When the NCAA’s NET ranking made its debut last season, Division I college basketball coaches across the country threw their arms up in frustration like they were disputing a bogus foul call.
How were programs supposed to adjust so quickly to the NCAA’s evaluation tool for NCAA tournament selection?
Well, a year later the Big Ten has adjusted just fine. As of Thursday’s NET ranking, the Big Ten had 12 teams in the top 50, including 10 in the top 40.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the league will get 10-12 teams into the NCAA tournament this year, which would surpass last year’s record of eight. But it does mean a dozen teams are at least at this point in the mix for the NCAA tourney with February around the corner, including the Gophers.
How many more leagues around the country can say the same? None. Not even close.
The other major conferences had representation in the NET’s top 50 as follows: SEC (seven), Big East (six), Pac-12 (six), Big 12 (five) and ACC (three).
Obviously, it means something to have more representation at the top, too. Baylor and Kansas give the Big 12 two top five teams in the NET. Duke and Louisville give the ACC two top 10 NET teams. Butler, Villanova and Seton Hall give the Big East three teams in the top 13. Michigan State’s the only Big Ten team in that group right now, but there’s more depth in the conference where the Spartans are the front-runners.
Not even two years in, the NET has caused the average college hoops fan to remain clueless as to what exactly is the NCAA’s replacement for RPI (Rating Percentage Index). Basically, the NET ranking uses several metrics instead of just winning percentage. It measures quality of wins and losses, strength of schedule, scoring margin and offensive and defensive efficiency.
“So many variables go into it,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “Fortunately for us vs. some other conferences, there are opportunities right in front of you.”
The wins considered NCAA tournament résumé gold and huge NET boosters are Quadrant 1 wins, victories against NET-ranked opponents No. 1-30 at home, No. 1-50 at neutral site and No. 1-75 in true road games. Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin aren’t projected as high NCAA tourney seeds, but they each had five Quad 1 wins as of Thursday. They’ve won on the road in league play. Others have struggled.
Big Ten coaches definitely scheduled tougher this season in nonconference play to take advantage of the new NET system. It’s basically a low-risk and high-reward move. Wins were potentially a big payoff, and the losses weren’t costly.
The NCAA’s team sheets include more than just the NET rankings for teams. They also evaluate using advanced stats ratings from BPI (Basketball Power Index), SOR (Strength of Record), KPI (Key Performance Index), POM (Ken Pomeroy) and SAG (Jeff Sagarin).
Piling up more losses wouldn’t be a good look for teams such as Minnesota. Fortunately, though, for Big Ten teams in the mix for the NCAA tournament, Northwestern and Nebraska are the only truly bad NET losses in conference play — while nearly every other opponent is a quality win opportunity.
So when ESPN’s Joe Lunardi released his latest projection Thursday, he had a whopping number of Big Ten teams making the tournament: 12, including the Gophers.
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller
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