The NCAA revamped their highly criticized NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings this year, simplifying the metric in an attempt to increase the accuracy of their rankings. NET was introduced to replace the equally flawed RPI system that the men’s basketball selection committee used to rank and seed teams into the NCAA tournament.
This year the NCAA has stopped using winning percentage, adjusted winning percentage, and scoring margin as part of the metric and will instead only use their team value index and net efficiency rating. Those metrics are quite complicated but are summed up by the NCAA below.
“The remaining factors include the Team Value Index (TVI), which is a result-based feature that rewards teams for beating quality opponents, particularly away from home, as well as an adjusted net efficiency rating. The adjusted efficiency is a team’s net efficiency, adjusted for strength of opponent and location (home/away/neutral) across all games played. For example, a given efficiency value (net points per 100 possessions) against stronger opposition rates higher than the same efficiency against lesser opponents and having a certain efficiency on the road rates higher than the same efficiency at home.”
Today we got to see how this new metric performs, as the NCAA released their first NET rankings of the year earlier this morning, and the results have been, how can I say this gently? Perplexing? Just like any data-based performance ranking, there is going to be some wonky results early in the season as there just isn’t enough of a sample size of data to get accurate results.
FIRST NET RANKINGS! 👀
👉 https://t.co/xHiVJONKFh pic.twitter.com/K53zwvx1S3
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) January 4, 2021
But even if you take these early results with a grain of salt, some of these rankings are still hard to understand. Boise State ranked higher than Kansas? Colgate ranked higher than Creighton? Arizona State ranked 105th? In this article, we will breakdown these rankings and give you five things that the NET rankings got wrong. Let’s get started!
Kansas Ranked 27th
The single biggest issue I have with the newly released NET rankings is the complete and utter disrespect shown to the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas is really good, like Final Four level good, and to see them rated out as a potential bubble team is a joke. Remember, 32 teams get auto-bids into the NCAA tournament for winning their league’s conference championship tournaments, so that only leaves 36 at-large bids available. To see Kansas even remotely close to that cutline is a joke.
The Jayhawks have just two losses on the year, to Gonzaga and Texas. Gonzaga is the top team in the nation by a fairly wide margin as they are number one in the AP Poll, coaches’ poll, kenpom, and these NET rankings. The consensus opinion on Texas isn’t quite as consistent as depending on who you ask, the Longhorns rank anywhere from 4th in the latest AP Poll to 9th in these NET rankings, but everyone can agree that the Longhorns have their best team in a long time.
Comin’ in at No. 6 this week ⬎ pic.twitter.com/rO287GTZIA
— Kansas Basketball (@KUHoops) January 4, 2021
Those two losses shouldn’t really hurt Kansas at all, and when you look at their wins, it’s hard to see why these rankings are throwing the Jayhawks so much shade. Kansas has three top-15 wins this season with victories over Creighton, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. The NET rankings use a quadrant system for rankings wins and losses, with quad 1 being the toughest games. The three quad 1 wins for Kansas are tied for the 2nd most in the country, trailing only Gonzaga, Houston, and Missouri.
The formerly used RPI system, as bad as it was at times, put a lot of credence on scheduling tough and playing good teams in hostile environments. Kansas has played the 9th toughest schedule in the country, with six games rated as tier A on kenpom. And with an impressive 8-2 record against that high-level competition, the only thing that I can think is that these NET rankings don’t value strength of schedule nearly as much as they should.
We will see more examples of this disregard for quality competition later on this list, but at least in this early view, it looks like the NCAA tournament selection committee might punish teams that have played a hard schedule. That certainly doesn’t bode well for teams playing in leagues like the Big 10 and the Big 12 this year, as those conferences are loaded, and even really good teams are going to lose games.
