is comfortably in the top 10 of both the AP and coaches’ polls, the Mountaineers are No. 24 in the RPI, based on their strength of schedule, which is ranked 47th in the nation.

Kentucky, meanwhile, dropped out of the national polls this week for the first time since 2014 but is ranked No. 18 in the RPI, based on the fact the Wildcats have played the 12th most-difficult schedule in the country.

That schedule included nonconference games against Kansas, Virginia Tech, UCLA, Louisville and, soon, WVU.

Not that the RPI takes into account that Kentucky’s rotation consists of six freshmen — yes, very highly recruited freshmen — and two sophomores, but one could see how a young team could have a slow learning curve against those teams.

“We’re one of those teams that are a little bit behind, rather it be execution or toughness,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said on the SEC media call. “Some of the stuff you have to have, we’re a little bit behind, but we’re trying to figure things out. We’ll see where it goes.”

And while WVU also played marquee nonconference games, including a win against Virginia (ranked fourth by the RPI), the Mountaineers’ overall schedule is somewhat bogged down by also playing Coppin State (ranked No. 341 by the RPI), Marist (326), American (319), Morgan State (314) and Fordham (265).

So, while a win over the Wildcats may not mean the biggest boost in the national polls, it would still be a landmark win by RPI standards.

“You’ve got two good teams playing and they’ve got a great coach,” Huggins said. “Cal does a great job of coaching and recruiting. He’s a Hall of Famer.

“They have a great RPI. It would help our RPI tremendously.”