On Monday, the NCAA announced major changes to the NET, which is the primary tool that is used for selecting and seeding the 68 team NCAA Tournament field each season since it’s inception in 2018, when it replaced the RPI. While that shift was a significant upgrade, the NET was still subject to criticism this past season, as inconsistencies in team resumes vs. their ranking persisted.
After utilizing five major components the first two seasons NET was in place, the NCAA has reduced the focus to just two components moving forward. The NCAA stated the purpose of these changes was to “to increase accuracy and simplify” the NET rankings.
Changes included the elimination of winning percentage, adjusted winning percentage and scoring margin. The NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) now focuses on Team Value Index (TVI) and adjusted efficiency. The biggest takeaway is that misleading and less important factors like a teams winning percentage or margin of victory are rightfully excluded. Ken Pomeroy, the creator of KenPom, cited the problem with the NET previously overemphasizing margin of victory in our podcast episode with him last week.
Eliminating those three compenents essentially reduces the focus of NET to who you play, where you play them and how you perform against them, which is at the core of what should be important when evaluating college basketball teams for entry and seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
In the NCAA’s press release announcing the changes, Dan Gavitt, senior vice president of basketball, stated “when we adopted the NET in 2018, we had reviewed several seasons worth of data and we insisted that we would continue to evaluate the metric. We’ve been very satisfied with its performance thus far, but it became evident after two seasons of use that this change would be an improvement. While we will continue to monitor the metric, I don’t anticipate any additional adjustments for several years. We believe this change will result in more precision throughout the season and will be easier for our membership and the public to understand.”
Wins against quality opponents, with a greater importance for those away from home, should always be a major factor in determining the strength of a team. Adjusted efficiency is a key metric as well, as it measures strength of the opponent and helps determine the value of a win based on location.
In addition, the NET tweaked the strength of schedule metric to help better reflect the quality of each opponent. The press release explained, “the strength of schedule is based on rating every game on a team’s schedule for how hard it would be for an NCAA tournament-caliber team to win. It considers opponent strength and site of each game, assigning each game a difficulty score. Aggregating these across all games results in an overall expected win percentage versus a team’s schedule, which can be ranked to get a better measure of the strength of schedule.”
That is important in accurately rewarding quality wins, while also rightly punishing teams for bad losses. While high major/power conference teams will continue to schedule low major opponents for home games in non-conference play, it’s a high risk, low reward move. The NET gives high major programs a legitimate reason to add a few quality opponents as well, including on neutral courts or as true road games. This will make for a more compelling opening weeks of the college basketball season in the future.
The only issue that seems to remain is that we still aren’t clear on how NET applies its own metrics along with its incorporation of other analytic sites, which include KenPom, BPI, and Sagarin. We know they all matter, but we don’t know how each are weighted and what the exact formula for NET really is. That continues to leave the NCAA open to criticism in future seasons when multiple teams and their rankings are compared come bubble time. However, overall it’s still another positive step forward for the game of college basketball.
In respect to Rutgers, the likely significant step up in it’s non-conference schedule next season is good timing. Playing Baylor on a neutral court, potentially the top ranked team in the country when the two programs meet, is a high reward opportunity. Taking part in the Gavitt Games against a Big East opponent this season helps as well, especially if it’s on the road. Villanova has been speculated as the potential matchup and would be another big opportunity. The Scarlet Knights also play at Seton Hall, who will be highly ranked across the board this coming season once again. And the Big Ten/ACC Challenge will add a fourth quality opponent on the non-conference schedule.
Of course, Rutgers needs to take advantage of this schedule and prove it’s a quality team in its own right by playing well in those games, as well as establish themselves as a top half team in the Big Ten. The most talented team on the banks in decades will enter next season with its most challenging schedule in years. The biggest concern for next season is that the typical start of college basketball in early November could be in jeopardy depending on how the global pandemic COVID-19 continues to develop. The encouraging news is that a better system is now in place for Rutgers to be evaluated on its quest to end a 30 year NCAA Tournament drought, whenever the season ultimately takes place.