No Love For The Big East
While the Big East isn’t quite as good as the Big 10 and Big 12 are this season, the league is always one of the best in the country, and this year is no different. But you wouldn’t know that from these rankings, as the league is basically non-existent with the exception of Villanova. The Wildcats are ranked appropriately at 5th, but we don’t see another Big East team until Creighton at 30th, and after the Blue Jays, we drop all of the way down to Seton Hall at 44th as the next Big East team.
To put that in perspective, Creighton is ranked 7th in this week’s AP Poll, with Seton Hall and Xavier both falling in the high 30’s in the also receiving votes category. Kenpom has the top-7 teams in the Big East ranked in the top-60, and all but Georgetown fall into the top-100. The NET rankings have half of the league outside of the top-60, and four teams aren’t even in the top-100, with Butler coming in last in the league at 170th!
🔵𝐇𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐑𝐚𝐧𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐄𝐯𝐞𝐫⚪️
— Creighton Men’s Basketball (@BluejayMBB) January 4, 2021
This appears to be another case of this new metric not properly valuing strength of schedule as the Big East was late to the party this year in the non-conference, as many of their teams skipped out on playing too many non-league games and jumped right conference play. While teams in leagues like the ACC and Big 12 have only played two or three games, the Big East teams have already played as many as six conference games this season. And with the league so talented, that means that they have all played a tough schedule.
Based on these current rankings, the Big East would only have two teams in the NCAA tournament. When you compare that to ESPN’s Bracketology guru Joe Lunardi, who has the Big East with four teams in the field of 68 and two more teams, Seton Hall and Providence, just outside the field in the first four out, it feels like the NCAA is way off here. There is still plenty of time for these rankings to dial in and get more accurate before Selection Sunday, but if somehow the Big East only manages to get two teams into the Big Dance, it would be an absolute tragedy.
Too Many Small Schools In The Top 20
After digging into these rankings, we have seen a common theme that teams that have played a tough strength of schedule are not being rewarded for it, and in fact, it looks like they are actually being punished for playing quality competition. And when you look at the other end of the spectrum, teams that have played weak schedules are getting far too much respect.
Before I get too deep into thrashing these small schools, I want to make it known that I love small conference college basketball, and I feel that 90% of the time, mid-major and small conference teams get the short end of the stick. Cinderella’s are what makes the NCAA tournament great, and more of them getting a chance to dance is a good thing for sure. But these rankings took that just a little bit too far.
There are 3️⃣ Valley teams in the top 💯 of the NET rankings.
Full ranking ⬇️https://t.co/xZw5uH8M6d
— MVC Basketball (@ValleyHoops) January 4, 2021
I love the Drake Bulldogs this year. They are 12-0, and they have one of the best average margins of victory in the nation. They are a fun and exciting team, and I have identified them as a sleeper school to keep your eye on as we inch closer to March. But that is what they are, a sleeper, not a top-20 team. But according to the NET rankings, the Bulldogs are the 20th best team, better than Kansas, Creighton, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, and a host of other top teams.
Colgate comes in inexplicably ranked 13th, despite playing just two games this season, splitting the pair with 213th ranked Army. Kenpom has the Raiders ranked 135th, and while they are likely the class of the Patriot League this year, they aren’t going to sniff an at-large bid if they can’t snag the league’s auto-bid, and it’s laughable that they are anywhere near the top of these rankings. This one is likely just a weird data anomaly that will quickly correct itself, but it’s hard to understand what is built into this metric that likes a team that is just 1-1 with an SOS of 322nd.
Black Knights WIN!!
— Army M.Basketball (@ArmyWP_MBB) January 3, 2021
Another small school that is undeserving of being in the top-20 are the Saint Louis Billikens. I actually really like Saint Louis this year, and I think that they are going to give Richmond and VCU a run for their money in the A-10 this season, but they don’t belong ranked 12th in the nation. Saint Louis has just one quad one victory, and one quad two win. All of their seven wins on the year have come on their home floor, and in the one true road game that they played, they lost at Minnesota.
