Who has the national championship advantage: Automatic qualifiers or at-large teams?  

In a nearly even split since 1991, at-large teams have a 14-13 advantage over automatic qualifiers in winning NCAA tournament

Since 1991, when CBN began tracking the RPI, there is a nearly even split between national champions that were the automatic qualifier from their conference to the NCAA tournament, and those that were at-large selections to the tournament. At-large teams hold a 14 to 13 lead over teams that were the automatic qualifiers from their conference over this 27-year period. While it may seem logical that all of the automatic qualifiers were winners of their conference tournaments, this is not the case. The Pac-10 first held a conference tournament in 1987, but then did away with it from 1991 to 2001. So, in 1995 the Pac-10 regular-season champion, UCLA, was the only automatic qualifier to the tournament that did win not a conference tournament during this span because its conference did not hold one that year. The last 4 NCAA tournaments have been won by  teams that were at-large selections to the tournament.

NCAA National Champions, 1991 - 2017
       RPI                        Final RS   How  Tournament Finish     Polls
 Year  Rank School           Seed  W   L     Qual   W    L    Place    AP   C
 1991   8   Duke              2    26  7      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 6    6
 1992   2   Duke              1    28  2     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 1    1
 1993   2   North Carolina    1    28  4      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 4    2
 1994   6   Arkansas          1    25  3      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 2    1
 1995   6   UCLA              1    25  2     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 1    1
 1996   1   Kentucky          1    28  2      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 2    2
 1997   17  Arizona           4    19  9      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 15  13
 1998   3   Kentucky          2    29  4     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 5    6
 1999   3   Connecticut       1    28  2     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 3    3
 2000   11  Michigan St.      1    26  7     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 2    2
 2001   1   Duke              1    29  4     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 1    1
 2002   3   Maryland          1    26  4      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 4    4
 2003   7   Syracuse          3    24  5      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 13  12
 2004   5   Connecticut       2    27  6     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 7    7
 2005   6   North Carolina    1    27  4      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 2    3
 2006   15  Florida           3    27  6     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 11  10
 2007   6   Florida           1    29  5     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 3    3
 2008   5   Kansas            1    31  3     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 4    4
 2009   3   North Carolina    1    27  4      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 2    3
 2010   3   Duke              1    29  5     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 3    3
 2011   14  Connecticut       3    26  9     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 9    8
 2012   2   Kentucky          1    32  2      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 1    1
 2013   3   Louisville        1    29  5     Auto   6    0  Champ, 6-0 2    2
 2014   22  Connecticut       7    26  8      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 18  19
 2015   6   Duke              1    29  4      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 4    5
 2016   4   Villanova         2    29  5      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 6    6
 2017   5   North Carolina    1    26  7      @     6    0  Champ, 6-0 6    8
 

Bracket Bits from The RPI Report and The Women's RPI Report

Tidbits from recent issues of The RPI Report and The Women's RPI Report

From The RPI Report:  Five schools made the NCAA tournament with losing conference records. They were all 8-10 in their conference and all were at-large teams: Alabama from the SEC, Arizona State from the Pac-12, Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12, and Syracuse from the ACC. In addition, 4 schools made it with 9-9 (.500 records), those being Butler, Florida State, TCU, and Texas A&M. They were all at-large selections to the tournament. Texas Southern made the NCAA tournament with an overall losing record (15-19). The Tigers began the season 0-13, and each of those games was on the road. Texas Southern did have the best RPI in the SWAC (No. 222) and a conference record of 12-6, which was a three-way tie for second place, behind Grambling State’s 13-5 . Texas Southern’s SWAC tournament win made them the 26th team to make the NCAA tournament with a losing record. There have been 11 teams with losing records make the tournament in the 2000's and 21 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Only one team has been in the NCAA tournament with a losing overall record that won their conference’s automatic bid, which was their regular-season conference title ‒ Texas (11-3, 12-14) in 1974. 

 

From The Women's RPI Report:   Grambling State (13-5, 19-13) was the lowest-ranked team in the RPI, No. 210, to make the NCAA tournament. Nebraska was the lowest-ranked at-large team to make the field with a rank of No. 60. There were 6 teams with RPI rankings of below 100 to make the tournament and 12 below No. 60 to make the field, and all were automatic qualifiers. All teams that made the field had a conference record of .500 or better, the worst being automatic qualifier Cal State Northridge at 8-8. All at-large teams had conference records of 4 games above .500 or better, with the worst 4 having 10-6 (.625) records. 

Teams with No. 1 schedule strength rankings can usually look forward to NCAA tournament invitation

Vanderbilt had No. 1 end of regular season schedule strength rank but came up short in NCAA tournament, losing in first round

The Vanderbilt Commodores won top honors for the best overall schedule strength at the end of the 2017 regular season through games of Selection Sunday. In addition, Vandy had the No. 3 rank of opponents' RPI played, along with the No. 1 opponents' won-lost record of 676-401 (.6277) in the regular season, which are both alternate ways of determining schedule strength. Louisville had the No. 1 rank of opponents' RPI played. The Commodores received an at-large bid to the 2017 NCAA tournament with a No. 9 seed but lost to No. 8 seed Northwestern 68-66 in the first round. Since 1991, 22 of the 27 teams holding the No. 1 schedule strength rank at the end of the regular season were in the NCAA tournament, and 23 of those 27 teams were in post-season play. (Georgia, in 2003, was ineligible.) However, having the No. 1 schedule strength does not guarantee success in the NCAA tournament. In 7 of the last 17 seasons, the team holding top schedule strength honors has lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In the 10 years prior to that, not a single team with the No. 1 schedule strength that made the NCAA tournament lost in the first round, although 3 of those teams did not make the NCAA tournament. The best NCAA tournament performance for a team with the best regular-season schedule strength since 1991 was North Carolina in 1997, which lost in the national semifinals to eventual national champion Arizona. Notre Dame had the best regular-season schedule strength in 1992 with a 14-14 record and finished second in the NIT. List

Several conferences use CBN's RPI data to break tournament seeding ties

Administrators have complete confidence in CBN's RPI

Nearly all conference offices subscribe to both The RPI Report and The Women's RPI Report because they know they can count on the most accurate weighted RPI for the men and the women anywhere this side of the NCAA tournament selection committees. CBN first made the Adjusted RPI ratings (which are no longer used for either the men nor the women) available to The RPI Report and The Women's RPI Report subscribers during the 1998-99 season. The NCAA used the Adjusted RPI ratings from the 1993-94 through the 2003-04 season for the men and have used the weighted RPI since the 2004-05 season, while the women used the Adjusted RPI through the 2010-11 season and began using the weighted RPI during the 2011-12 season. The weighted RPI gives more credit to teams that schedule tough opponents and that beat good teams at home and on the road. Story

AP carried CBN's Men's RPI Ratings for 16th consecutive year during the 2009-10 season

2009-10 was the 13th season that AP distributed CBN's Women's RPI Ratings

During the 2009-10 season, the Associated Press (AP) carried CBN's RPI ratings for both men's and women's college basketball, for the 16th consecutive year, for at least part of the season. In addition, 2009-10 was the 13th consecutive season that the AP distributed the women's RPI for at least part of the season. Story