For years, we've heard about the RPI in college basketball. For years, we've heard it's overrated when it comes to how the NCAA Tournament committee selects its teams.
Example: Seventeen games into the season for both teams, and with Iowa owning a 12-5 record to Nebraska's 9-8, the Hawkeyes' RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) ranking is 75th, while the Cornhuskers' is 61st.
Iowa is 1-3 in the Big Ten, Nebraska 0-4.
Now, which team is better? Iowa. The Huskers, though pretty competitive in Tim Miles' first season as head coach, scored 44, 41 and 47 points, respectively against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan. They raced to 56 points at Michigan State Sunday, losing by 10 in a game that was close most of the way and made Spartan fans nervous.
However, when it comes to strength-of-schedule, Nebraska's dwarfs Iowa. And, it makes it vividly apparently why Iowa's nonconference schedule could hurt it if it's an NCAA tournament bubble team. Which it isn't, yet.
Nebraska played nine nonconference games against teams that currently have winning records against Division I opposition. Iowa played four: Western Kentucky, Wichita State, Virginia Tech and Iowa State. Northern Iowa, 9-8, got one of its wins against Division III Wartburg.
Here are the records of Iowa's nonconference opponents against D-I opponents:
Texas-Pan American 6-10
Central Michigan 7-7
Western Kentucky 9-8
Wichita State 15-2
Virginia Tech 10-6
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 1-12
South Dakota 5-11
Iowa State 11-4
Northern Iowa 8-8
South Carolina State 2-12
Coppin State 3-14
By the way, the Sagarin Ratings may be more indicative of how teams really should rank. In those, Iowa is 44th. Its strength-of-schedule is 178th according to Sagarin, which actually is better than those of Indiana (211th) or Wisconsin (217th).
While Illinois is 58 spots ahead of Iowa in the RPI, Iowa is three places above the Illini in the Sagarins. Nebraska's Sagarin rating? Would you believe 126th?
I still believe Iowa can go 9-9 in the Big Ten and reach the NCAA field. But it sure would make life easier on itself in March if it takes care of business against some good teams before then.
Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes' foe Saturday night in Iowa City, qualifies as one. It's a big game. They all are.