Posting Up: Where Should Women’s Basketball Be Ranked?

By Eric Rynston-Lobel

First, it was #RanktheCats. But now that the ‘Cats have remained in the top 25 for several weeks in a row, there’s frustration that NU isn’t quite high enough!

In the Associated Press Poll released last Monday, the ‘Cats checked in at 18th in the country, the highest they’ve been all season. But one can’t help but question how several teams can be ahead of them. Let’s look through the teams ranked 10 through 18 last week in comparison to the Wildcats.

Disclaimer: all results are entering play on Sunday except records. For an explanation of how RPI is calculated, click here.

Here’s #18 Northwestern’s résumé:  

Record: 24-3 (14-2 B1G)
9th in RPI
2-3 vs. RPI Top 25 teams (beat Maryland and Indiana)
Losses: vs. DePaul (by 2), vs. Iowa (by 26), @ Maryland (by 9)
Average opponents winning %: .854

Now, let’s see where the other teams fit with respect to Northwestern:

#17: Florida State Seminoles

Record: 21-6 (10-6 ACC)
25th in RPI
2-1 vs. RPI Top 25 teams (beat Texas A&M and Louisville)
Losses: @ Syracuse (by 1), vs. Georgia Tech (by 15), @ NC State (by 17), vs. Boston College (by 9), @ Duke (by 2), @ Georgia Tech (by 15)
Average opponents winning % in losses: .664
Northwestern Should be: ranked ahead

This is for several reasons. First, unlike any of the other teams on this list, the Wildcats and Seminoles share two common opponents: Boston College and Duke. The Seminoles lost both those games while the ‘Cats won both of those contests. Factor that in with the Seminoles having two more losses and being 14 spots lower in the RPI, there’s no reason they should be ranked ahead of Northwestern.

#16: Texas A&M Aggies

Record: 22-5 (10-4 SEC)
13th RPI
1-3 vs. RPI Top 25 teams (beat TCU)
Losses: Florida State (by 22), LSU (by 3), @ University of Kentucky (by 22), @ LSU (by 2), @ Mississippi State (by 12)
Average opponents winning % in losses: .780
Northwestern should be: unclear

This is one we’ll revisit at the end. The Aggies are four spots lower in RPI rankings and have two more losses than the ‘Cats. However, the average winning percentage of opponents they’ve lost to is .780.

#15: Oregon State Beavers

Record: 20-8 (8-8 PAC-12)
17th RPI
3-6 vs. RPI Top 25 teams (beat Missouri State, DePaul, Arizona)
Losses: @ Arizona State (by 8), vs. Stanford (by 3), @ Oregon (by 12), vs. Oregon (by 9), vs. Arizona (by 7), @ University of Southern California (by 6), @ UCLA (by 9), @ Stanford (by 3)
Average opponents winning % in losses: .822
Northwestern should be: ranked ahead

The Beavers just have too many losses. Yes, they’ve played some really, really, really talented teams as indicated by the fact that the opponents who they’ve lost to have an average winning percentage of .822. The other factor perhaps playing in Oregon State’s favor is that they’ve played nine games against RPI Top 25 teams compared to Northwestern’s 5, and that’s fair. But not fair enough in my mind to put an 8-loss team ahead of a 3-loss team. 

#14: Kentucky Wildcats

Record: 20-6 (9-5 SEC)
24th RPI
2-2 vs. RPI Top 25 teams (beat Mississippi State and Texas A&M)
Losses: vs. Louisville (by 1), @ University of South Carolina (by 27), @ LSU (by 6), vs. University of Florida (by 8), @ Arkansas (by 18), vs. University of South Carolina (by 9)
Average opponents winning % in losses: .786
Northwestern should be: uncertain

This is another tough one that I’ll come back to at the end. Kentucky has three more losses than Northwestern, and while losses to #1 South Carolina are forgivable, dropping one to 15-12 (6-8 SEC) Florida isn’t. 

#13: Gonzaga Bulldogs

Record: 27-2 (16-1 WCC)
15th RPI
1-1 vs. RPI Top 25 teams (beat Missouri State)
Losses: @ Stanford (by 6 in OT), @ St. Mary’s (by 10)
Average opponents winning % in losses: .648
Northwestern should be: ranked ahead

This was one of the easier ones. Sure, the Bulldogs have one fewer loss, but they’ve also only played two top-25 RPI teams. Also, the loss to St. Mary’s, a team that’s currently 11-16 overall, doesn’t help at all. That, coupled with Northwestern’s signature wins at Indiana and at home against Maryland, gives the Wildcats the edge.

#12: DePaul Blue Demons:

Record: 25-4 (15-2 Big East)
22nd RPI
1-2  RPI Top 25 games (beat Northwestern)
Losses: @ Oregon State (by 21), vs. UConn (by 10), vs. Creighton (by 2), @ Villanova (by 18)
Average opponents winning % in losses: .734
Northwestern should be: ranked ahead

This is another tough one made tougher by the fact that DePaul beat Northwestern on December 1. I’m going to break my rule and include Sunday’s loss against Villanova in this consideration because it directly impacts the rankings. DePaul and Northwestern are still close, but Sunday’s result should push the ‘Cats ahead. 

#11: Arizona Wildcats

Record: 22-5 (11-5 PAC-12)
23rd RPI
2-4 in RPI Top 25 games (beat UCLA and Oregon State)
Losses: @ UCLA (by 12), vs. Oregon State (by 2), vs. Oregon (by 7), @ Oregon (by 33), @ Colorado (by 12)
Average opponents winning %: .860
Northwestern should be: ranked ahead

It’s amazing to think that a year ago, neither Northwestern nor Arizona was even in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams met in last year’s WNIT Championship Game, and now profile as two of the most dangerous teams nationally. With this comparison, we must once again bring in Sunday’s results: Arizona lost an inexcusable game 50-38 to Colorado, a 5-11 Pac-12 team. Arizona does have two more losses, but they also are the only team on this list with “better losses” than Northwestern. Sunday’s results swing things in favor of NU here.

#10: North Carolina State Wolfpack

Record: 23-3 (12-3 ACC)
20th RPI
2-1 RPI Top 25 wins (beat Maryland and Florida State)
Losses: @ UNC (by 6), vs. Louisville (by 7), vs. Georgia Tech (by 4)
Average opponents winning %: .713
Northwestern should be: ranked ahead

These teams have the same number of losses, except NC State has two bad ones to UNC (16-11; 7-9 ACC) and to Georgia Tech (18-10; 9-8 ACC). They’ve also played two fewer games against RPI Top 25 teams and Northwestern doesn’t have any bad losses.

Based on these comparisons, Northwestern should be about the 10th best team in the country. I’ll be honest, when I first did this on Saturday, I thought the ‘Cats fit in best at 11th and definitely no lower than 14. Arizona was the only team I thought should be above Northwestern. But then Sunday happened. Arizona, DePaul, Kentucky and Florida State all lost, not only ensuring Northwestern likely moves up in this week’s AP Poll, but it also puts them in position to be in contention for a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Posting Up is a weekly column about Northwestern Women’s Basketball. Each Monday, Eric Rynston-Lobel writes about a unique aspect of the team that hopes to win the Big Ten for the first time since the 1989-90 season.

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