The last school that shouldn’t be ranked as high as they are right now is Boise State. The Broncos are very similar to Saint Louis in that I think they have a great shot of winning their league title, and they are likely far better than the mainstream media is giving them credit for. But come on here, Boise State ranked 13th with their one total quad one victory?
— Boise State MBB (@BroncoSportsMBB) January 4, 2021
Six of the seven wins for the Broncos came against teams ranked 240th or worse on kenpom, and with an SOS of 279th, this team just hasn’t done nearly enough to be considered for a top-four seed. They are a bubble team at best right now, and hopefully, these rankings reflect that before Selection Sunday.
Minnesota A Bubble Team?
If you are an avid reader of my daily college hoops betting picks, you will know that I really like this Minnesota Golden Gophers team. I have taken them as home underdogs three times this year in Big 10 play, and they are undefeated both against the spread and straight up. The Gophers have won four out of their last five games, with all four wins coming over teams ranked in the top-50 nationally. Their only two losses on the year came to Illinois and Wisconsin, with both teams in the top-10.
The AP Poll has the Gophers as the 16th best team in the country, and while I think that might be a bit too high for them, they are way better than 43rd, where the NET rankings have them right now. I guess what is hurting the Gophers is the fact that all of their quality wins have come at home? Minnesota is 0-2 in true road games and 10-0 in Minneapolis.
Moving 🆙 pic.twitter.com/9ZCkidRnsd
— Minnesota Men’s Basketball (@GopherMBB) January 4, 2021
With a bunch of conference road games ahead on the schedule, Minnesota will have lots of opportunities to pick up signature road wins and improve on this ranking, but it sure feels like this new NET formula is rating home wins far too low. Yeah, winning at home is easier than it is to win on the road. I get that. But beating teams like Iowa, Ohio State, Saint Louis, and Michigan State is tough no matter where the games are being played, and the Gophers deserve better than this.
The PAC-12 Is A Mess
Unlike a lot of the national media, I am by no means a west coast basketball hater. There is a lot of good basketball being played on the west coast, and with the PAC-12 being the best west coast league, it’s usually quite a bit better than most people give it credit for. But when I see that these NET rankings have the conference of champions, as former UCLA legend Bill Walton loves to call it, getting four teams ranked in the top-26, it feels inflated.
To put that in better context, the AP Poll has just one team from the PAC-12 ranked in its top-25, with Oregon coming in at 17th. There are a couple of other teams that got votes, so these teams aren’t way back in the rankings, but I’m not sure you could talk me into Arizona, Southern Cal, Oregon, and Colorado all being elite teams this season. Lunardi has Arizona in the next four out in his latest bracket, with USC forced to play a play-in game as one of the last four in.
ICYMI on Saturday night, UCLA improved its home winning streak to 13 games with a 65-62 victory over Colorado in a Pac-12 contest.
PHOTOS: https://t.co/VU6Hjdn0rt pic.twitter.com/pfMbQhTNNM
— UCLA Men’s Basketball (@UCLAMBB) January 3, 2021
While I see the top of the PAC-12 as overrated right now, I actually see the bottom half of the league as underrated. These rankings have completely missed on the PAC-12, if you ask me. Yeah, the UCLA Bruins and Stanford Cardinal haven’t gotten off to great starts this year. But both of these teams are talented, and I still see them as NCAA tournament level teams. These rankings have both teams outside the field of 68, while Lunardi has them safely in the tournament.
Utah and Arizona State are two other teams in the league that I think will compete for an NCAA tournament birth and the current NET has both of them missing the tournament, with Utah ranked 120th, 55 places worse than their kenpom ranking, and the Sun Devils at 105th with kenpom ranking them 57th.
Normally I am barely going to take notice of a composite ranking such as this one early in the year. But with the major changes made to the algorithm, I think this year is a bit different. We will continue to monitor these NET rankings as the season plays out, and hopefully, as more games get dropped in, these rankings get more accurate, because right now, these are absolute garbage.
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