Sailors are ranked No. 1 in the state but don’t read into it — yet
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Saturday, the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball team defeated Palisade 42-39. The second game of the season for a team is typically not that exciting. Early on, each match-up means little. It’s an early representation of how the team might look weeks down the road.
Except, Saturday’s game started a bit of a frenzy around the Yampa Valley, since the victory put the Sailors in the No. 1 spot in the RPI, or Ratings Percentage Index.
“We’re really just focused on avoiding quarantines and just getting as many games as we can,” Sailors head coach Michael Vandahl said. “The rankings will settle themselves later.”
The Colorado High School Activities Association implemented the RPI formula to determine rankings and playoff spots in 2015.
This year, league champions earn an automatic trip to the playoffs, and the rest of the bracket is determined by four data sets: the RPI, CHSAA Coaches poll, MaxPreps rankings and Packard rankings. In the coaches poll, Steamboat isn’t in the top 15 yet but is receiving votes.
The RPI system is used in the NCAA and NAIA to determine postseason berths. All team sports in CHSAA use the RPI system to determine which teams make the playoffs. Seedings and regions are then decided by people, rather than the computer or RPI formula.
The formula used since the 2018-19 season is as follows: RPI = (0.3 × WP) + (0.40 × OWP) + (0.3 × OOWP).
This early on in the season, RPI standings mean very little. The ranking is based on strength of schedule, or a formula that includes winning percentage, opponents’ winning percentage and opponent’s opponents’ winning percentage. Essentially, it calculates just how “big” a win is.
So, a win over a 4-0 team means more than a win over an 0-4 team.
At the same time, a win over a team that is 4-0 against good teams, means more than a win over a team that is 4-0 against bad teams.
Right now, the Sailors are 2-0.
They won last Tuesday against Rifle, 39-25, and Saturday over Palisade, 42-39. What many don’t know is direct match-ups don’t factor into the rankings, so in the calculations, Palisade was still 3-0, so the win bumped Steamboat up a lot.
That game does not exist in a vacuum though. The effect of that one win on Steamboat’s ranking will change. If Palisade goes on to lose its next five games, the team’s winning percentage will drop, changing the equation and making the Sailors’ win less impressive.
Even when Steamboat doesn’t play, its ranking can still change. If Palisade and Rifle played each other, one’s winning percentage would increase and one’s would go down. Since Steamboat has played them both, the changes will factor into the opponent’s win percentage and the opponent’s opponent’s win percentage in the equation, potentially altering Steamboat’s ranking.
“It’s always the most up-to-date data, and everything is changing,” said Ryan Casey, CHSAA director of digital media. “That’s why it has so much potential to change. Not only is Steamboat’s record changing, but the teams they’ve already played are changing.”
There is a slight hiccup in the RPI system amid the pandemic though. Typically, there is more travel and therefore more variety in a team’s schedule.
The Sailors’ opponents won’t be the same as Summit’s opponents, which won’t be the same as Palisade’s opponents. Therefore, the opponent’s win percentage and the opponent’s opponent’s win percentage will greatly differ.
Teams could be more creative in building a stronger schedule to help them move up the rankings. This year, with little travel, teams are playing only within their league. So, everyone’s opponents are the same.
“They’re in their own little bubble, their own environment,” Casey said. “That certainly can have an impact. The nice thing is, too, because we’re using those other three other data points for seeding, it gives us a wide picture across multiple data sets that we’re able to add together and combine. … That’s one thing that’s going to help us this year with a lot of teams being restricted with travel.”
Being so high up in the rankings at the start of the season probably means Steamboat will make the strict playoff cut of 32 teams, but that’s the only assumption that can be made right now.
Of course, there is something to be said for how well the Sailors have done despite the tough circumstances they found themselves in two weeks ago. Feb. 1 was the team’s first practice together in nearly two weeks after the coaches and players had to self-isolate after exposure to a positive case of COVID-19.
“I’m just proud of the boys,” Vandahl said. “We’re still trying to find our rhythm on offense. Dealing with the quarantines, we haven’t really been able to gel, so to speak, yet on offense. But, they battled.”
The RPI standings are the most accurate on the last day of the season, which is March 6, nearly a month away. The more the season progresses, the more true the rankings become.
Even so, once the rankings are used to determine who makes the playoffs, they are tossed out. In the playoff brackets, anything can happen. All teams are talented, and there’s no way of knowing who will be No. 1 until that championship game is played.
“If you want to be excited right now, go for it,” Casey said. “With the things that are going on in the world, if you can find something exciting, that’s awesome.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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