The NIT tournament is something that Iowa State fans are talking about right now. The team has 13 wins, and a lot of people out there have some kind of a gut-feely type of a number that they think Iowa State would have to hit to go to the NIT.
Now before I jump into the target, I want it to be clear that going to the NIT isn't an expectation I have for this team. It is somewhat possible, but at the same time we just saw our team struggle for a while against a bad MAC team at home. This is the same team that has two football walkons on the basketball roster for the rest of the year. Iowa State's future in conference play is very volatile in my opinion.
First, to be from a major conference, if you want to get into the NIT, your RPI has to be in the Top 100, but ideally more in the 80 range or higher. There are major conference teams that have had RPIs lower, but if you want to feel good about your chances, being 80th or so is the way to go. Anything below 85, I'd call that a bubble NIT team.
All of that is great, but with half the season to go, you can't really look at where we fall in the RPI as of right now because we're only halfway through the season. So what I decided to do was project RPI for Iowa State.
In order to get to the NIT, I think Iowa State has to win 7 more games (combination of regular season and Big 12 tournament). I have done the math, using various projections from other models, and also based on projected SOS; 6 wins looks like enough, but because 75% of the RPI statistic is based on what other teams are doing, I throw in an extra game to err on the side of caution.
Explanation After The Jump
I'm not going to get into calculating the RPI, but the general cutoffs are that if you want to go to the NIT, you have to have the 80-85th highest RPI, and a winning record. There are some teams that have gotten in with something in the 90-range (like UNC last year), but if you want to feel good about it, you have to be in the upper 80s or better.
In terms of the actual RPI number, you have to have one of 55% or higher to get into the NIT. Some with lower have gotten in, but that's the exception more than the rule. So, when you're looking up RPIs down the road, look at where the team falls, but also what the raw number is.
Right now, 6 wins looks like a RPI for Iowa State of above 55%, however 7 is going to be at least 56%. If Iowa State's SOS is worse than projected, I think 7 wins will still hold. When it is this early, I want to be more conservative with my estimates.
Now, I know there are some Kool-Aid drinkers out there, or people that are just curious what it would take for Iowa State to get to the NCAA tournament. I know nobody thinks it will happen, but just kind of a crazy "what-if" scenario to throw out there.
In order to feel OK about going to the NCAA tournament, you want to have a top 40-45 RPI and one that is 58-59% or higher. In addition, you pretty much need to have a conference record above .500 (no team in the past decade from the Big 12 has made the dance with a .500 conference record), but even that isn't a lock. Remember in 2004, Colorado went 10-6 and went to the NIT, and ditto for K-State in 2007.
In order for Iowa State to get in the 58-59% range, they would have to win at least 23 games on the year, which makes sense as going 9-7 would lead to 22 wins, and they would be expected to win at least one Big 12 tournament game in that scenario. I do not think that is possible, obviously, but that is what it would take based on what we know and what the best projections out there are saying about how the teams will do out in the future.
So when you're thinking of the postseason, look at the post I did yesterday regarding probabilities, and pick out the 6 games you think Iowa State has the best chance of winning, and hope they could beat a team like Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament. Yes, a difficult road ahead if they want to make it to the NIT, but not impossible.