Monday, March 25, 2013

First RPI of the season is a mixed bag

The first Ratings Percentage Index numbers are out for 2013 and it's a decidedly mixed bag of news for Mountain West softball teams.

Let's start with the good news, which comes for San Diego State.  The Aztecs were the clear winner in this RPI release, leading the way among Mountain West teams at No. 41.  Ironically, SDSU is exactly where it ended last season.  San Diego State was 32-24 overall last year and also ended the season 41st in the RPI.

While not an NCAA Tournament lock by any means, Coach Kathy Van Wyk's squad is within striking distance of an at-large bid should it be necessary.  Of course the Aztecs need to guard against a letdown of any sort in conference play, which begins Thursday.

San Diego State's high ranking is due to an impressive non-conference schedule, rather than a ton of great wins.  The Aztecs don't have a victory over an RPI top 25 team, which could be cause for concern down the road if they don't win the Mountain West title.

One big issue San Diego State will face is the lack of any other team in the conference being remotely close to it in the RPI.  Last year, Boise State was 57th in the final rankings.  This time around, no Mountain West team other than the Aztecs is ranked in the top 90.  That's a problem.

The second-best RPI in the conference belongs to New Mexico at No. 93.  Despite the fact the Lobos have a losing record (16-20), they are actually ranked seven spots higher this season than where they finished in 2012 when they went 27-25 overall.  New Mexico was 100th last season.

UNLV currently stands at exactly No. 100.  The Rebels, who finished 106th a season ago, lead the MW in impressive wins.  UNLV has three wins over the current RPI top 25 (Louisville, Tulsa and Virginia Tech).  The problem is the Rebels also have losses to the likes of No. 261 Weber State and No. 212 Bryant.

Coming in at No. 104 is Fresno State, and that ranking is historically stunning for a program that has reached 30 NCAA Tournaments in the last 31 years.  Last season, the Bulldogs missed out on an NCAA at-large bid for the first time in school history when their RPI was No. 60.  Until today, Fresno State had never been ranked outside the top 100 since the NCAA began utilizing the RPI.

The Bulldogs, for the first time since the RPI's inception, do not have a non-conference win over a top 50 team.  The highest-ranked team Fresno State has beaten this season is Pacific at No. 64.  Coach Trisha Ford's squad enters Mountain West play this week basically knowing it must win the conference regular-season title in order to reach the NCAA Tournament.

One spot behind the Bulldogs are the Wolf Pack of Nevada at No. 105.  Nevada was No. 142 in the final RPI a season ago, so a jump of 37 spots is a big improvement.  Despite being the only Mountain West team currently with 20 wins (including a top 25 RPI win over Hawaii), the Pack -- like everyone else not named San Diego State -- is not close to NCAA at-large consideration yet.

The biggest fall from last year belongs to Boise State.  The Broncos, as mentioned previously, finished 57th in the RPI in 2012.  In the initial RPI this season, Boise State is 124th.  The fall of 67 spots is a steep one, and while BSU was a bubble team in 2012, it will take a great deal of work to approach the NCAA bubble this year.

Maybe the most disappointing team RPI-wise is Colorado State, last in the Mountain West at No. 128.  The Rams were 101st last season, and were predicted to finish second in the conference this year in a preseason vote of Mountain West coaches.  With almost their entire roster returning this year, including conference Pitcher of the Year Kacie McCarthy, it's surprising to see CSU last among Mountain West teams in the RPI heading into league play this week.

The good news for everyone:  There is still time left to improve in the RPI, which has become perhaps the most vital tool used for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.  The easiest way -- and the only sure way -- to get an NCAA bid is by winning the round-robin, regular-season championship in the Mountain West.  Conference play starts Thursday for everyone but Boise State.