It seems like the RPI peaked a few years ago as a conversation topic when it came to the NCAA basketball tournament.
It used to be "RPI, RPI, RPI." But there have been several teams that earned at-large bids to NCAA tourneys that didn't have particularly great RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) numbers.
As Jon Miller noted in this Hawkeyenation.com post, here are four teams that had high RPI rankings that still earned NCAA at-large berths:
#64 Marquette (2011)
#63 Stanford (2007)
#63 NC State (2005)
Iowa, as of Monday afternoon, was 81st in the RPI. (For the complete list, click here.) That would clearly indicate the 17-9 Hawkeyes have a lot of work to do to get into the NCAA field, but we already knew that.
However, 81st? That's two sports below Richmond, which is 15-11 against Division I teams. It's 11 spots behind Northern Iowa, which is 15-11 against Division I teams (and also happens to be a hot team). It's 20 spots behind Indiana State, which is 15-10 against Division I teams.
Then you look at the Sagarin Ratings and the Pomeroy Ratings. Jeff Sagarin has Iowa 33rd. Ken Pomeroy has Iowa 29th. Both consider Iowa's strength-of-schedule to be greater than the RPI does. Sagarin, for instance, says Iowa has played the 67th-toughest schedule in the nation. The RPI's criteria puts Iowa's schedule at 103rd.
Here is how wildly the RPI can vary from other ratings: New Mexico is No. 3 in the RPI, ahead of all Big Ten teams. The RPI says New Mexico, 22-4 against D-I teams, has played the fifth-toughest schedule in America. Yet, not a single team Steve Alford's Lobos have played has an RPI higher than 13th.
Sagarin ranks New Mexico 35th, just one spot ahead of Iowa State. Sagarin says New Mexico's strength-of-schedule is 32nd-toughest, not fifth. New Mexico played a good nonconference schedule, certainly better than Iowa's. What is helping the Lobos is that a lot of the mid-majors it played in the nonconference have gone on to post very good records in their own leagues. Those are teams like Valparaiso, Davidson, New Mexico State, South Dakota State and Saint Louis.
But New Mexico isn't better than every team in the Big Ten, no matter that it's ranked above every Big Ten team in the RPI.
Anyway, if Iowa wins four of its five remaining Big Ten regular-season games and doesn't lay an egg in the Big Ten tourney, it's going to be in the NCAA discussion. No matter what the RPI says.
If the Hawkeyes lose their next game, at Nebraska? NG. Not good.