To teams on bubble, RPI could be trouble

Conference tournament upsets would raise numbers' power

College basketball

February 28, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun reporter

A) Stanford will cheer Nevada, and not just because Cardinal coach Trent Johnson brought Nick Fazekas to Reno.

B) Illinois point guard Chester Frazier will track Old Dominion scores.

C) West Virginia will root for Winthrop.

D) Billy Packer will proclaim the strength of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Other than D, those predictions are more likely to be realized than some of the seed lines that you will see attached to your favorite team between now and Selection Sunday, March 11.

Conference tournaments began last night, and for the next 10 days, attention must be paid by Stanford and the aforementioned bubble teams.

If Nevada, Old Dominion and Winthrop, teams with solid resumes, earn automatic bids, that frees at-large spots for more familiar names.

If they don't - say New Mexico State knocks off Nevada in the Western Athletic Conference or Gary Neal and Towson make a miraculous run through ODU and the Colonial Athletic Association - then the work of the NCAA men's basketball committee increases.

When the man said "lies, damned lies and statistics," he was not referring to the Rating Percentage Index, used to defend everything except Kevin Durant. The RPI, a strength of schedule-driven formula, is used by the NCAA to compare teams and by pundits to predict who's in and out.

"Any coach who follows the RPI," Xavier's Sean Miller said, "is gonna absolutely go stir crazy. If you listen to TV right now, it's almost unhealthy for us."

Miller said that Monday morning, when ESPN's Bracketology projected his Musketeers as a No. 10 seed. A few hours later, Xavier was moved down to a No. 11.

The Musketeers can cap a perfect February tonight at home, against Saint Joseph's. If they don't repeat in the Atlantic 10 tournament, some could turn up their noses at a Jan. 31 loss to Duquesne.

That's a no-no, losing to a team that's No. 200 or lower in the RPI. Among those above Xavier in Ken Pomeroy's daily replica of the RPI, only Brigham Young, Boston College and Vanderbilt have a similar stain.

Draper's new game

Dontaye Draper will vouch for Appalachian State, Bobby Cremins and offseason work.

A 2002 graduate of Walbrook, Draper is completing a fine career at the College of Charleston, the third best team in the Southern Conference, after Appalachian State and Davidson.

Last July, when the Cougars lured Cremins out of retirement, Draper was in Baltimore, making regular runs to Washington to get pushed by Idan Ravin, the skills coach to the stars.

Among others, Ravin has fine-tuned the mechanics of Juan Dixon, Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay. Draper knows Melo from the west side, and was the setup man on a Cecil Kirk AAU team that included Gay and Frazier, the Illinois point guard.

"That time with Idan really helped my game," Draper said. "I've never been this confident."

Cremins moved the 5-foot-11 Draper from a wing to the point, then gave him more freedom.

"We had a one-hour meeting after the Virgin Islands," Draper said, of a November tournament. "I knew all about his point guards at Georgia Tech, Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Mark Price, Travis Best. He told me to get the other guys involved, but when it's time to take over, take over."

Draper's scoring has dropped from 18.5 to 15.5, but his three-point shooting is up and he also leads the Cougars in assists, steals and minutes played.

Tap-ins

The College of Charleston got its lone NCAA win a decade ago - a 12th-seeded upset of Maryland. ... Navy will be the first state team to enter conference tournament play, with a Patriot League quarterfinal at Bucknell tonight. ... The Patriot and the Northeast Conference, where Mount St. Mary's plays at Robert Morris in tomorrow's quarterfinals, play their tournament games at the higher seed. ... Through Monday's games, Pomeroy's RPI had Xavier at No. 33, right behind Illinois and Notre Dame, and several lines ahead of Texas (37), Virginia (38) and Louisville (39), an indication of the hair-splitting that awaits the NCAA.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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