There are a lot of rankings to not care about in NCAA. The AP polls are just a popularity concert and the coaches polls are just meaningless steps where teams move up and down based on wins and losses. Then there is the mother of all the annoying rankings -- the NCAA RPI. Gonzaga is currently ranked No. 5.
RPI, or ratings percentage index, is theoretically a way to see how a team performed -- but only if you want this performance to be completely devoid of much meaning. Granted, a team that is No. 1 in RPI over the course of the year is probably one of the better teams in basketball because they have won a lot of games. A team that has a RPI of 350 most likely isn't going to get into the NCAA Tournament.
Here is a quick primer on how the mysterious RPI is formed. The equation used by the NCAA is as follows:
RPI = (WP * 0.25) +(OWP * 0.50) + (OOWP * 0.25)
WP = winning percentage, OWP = opponents' winning percentage, OOWP = opponents' opponents' winning percentage
And there are still a couple of quick mathematical adjustments that need to be made. A home win counts as 0.6 wins and a road win counts as 1.4 wins. On the flip side, a road loss counts as 0.6 of a loss while a home loss equals 1.4 losses.
But other than that, it doesn't say very much about anything involving a team. So right now, saying that Gonzaga is No. 5 in RPI doesn't say much outside of the fact that Gonzaga is a good team. It is also so early in the season that the RPI rankings are borderline meaningless right now. The RPI rates Green Bay from the Horizon Conference as the top team in the nation. Green Bay is good, but they aren't better than Kentucky. Green Bay is No. 49 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, which attempt to quantify a team a bit more based on other factors like offensive and defensive rankings.
In fact, if we were to compare Ken Pomeroy's top 10 and the RPI's top 10 we get some wildly different results.
Everyone is quick to discount the RPI as meaningless, which is fair to a certain degree. But there is still meaning involved when it comes to Selection Sunday. Records against teams ranked No. 1-25 in the RPI matter a lot to those people seeding the teams. That is why, despite most people universally agreeing that the RPI is dumb, it still matters. That doesn't necessarily mean we have to focus all of our attention on it, but it is something worth keeping track as the season progresses.
So when it comes to the loss at Arizona, that is where it stings. Forget the Zags inability to win against marquee names narrative. Arizona is a top 10 team in the RPI and it was a signature win. It is too early in the season to really draw any conclusion, but the schedule this year doesn't provide for a lot of slip ups when it comes to seeding in March. UCLA, St. Mary's and BYU are all solid matchups, but every other conference opponent is a sub-100 RPI team.
This is a talented Gonzaga squad that on paper looks like it could make a deep run in the tournament. A fair degree of luck is always involved in that. The one destiny you can halfway control is seeding, and with regional games in both Portland and Seattle this year, it will do Gonzaga some service to keep that RPI high to land in a favorable location.