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BRACKETOLOGY: The enemy of my enemy is...still my enemy

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Some early losses are looking a lot worse on ‘Bama’s NCAA resume.

Oklahoma v Alabama Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

RPI last week: 29, SOS 6

RPI this week: 38, SOS 17

“Wait,” you’re thinking. “Alabama beat AP No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 23 Florida, and had a quality loss in a span of 8 days. Why did they drop so steeply?”

Let’s put it by way of analogy, shall we.

Alabama’s high school core curriculum requires one 12 unit of health education. During that semester, there is the always-awkward unit covering sexually transmitted diseases. There, a teacher will tell you that, “whenever you have sex, you aren’t just sleeping with that person, you’re having sex with everyone that person had sex with...and everyone those people had sex with.” And so a self-referential recursive hellhole begins. (Completely aside, my health teacher, Mrs. Dockery, was a smokeshow. Her in yoga pants every morning really made 10th grade easier...anyway, I digress.)

So it is with the RPI (Ignoring that who you play, rather than wins and losses, is a terrible way to select a team.)

When Alabama took a 3-on-5 defeat in New York to No. 108 Minnesota, (now sitting at 11 losses,) by season’s end the Tide will not have merely lost to the Gophers. No, Avery Johnson’s team gets the whole enchilada, transitively picking up two losses to No. 94 Northwestern, No. 67 Nebraska, and No. 103 Penn State. Meanwhile, Alabama also inherits wins on a terrible Gophers schedule that includes 2-20 SC Upstate (No. 345), No. 198 Western Carolina, No. 349 Alabama A&M, and No. 245 FAU, just to name a few.

Alabama has many of these games under its belt: too many instances where decent wins have become iffy (LSU,) good wins are being diminished (Florida), future opponents are slipping (Kentucky, Arkansas) and some of bad losses grow worse. For an instance of the latter, the once-36th-ranked UCF Knights stole a listless road win in Coleman Coliseum earlier this season. Given the Tide’s home advantage and talent differential, that was always a bad home loss, no matter the RPI. Almost predictably, the Knights are now plummeting, mainly by having so few quality wins. In fact, of the six games UCF has played against Top 40 teams, the Knights lost five of them — Alabama being the lone exception.

Sigh.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Florida Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a closer look at what lies behind the Tide, and what remains in this dysfunctional system where the enemy of my enemy is my enemy...and we have to care about it. For all the talk about the RPI being diminished as a tournament factor, it still is very much at play on the margins.

vs Top 50: 5-3

vs Top 51-100: 4-3

vs. 101-200: 4-2

vs. 200-lower: 2-0

Bad Wins (RPI >150):

Alabama A&M (349)

Mercer (217)

UT-Arlington (154)

LA. Tech (158)

Bad losses (>50 RPI at home, >75 road or neutral)

(n) Minnesota (108)

@ Vanderbilt (122)

(h) UCF (72)

@ Ole Miss (78)

“Good” losses (RPI < 50)

(n) Texas (36)

(h) Missouri (33)

@ Arizona (16)

Elite Wins (RPI < 50)

URI (6)

Texas A&M (29)

Auburn (5)

Oklahoma (19)

@ Florida (49)

Top 100 wins

(n) BYU (72)

South Carolina (62)

@ LSU (75)

Mississippi State (57)

The road does not get any less forgiving for the Tide. Just two of Alabama’s remaining eight games are against RPI-Top 50 opponents. Only tonight’s dangerous road trip to Starkville (No. 57) and then LSU at home (75), fall outside of elite, tournament-type resume builders...or destroyers, as the case may be.

For now, the Tide is still firmly in the Dance, but it has seen its stock fall despite a good week. Bracket Matrix, which compiles the Bracketologists, sees the Tide as a 9th or 10th seed...and mainly for the reasons above: Alabama can only control what it can control. The potential is still very much there for Alabama to play its way into a possible 4th or 5th seed, or fall as low as a 13 seed...or even plummet out of the tournament all the way to a mid-seed in the RPI. Just as we don’t know what this young team will look like game-to-game, or even within games, we still can’t project with some reasonable degree of certainty Bama’s postseason fortunes either.

Buckle up. It’s been an erratic ride, and I suspect Avery Johnson’s group isn’t done surprising us.

...for better or worse.