Tennessee outscored Vanderbilt 57-39 in the second half last night to even the Vols’ conference record. The win in Nashville is the first of two games UT plays this week ranked No. 24 in the AP Poll. And, though winning in Memorial Gymnasium registers well with fans, it barely moves the needle for Tennessee’s postseason resume.
As NCAA correspondent Andy Katz detailed last night, all regular-season wins can be filtered into four different quadrants. Everything runs through the rating percentage index or the RPI. According to the NCAA, wins can be classified in four quadrants. The more wins a team accumulates in the higher quadrants, the more likely it is to make the NCAA Tournament.
- Home wins against RPI opponents 1-30
- Neutral site wins against RPI opponents 1-50
- Away wins against RPI opponents 1-75
Right now Tennessee (RPI No. 15) owns two home wins in Quadrant 1, Saturday’s win over No. 9 Kentucky and a neutral site win over No. 10 Purdue. Lipscomb is ranked No. 41 but was a Top-30 RPI opponent last week.
Close losses in the Bahamas versus No. 4 Villanova, at home against No. 7 UNC and No. 12 Auburn, and on the road against No. 16 Arkansas don’t hurt the resume. But close losses don’t count for anything either.
- Home wins against RPI opponents 31-75
- Neutral site wins versus RPI opponents 51-100
- Road wins against RPI opponents 76-135
That win over No. 41 Lipscomb falls into Quadrant 2, for the time being. The Vols also enjoy a road win against No. 121 Wake Forest to boost their top-heavy ranking.
- Home wins against RPI opponents 76-160
- Neutral site wins versus RPI opponents 101-200
- Road wins against RPI opponents 136-240
Wins against Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt carry a certain cache, even though both are ranked outside the Top-150 in RPI. That does not make them easy road wins. A neutral site beat of NC State is tougher than their No. 109 ranking suggests, too. But a home bounceback against No. 98 Furman ranks higher than many would believe.
- Home wins against RPI opponents 161+
- Neutral site wins versus RPI opponents 201+
- Road wins against RPI opponents 241+
Everything else. Tennessee owns wins over No. 196 Mercer, No. 274 High Point and No. 279 Presbyterian.
The above segmentation of wins reaffirms that Tennessee actually does play the third-toughest schedule in the country, according to ESPN. Six of 15 games have been played against Quadrant 1 opponents. Nobody in the NCAA’s top-50 teams has played more opponents of that quality.
The information also means that tournament teams can offset “ugly losses” with a Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 win. At the end of the day, wins at that level outweigh losses to bottom-tier opponents.
Remaining Tennessee schedule, quadrant of opponent. RPI rankings as of January 10, 2018:
vs. Texas A&M (Q2)
@ Missouri (Q1)
@ South Carolina (Q1)
vs. Vanderbilt (Q3)
@ Iowa State (Q2)
vs. LSU (Q3)
vs. Ole Miss (Q3)
@ Kentucky (Q1)
@ Alabama (Q1)
vs. South Carolina (Q2)
@ Georgia (Q1)
vs. Florida (Q2)
@ Ole Miss (Q2)
@ Mississippi State (Q1)
vs. Georgia (Q2)
*All rankings as of January 10, 2018 RPI, not AP or Coaches Poll.