The NCAA releases a few updates each week to the new ranking it calls the NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET.
College basketball fans, players and coaches can sing along, repeating that catchy line in Drake’s rap song, “In My Feelings”: “What’s your net, net, net worth?”
Nobody knows exactly what each team’s NET will be worth to the NCAA tournament selection committee on Selection Sunday. This has to be frustrating for bubble teams or teams not projecting well in the first year of the metric that replaced the 38-year-old Rating Percentage Index (RPI).
The Gophers are one of the best examples in college hoops of the difference between NET and RPI. They are 16-5 overall and 6-4 in the Big Ten, but their NET after Wednesday’s 86-75 victory over Illinois was 50th. That’s 10th in the Big Ten, even behind Indiana (No. 48) after the Hoosiers dropped to 12-9 and lost their seventh game in a row Wednesday at Rutgers. Minnesota’s RPI is No. 33, while Indiana is No. 66.
Those RPI rankings seem more accurate to what actually is going on, at least right now. One team is playing well and beat some quality opponents (four wins vs. top 35 NET teams). The other is really on a nose dive.
“I’m not saying we’re the best team in the country, but with the résumé we have right now,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Wednesday, “[Minnesota’s NET] makes no sense to me.”
So why is this happening? Well, NET appears to focus more on scoring margin and efficiency numbers than RPI did, according to analysts. The NCAA hasn’t said that, but it revealed the NET’s five factors: game results, offensive and defensive efficiency, winning percentage, adjusted win percentage and scoring margin.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a challenge,” NCAA Vice President of Men’s Basketball Dan Gavitt told the Star Tribune in November. “I think it’s going to be great opportunity for the committee to have a much more modern and contemporary and sophisticated metric to use as their primary metric in the process. I say primary, because it’s not the only one. They’ll still have access to all the other rankings systems. It’s just one tool in the evaluation of teams, but it is an improvement.
“There’s still a lot of learning, whether it’s journalists and fans or coaches and administrators about what the NET is and how it ranks teams.”
Pitino admitted after the 11-point victory over Illinois on Wednesday that he kept his starters in the game to make sure the final margin was at least 10 points. The NET caps point differential at 10, but the efficiency numbers can look better the more you distance yourself in points.
“I’m never trying to show up another coach,” Pitino said. “But if they’re going to tell me a win by more than 10 points means more, then if we can get it, I’m going to get it. It’s hard to win games in this league by double digits.”
That was Minnesota’s second Big Ten victory by double digits. Nine of the Gophers’ 16 victories are by single digits, but four of their five losses were by an average margin of 18.5 points, including a 27-point loss at Illinois. Minnesota’s offensive efficiency (50th) and defensive efficiency (79th) rank eighth and 12th among Big Ten teams, respectively.
Like many coaches in his situation, Pitino hopes the new NET ranking is “not as big of a deal as you think it is.”
The Gophers and other teams in the same boat won’t really know, though, until they see what their NET worth means in late March.
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller