The New Mexico Lobos have the No. 2 RPI in the country and are leading the top-ranked conference according to RPI by two games, yet they aren't being discussed as a No. 1 seed.
Are the Lobos being overlooked?
Certainly, it's not all about RPI rank when it comes to selecting and seeding teams for the NCAA tournament. But RPI is the most important factor for organizing the field.
Said committee chair Mike Bobinski, "It's absolutely a tool we use to organize the field. We use it to group teams in certain ways. That's undeniable that we use it from that perspective. What people sometimes believe is we use the RPI as a selection tool, and we never, ever do that. It's a consistent way of organizing the data and slicing and dicing things, but we look a lot deeper than that."
In the past five seasons, 12 of the 15 teams ranked in the top three in RPI on Selection Sunday received No. 1 seeds. The exceptions:
In 2011, San Diego State (also from the Mountain West Conference) had the No. 3 RPI and received a No. 2 seed.
In 2009, Duke had the No. 1 RPI and received a No. 2 seed.
In 2008, Tennessee had the No. 2 RPI and received a No. 2 seed.
None of those three teams were in the top-rated RPI conference, like New Mexico is in the Mountain West. Each team's conference was ranked third or worse by RPI.
Despite all 15 of those teams being seeded on the top two lines, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi -- who does his best to emulate what the selection committee would do if the season ended today -- has the Lobos currently as a No. 3 seed. Lunardi recently named 11 teams that are contenders for a No. 1 seed, and the Lobos aren't one of them.
A website called the "Bracket Matrix" tracks 98 different "bracketologists" on the internet, and only four of them have the Lobos as a No. 1 seed. Their range goes as low as a No. 5 seed.
WHY SHOULD NEW MEXICO BE A No. 1 SEED?
Let's compare the Lobos to other teams considered by Lunardi as No. 1 seed contenders using RPI:
The Lobos have the most top 100 wins in the country (16; three more than any other team).
They have at least as many top 25 and top 50 wins as Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Georgetown, Michigan and Arizona.
They have no losses against teams outside the top 100 (Miami, Kansas, Georgetown, Michigan and Arizona each have at least one).
They have a better road record than Duke, Michigan State, Florida, Georgetown and Michigan.
They have the No. 3 strength of schedule, including the No. 5 non-conference strength of schedule (Duke is the only No. 1 seed contender with a better SOS; Duke and Miami are the only No. 1 seed contenders with a better non-conference SOS).
Making Their Case for a No. 1 Seed
The most curious case is Gonzaga. Why are the Bulldogs considered a No. 1 seed while the Lobos are not? New Mexico has a higher RPI rank, better strength of schedule, better non-conference strength of schedule, better "best win," more RPI top 25 wins, more RPI top 50 wins and more RPI top 100 wins, and neither team has a bad loss.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST NEW MEXICO
New Mexico has not played against a single team in the RPI top 15. Duke, Miami, Kansas, Indiana, Georgetown and Arizona all have multiple wins against the RPI top 15.
Despite the No. 2 RPI, the Lobos are ranked 15th in BPI, lower than every other "No. 1 seed contender" other than Georgetown. BPI takes into account margin, pace, location, opponent strength and key players missing. While RPI rates teams based on the best overall resumes, BPI rates teams based on performance. Therefore, the numbers suggest New Mexico hasn't performed as strongly as its resume suggests.
Why are the Lobos ranked so low in BPI?
They have a home loss to South Dakota State, which is ranked 121st in BPI (75th in RPI). They had a poor performance at San Diego State, where they lost 55-34. A 21-point loss in a 61-possession game does not bode well for their BPI resume. They also have nine single-digit wins against teams outside the BPI top 50.
The Lobos are only ranked 28th in KenPom, which ranks teams based on net efficiency adjusted for opponent strength. According to KenPom, the Lobos have the 84th-best adjusted offensive efficiency and are the fourth-luckiest team in college basketball.