Update: Game-time is set for 7pm this Thursday at Penn University, streaming on ESPN+.
For the first time since 2015 and 18th time overall, the Rutgers men’s soccer team (10-4-6) will be playing in the NCAA tournament. The Knights join fellow Big Ten members Indiana (No. 13 seed), and unseeded Maryland and Ohio State. Rutgers will travel down I-95 to Philadelphia to take on the Penn Quakers (12-2-2) in a first-round matchup this Friday evening at 7pm, streaming on ESPN+.
Penn earned the Ivy League’s automatic bid into the field after going 6-1-0 in Ivy play this season. They currently sit at No. 13 in the RPI rankings. While it appears Rutgers may have been “screwed” with the seeding, it’s best to look how RPI (the ratings power index) is currently calculated. This will explain Penn’s high ranking and Rutgers’s lower ranking. Is it necessarily fair? Absolutely not, which is why hoop-heads rely on much more critical rankings like KenPom to help better evaluate the best teams. The problem I’ve always had with RPI is that the winning percentage of opponents’s opponents is an incredibly uneven way to judge how good a team is during the course of a season. Alas, here we are. RPI Defined:
RPI is best known for its usage in college athletics, including for NCAA men’s soccer and women’s soccer. Exact calculations for RPI include some differences across different sports, but the general structure of the RPI is largely the same.
In its current formulation, the index comprises a team’s winning percentage (25%), its opponents’ winning percentage (50%), and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents (25%). The opponents’ winning percentage and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents both comprise the strength of schedule (SOS). Thus, the SOS accounts for 75% of the RPI calculation and is 2/3 its opponents’ winning percentage and 1/3 its opponents’ opponents’ winning percentages. (Courtesy of SoccerWire).
Penn obviously will have a higher winning percentage with only two losses and two ties this season, while RU’s four losses and six ties heavily weigh down their winning percentage. The math favors Penn. I, however, am a much bigger proponent of looking at how each team fared against common opponents so I compiled the chart below:
The obvious game that stands out is Albany. A very respectful No. 69 in RPI and a team RU beat with relative ease while the Quakers struggled.
Now let’s look at Top 50 RPI wins, my logic being it’s a 48-team field and this is a good indicator of a tournament-level team.
Penn: No. 10 Cornell, No. 45 Yale, No. 50 Fairleigh Dickinson
Rutgers: No. 20 Indiana, No. 39 Ohio State,
Penn: No. 69 Albany
Rutgers: No. 72 Michigan State
Penn has the most impressive win while Rutgers has two very solid conference wins. Neither team suffered a “bad RPI” loss during the season. Penn’s team stats can be found here and Rutgers here. Penn is scoring 2.5 goals per game and giving up .75 while Rutgers averages slightly over two goals per game and is giving up 1.6. Penn’s keepers have only had to make 37 saves all season while Rutgers has been much busier, corralling 62, most by the freshman Ciaran Dalton.
What this tells me is that Rutgers will have limited opportunities around the net Friday and will need to make the most of them.
It should be a fun match, and very much a game Rutgers is capable of winning, with the winner advancing to take on No. 3 Syracuse, who has a first round bye. Hopefully some fans can make it down to Philly for the game and help cheer on the Knights.