No Army, it does not stand for Rest in Peace Index

Taking a look at the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) numbers:

Bucknell's wins over Niagara and Saint Joseph's have boosted the Bison's RPI all the way to 113. That's pretty fair territory for a mid-major. The Bison rank ahead of schools like Purdue (117), Northwestern (120), Michigan (129), and Indiana (166) of the Big Ten; Miami (126), Florida St. (142), Virginia Tech (188) of the ACC and Stanford (123), Oregon St. (144), California (144) of the Pac 10. It also ranks ahead of big names like Missouri (162), Memphis (153), Seton Hall (154) and Florida (140).

(NOTE: These numbers may be a little different this morning, this was written last night based on rankings through Tuesday night's games)

Think that sounds good, look higher up the list. Way higher. Up at No. 21 you'll find Holy Cross. above Kentucky (227), UConn (30) , Maryland (52) and Syracuse (55), just to drop a few names.

American is just below Bucknell, coming in at 137, despite a tough loss to LaSalle (178) Tuesday night.

All three have some non-conference games left that could boost them even higher. Holy Cross hosts Vermont (75) tonight, Bucknell is at Pitt (50) Sunday and Villanova (111) on Feb. 15 (both of which will ultimately be a bigger help than there current rankings might lead you to believe since they will probably start climbing when conference play begins, thanks to their strong conference schedules). American is at Missouri Jan. 4, another team that will look better in the RPI when it gets into conference play.

With those three doing pretty well in the RPI, you might expect the Patriot League to be faring pretty well as a conference.

Think again. Out of 31 conferences ranked, only six, plus the "independents," rank lower than the Patriot in RPI. Yes, No. 25 in the conference rankings is an improvement for the Patriot, which was No. 28 a few weeks ago. But imagine what it might be if Army (330 out of 330), Navy (310), Colgate (306), Lehigh (304) and Lafayette (275) were not such a drain on the conference.

No other conference has four teams over 300. Only one, the Northleast, has three in that grouping.

Suffice to say this means by the time conference play is finished, whoever wins the Patriot will find it tough to escape a dreaded 16 seed in March. In coming weeks, as conference play begins, those top three will actually start falling in the RPI even as they pick up wins in league play.

There is no easy solution. Obviously Army has not been able to find an answer despite several coaching changes and Navy appears to be headed backwards.

One answer, though, might be for the league to start requiring tougher out of conference schedules. The first step would be to end games against D-III teams. Wins over tech schools and the sea scouts have done nothing to help Army and Navy's loss to Gettysburg was downright embarrassing.

Army has one decent non-conference game this year -- Notre Dame. Lehigh's trip to Xavier only barely qualifies, since the Atlantic Ten is more of a high mid-major than a major conference. Colgate took its annual beating from Syracuse, then fled south to play powers like Florida International and Florida Atlantic (we can appreciate the urgency to escape Hamilton in the winter, but couldn't you lose to someone like Wake Forest or Clemson and still thaw out).

Navy played nobody and didn't even get to go anywhere interesting in the process. What the hell is the point of that?

Look at the schedules of the teams out of the 300s in the RPI. American plays a nice mix of decent mid-majors (Niagara, Vermont, LaSalle, Delaware ... not all having up years, but all generally good programs) and big boys like Maryland and Missou, along with its preseason NIT matchup with Virginia Commonwealth. Holy Cross has Princeton, Minnesota and Boston College on their slate; Bucknell plays Iowa State, Princeton (with a chance at Syracuse if it had won), Pitt, St. Joe's, Villanova, along with Ivy power Penn and Niagara.

None of those three have a D-III on their schedule this season, either.

Lafayette did, playing Moravian last week. But the Leopards also have Princeton, Louisville and Georgia Tech this year, as well as a Cal. St. Northridge team that was expected to be decent in the preseason.

The Northeast Conference mandates its teams must play at least two games against schools in the conferences ranked in the top 25 percent. They allow A-10 schools to count towards that requirement.

A similar rule, along with a ban on D-III games, would at least make the Patriot League's cellar dwellers a little less of a burden on the schools committed to having strong programs.

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