The NCAA basketball rankings are divided into different types of rankings. For example, there is an AP Top 25, Coaches Top 25, and RPI.
I’ll explain these three rankings in more detail in a second. But first off, let’s discuss why NCAA rankings matter?
NCAA basketball rankings are one of the driving factors the tournament selection committee studies and analyzes when deciding which teams to accept and which teams to reject.
In college basketball, there are 347 Division I teams. At the end of the year, 65 of those teams are selected to play in a college tournament, often referred to as “March Madness.”
Of those 65 teams, 31 of those teams automatically make the tournament by winning their individual conference tournament. You see, all 347 of those teams are divided into individual conferences.
The teams in each conference usually are selected based on proximity to each other and enrollment of the school.
So, large colleges on the West Coast all play each other in the same conference. At the end of the regular season the conference holds a tournament. The tournament is a “win or go home” format. The last team standing earns an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
Of the remaining 34 slots for the 65 team tournament, a selection committee is hired to make the crucial decision of what teams go to the tournament and what teams stay home.
The NCAA tournament selection committee takes into regard several factors when making their “at large selections.” One of those factors is NCAA basketball rankings. The AP Top 25, Coaches Top 25, and RPI are all very important to each college basketball program.
AP Top 25
The Associated Press Top 25 is voted by various members of the media. The media members usually spend most, if not all of the year watching and attending games. They usually report on these games through newspaper, radio, and television. The media members allowed to vote, submit their Top 25 teams in the nation each week (on Sunday).
The NCAA gathers all the Top 25 rankings from various media members and creates an average. The result of the average rankings becomes the official Top 25. Teams are ranked from #1 in the nation to #25. It’s consider a huge honor to be in the Top 25, but especially important if the team is considered the #1 best team in all the land. The AP Top 25 also notes which team(s) received first place votes but didn’t end up #1 based on the average ranking.
Coaches Top 25
The Coaches Top 25 ranking is voted on by all 347 division one coaches. Like the media ranking system, each coach submits their top 25 teams every week of the season. The 347 rankings are then averaged, to create the official Coaches Top 25 poll. The Coaches Top 25 also makes note of teams receiving first place votes that did not end up #1 based on the average.
A lot of people refer to the Coaches Top 25 poll as more accurate than the AP Top 25. The reasoning behind this is coaches understand the game, the players, and the teams better than the media does.
However, sometimes the rankings can be unfair, because rival coaches are hesitant towards voting for each other. It should also be noted that coaches are not allowed to vote in their own team, which would create a biased ranking system.
The RPI is by far the most important NCAA basketball ranking system because it ranks not only the top 25, but all 347 teams in the nation. Sadly, each year one team finishes the 347th best team in the nation.
The RPI takes several factors into its ranking and unlike the AP and Coaches Top 25, the RPI is not human biased. A computer calculates the weekly ranking.
RPI stands for Rating Percentage Index. The computer calculates each team’s weekly RPI by calculating 25% of a team’s winning percentage, 50% of the opponents winning percentage, and 25% of the opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage. Road wins are also considered better than home or neutral wins.
As you can see the formula gets pretty complicated quickly. Basically all you need to know is if the college’s team has a high winning percentage and has played a tough schedule, the RPI will be high.
Some critics hate the RPI because it’s highly considered by the NCAA selection committee during tournament time, although only 25% of the formula can actually be controlled by the team (the team’s winning percentage).