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Stats Corner: The NET, it Was Only a Suggestion

Looking at how the Selection Committee use the NET to seed the tournament

Duke v Kansas Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The bracket is out, Nevada is in (7th seed seems low), so is Utah State (8th seed is higher than I thought they would get, but lower than I believe they earned), and the whining has become. North Carolina State thought that having the second least difficult out-of-conference schedule, 352 out of 353, would not be problem (wrong), and Clemson, Ole Miss, and Texas (NET Rankings of 35, 36, and 38 respectfully) were also left out. Both N.C. State and TCU specially called out the NET ranking in their official statements. TCU coach Jamie Dixon said during his press conference “You look at the NET, there are six teams that had a lower NETs than us. They created a tool and talked about it and then there are six teams there that are lower than us that are in.” N.C. State Athletic Director Debbie Yow release a statement which included “The NCAA NET calculation was introduced as the new ranking system to replace the RPI as the primary sorting tool for evaluating teams…Based on the metrics sited above that the NCAA indicated they would use to evaluate team performance, we are disappointed for our athletes, coaches and fans that our total body of work was not rewarded with selection to the NCAA Tournament.” This leads to the questions, “How did the Selection Committee use the NET?” and “Which schools did the Committee seed favorably over their rankings?”

The short answer is the Selection Committee used the NET ranking like it did the RPI ranking, it is just a suggestion, not the end all. N.C. State is ranked 97th by RPI, below Fresno State, BYU, and San Diego State, none of whom were going to get an at-large bid. N.C. State’s issue was going 3-9 in Q1 games (Utah State also has 3 Q1 wins), and playing 9 non-conference teams who were ranked below 200, so as a result they are in the NIT. Repeat with me N.C. State “The NET is a tool, a suggestion, not the final word.” N.C. State, you are not SEC football, you cannot schedule cupcake games and make the playoffs. If you want to make the tournament your resume needs to be more than beating up really bad teams by more than 10 points, the six teams N.C. State played with a NET ranking in the 300s lost to the Wolfpack by an average of 35 points. Looks good on paper, selection committee was not as impressed. Aside from N.C. State trying to manipulate the system, the NET ranking was a decent system and far superior to the RPI as the NET relies on analytics to help with rankings. The committee does need to look at how teams look right now (LSU without a head coach) and injuries to key players, neither of which NET can nor will address. For those who claim Virginia has the toughest road and Duke the easiest, the NET agrees with you. The average NET ranking for the South region (Virginia) is 48.88 and Duke’s East region has an average of 60.34. Part of the East region is skewed due to NC Central with a ranking of 302 and North Dakota State at 222, but even removing one school the East still has the lowest NET ranking. West has an average ranking of 52.56 and Midwest was 54.38, fairly even.

Which schools got seeded favorably? This is where Michigan State has a legitimate complaint. They are listed as the 6th overall seed, yet if all the one and two seeds win out, instead of playing the 3rd overall seed, they play the 1st overall seed Duke, while Michigan received the 8th overall seed, but would not play the 1st overall seed, but rather the 4th overall seed. So not only did Michigan State get shorted on a number 1 seed and have to play the overall number 1, their arch rival, Michigan, gets the easiest lowest ranked one seed. That just hurts. When comparing NET ranking to overall seeding, we are excluding schools with a NET ranking below 50, as N.C. Central had a jump of 286 places by earning an automatic bid and given the lowest seeding possible. The following schools had double digit jumps in seeding from NET rankin:

Syracuse +12. Net 42, Seeded 30

Washington +12 Net 45, Seeded 33

Marquette +11 NET 28, Seeded 17.

Other school with the biggest jumps Kansas State +9, Kansas +7, Iowa +6, Villanova +5, Maryland +5, and finally a non-power school VCU +5 from NET 34 to seeded 29.

Those who were punished:

Wofford -15 NET 13, Seeded 28

Saint Mary’s -12 NET 32, Seeded 44

New Mexico St -9 NET 40 Seeded 49 (Would have been worse if 6 power schools ahead of them in NET would have made tournament)

Florida -9 NET 31, Seeded 40

Buffalo -8 NET 15 Seeded 23.

Both Mountain West schools were seeded 3 spots lower Nevada had a NET of 23 and was seeded 26, while Utah State had a NET ranking of 29 and was seeded 32. Nevada did draw Florida who was seeded lower than expected (the one major conference school to get the short stick), but seeded where the NET ranked them would have given them a 6th seed, an 11th seed first round game and second round game against a 3rd seed instead of Michigan. While Utah State was underseeded, they did benefit from Washington being given the biggest jump at 12 spots higher than NET ranking. Giving them a much easier first round game than expected for an 8th-9th match-up (don’t mess it up, Aggies). The problem is that second round match-up with North Carolina.

I am sure this is a shock to everyone, but the big schools were given favorable seedings while mid-majors and smaller schools were given lower seedings than they earned. Part of the reason is the NCAA tournament is a TV show, and they need to put the best product up for viewers. While people claim to want the underdogs to win, if we are honest, more people will watch the sweet 16 if North Carolina is competing instead of Utah State and Michigan instead of Nevada. However, that doesn’t justify taking Wofford with a Net ranking of 13 and an AP ranking of 19 and seeding them 28th to draw Seton Hall and then Kentucky. The team that took their spot at the 13th overall seed Kansas, with a lower NET ranking 20 and one of the schools that received the biggest bump. Kansas was award a contest with Northeastern then a second round draw against Auburn or New Mexico State, another small school seeded much lower than they deserve. At least, unlike football, every school has a chance to make the playoffs. Now that you are there, underseeded mid-majors and one-bid conference schools, score one for the little guy.