What do basketball rankings mean? How are they calculated?

Benner Mullin, Author

After its Central Coast Section Open Division playoff win on Friday night, the Palo Alto boys’ basketball team (23-2, 12-0) ranking took a significant jump when MaxPreps, a website that tracks scores, schedules and standings of all high school sports, updated its computer rankings on Sunday morning. Paly now ranks as the 19th best team in California and the 96th best team in the whole country.

But what do these rankings mean? How are they calculated? How similar or dissimilar are they to other media outlets rankings of Paly?

According to MaxPreps’ website, the computer rankings are based solely on a system that “utilizes the huge number of game results stored in the MaxPreps database.”

Wins against other highly ranked schools impact a team’s ranking more significantly than a win against a lower-ranked team. Similarly, a loss to a highly ranked team does not hurt a team’s ranking as much as a loss to a lower ranked team.

For this reason, it is logical that Paly has been rising in MaxPreps’ rankings. Of its 25 games played, the Vikings have won 23 of them, including 21 straight. Paly’s two losses came against Salesian High School (28-1, 8-0) and Menlo High School (23-2, 14-0), both in December. Salesian, an eight-point loss, is currently ranked as the 4th best team in the country and No. 1 in California. Menlo, a six-point loss, was ranked top 15 in California at the time of the loss, though its ranking has slipped due to a weak strength of schedule and playoff loss to Mitty, according to MaxPreps.

Both of Paly’s losses would be considered ‘quality losses’, meaning that the quality of the opponents Paly lost to is high enough that it does little to negatively impact its ranking. A loss to a lower ranked Santa Clara Valley Athletic League opponent would create significantly more damage to Paly’s ranking. Fortunately, the Vikings don’t have any of those.

In addition, “playoff wins are weighed higher compared to a regular season game,” which means another victory in the CCS Open Division Tournament could vault the Vikings up among the elite high school programs in the country.

The computer rankings from MaxPreps are fairly congruent to the rank given to the boys’ team by human polls in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, and other MaxPreps rankings, all of which consistently rank Paly in the top five and 10 of their polls for Bay Area high school basketball teams.

Palo Alto has a chance to back up its ranking and prove they are the real deal at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Independence High School, where the boys square off against Mitty High School (10-15, 7-7) for a chance to become to first public school to advance to the CCS Open Division final.