- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On any random winter night Ohio University happens to play, it’s safe to assume Maryland’s Dave Neal is jotting a mental note to himself about the Bobcats’ result.

His Terrapins haven’t seen Ohio since absorbing a mid-December loss. But Neal, ever the hoops junkie, knows just how influential the results of Maryland’s opponents can be when the NCAA tournament selection committee reviews the Terps’ worthiness for a berth next month.

Ohio, checking in at a respectable No. 54 in the RPI entering yesterday, is certainly not hurting Maryland. And Neal, who will enter the press room for interviews and convincingly spout off RPIs, is well aware of it.

“I keep track of them,” Neal said. “They’re near the top of their conference, so our loss to them — we shouldn’t have lost to them — but at the end of the year if they win their conference it’s not considered as bad a loss if they’re the best team in their conference.”

So it’s come to this: A bracketologist in the ranks of major college basketball players.

It is an avocation made popular in recent years by a spate of bracket-wielding observers, most notably Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com and Jerry Palm, who operates collegerpi.com.

Maybe it was just a matter of time before a player picked up on it. Lunardi said in an e-mail he’s had general conversations with Xavier’s Stanley Burrell and Bucknell’s John Griffin but nothing too specific.

Then again, it probably makes some sense.

“I mean, I’m not going to get into the NCAA tournament no matter what I think,” Palm said. “I think players have a vested interest in it. [More power to] those that have the time and gumption.”

That isn’t always easy with classes and games and travel. But Neal still will get into some heated discussions with senior guard Jason McAlpin about the merits of teams from across the country.

To Neal, it’s all about possessing an arsenal of knowledge backed by constant research. That means watching plenty of games and reading newspapers in his spare time as part of his preparation.

“I listen to ‘College GameDay’ every Saturday morning and try to see what they have to say and keep track of teams’ RPIs,” Neal said. “The top 25 to me isn’t anything special because some teams to me I don’t believe deserve to be in there. I try to look at teams’ RPIs because that’s what I think they base most of the decision off of.”

“They,” of course, is the catch-all pronoun for the NCAA tournament selection committee that will convene in Indianapolis in a few weeks to choose the 65-team field. And “they” will have their work scrutinized heavily once it is completed.

Until then, everyone will have an opinion. Many coaches will express understandable wariness about RPIs — as Notre Dame’s Mike Brey did as early as December’s Jimmy V Classic — and SOSs and nearly every other acronym imaginable.

But as Neal demonstrates, the information is out there for everyone.

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