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Roll ‘Bama Roll Bracketology: Just what is the NET, anyway?

There have been a lot of changes to the NCAA Tournament over the past several years.

Syndication: The Montgomery Advertiser Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK

Despite the Alabama Crimson Tide being your newly-minted unanimous No. 1 team in the polls (CBS Coach’s poll dropped right as this was being written), that does not necessarily mean that were the season to end today, that Alabama would be the No. 1 overall seed (or, remote as it may be, even a 1-seed period).

For instance, Jerry Palm — Purdue alumnus that he is — just can’t help himself: He still has Purdue as the No. 1 overall seed in his bracket of yesterday. Yes, Purdue lost to a bubble team on the road (we know that feeling, bro), but a lot of those Big 10 wins that buoyed them in earlier NET rankings are losing their luster: one of them dropped to Q1 win, and two more are Q2 as of today. Thus the Boilermakers find themselves all the way at No. 4 in the recent NET rankings. (Joe Lunardi is far saner here, and has the Crimson Tide as a 1-seed and the No. 1 overall seed).

Do those reflect the polls? Nope.

In both human polls, Purdue is 3rd, with UCLA checking in at 4th. And in the NET rankings, Alabama sits at 2nd behind a Houston team with just 5 Q1 NET wins: Alabama has more victories over Q1 teams (7) than Houston has even played. And their Q1 loss? To 15. But perhaps the most farcical part of replacing the RPI as an analytical tool with the NET, is that 6-loss Tennessee, with an 8-6 record against Q1/Q2 teams, sits at 3rd in the NET: ahead of Purdue, UCLA, and Kansas. Meanwhile, the polls place them at a more reasonable 10th.

So....what is this NET, anyway?

In short, the NET is the new “objective” ranking criteria used by the NCAA tourney selection committee. The old RPI system, which rewarded playing difficult schedules and also took in account who your opponents had also played, has been yeeted in favor of the NET. The RPI knew that tough losses were common in basketball, particularly on the road. The point was to play them.

The NET does not really do that.

It instead tallies Wins/Losses among four tiers of teams called “Quadrants” or “Q.” The thinking being that the more tough wins you get, the more you should be rewarded. Thus, a team like UConn, with six Q1 losses is still 7th in the NET: They have 7 Q1 victories, which is tied with Alabama for 4th-most. Meanwhile, since the back half of the schedule is very soft, the RPI is far less impressed with the Huskies; they are just 29th in the RPI, with the 51st overall SOS dragging them down. Alabama, is 1st in the RPI with the 3rd overall SOS.

So far, that part seems fair. But where the NET finds itself the source of plenty valid criticism is in some of its more controversial elements. Per the NCAA:

[NET] takes into account game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses. It’s both a results-driven and predictive metric.

See the problem here? It’s one the old BCS had initially — and always retained among several of its constituent data models — it includes MOV. Thus, teams with decent but not great schedules who blow shitty teams out, like Houston, receive a bump for the pasting. Meanwhile teams like KU (SOS 3) and Alabama (SOS 1), play meatgrinders, but would not be rewarded by that component by dint of the MOV being narrower. Though not a large portion of the model, it does matter. It incentivizes slaughtering weaker opponents, and pouring it on the waning moments of a certain victory.

The second criticism is the recursive nature of the NET itself. It has a SOS component. But the SOS is not one using an opponent-adjusted model like, say, Sagarin. It uses the NET quadrant system and ranking to determine how difficult a schedule is. And, how do they arrive at the NET ranking of those opponents? By using the NET itself...which includes the strength of schedule...derived from using the NET. See the issue here? It’s poor use of data, to say the least.

The final problem, and perhaps the greatest criticism is how the quads are determined. There is simply no rhyme or reason to the arbitrary cutoffs. It presumes (rightly) that, ceteris paribus, a home win is easier than an away win. Okay, that’s fine. But it takes an outrageously devalued approach of those home wins.

  • Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135.
  • Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240.
  • Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353

See that howling issue above? To receive a Q1 win for the purposes of the committee’s rankings, the opponent must be in the top 30. How inane is that? Well, there are 358 teams playing D1 hoops. For a home win to be of sufficiently decent quality for the NCAATSC, it must be a win over an opponent in the top 8.37% of all teams in the country. Expressed in College Football terms, you have to have a win over an AP Top 2 Team for the NCAA to deem it good. Meanwhile, a neutral court win are victories in the Top 13% of teams (Top 3-4 in CFB terms). And a road win is giving a remarkably generous over 2-to-1 quality slide: counting Q1 wins as being all the way down to 70th.

But to illustrate how absurd this is: A Q1 home SEC win can only be against Tennessee, Arkansas or Alabama. A home win against Texas A&M, Auburn, Mizzou, Mississippi State, Kentucky? Doesn’t count. They’re “just” Q2 — but if you traveled 40 minutes up the road and played them in Birmingham, they suddenly become Q1. It places a road win against Florida on the same footing as a home win against Tennessee.

It is bizarre to assume that training, athletes, coaching, talent are demonstrably twice as worse when they come to your house.

And it leads to perverse outcomes. My personal favorite is that Kansas is 2nd in the RPI: The Jayhawks have the nation’s toughest SOS (1st), and have done quite a lot with a lot of tough games (20-5). Yet, the NET has KU 7th, behind Tennessee and a Texas team they trucked. Know who else they’re behind? Allegedly St. Mary’s, sitting at an ungodly 6th in the NET rankings — which is frankly absurd.’

And how do they determine the rankings of these opponents? Ta-dah: using the NET itself again?

But this is the system we have, unfortunately, but it’s also one that will determine Alabama’s post-season fates. And, given the projected imbalance this season, not only do you want to be a 1-seed, you want to be the overall 1-seed.

And that’s our story for next week.

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Meanwhile, here’s our weekly run-down of where ‘Bama stands by the numbers in the 2022-2023 season.

  • Ranking: AP 1 (LW 3) / CBS Coaches 1 (LW 3)
  • RPI: 1st (LW 1st)
  • SOS: 3rd (or second) (LW 3rd)
  • KenPom: 2nd (LW 4th), 13th offense (LW 15th), 5th defense (LW 6th)
  • Sagarin: 2nd (LW 3rd)
  • Bart Torvik: 2nd (LW 3rd); 12th adj. offense (LW 14th); 2nd adj. defense (LW 4th)
  • True Tempo: 1st — 75.8 adj. possessions per game; 1.066 points per possession
  • Offense PPG: 83.4 PPG
  • Defense PPG: 68.8 PPG
  • NET ranking: 3rd (LW 3rd)

That’s it for now.

Gear up for what is probably Alabama’s toughest road game of the season.

Roll Tide and #fUT


What are your feelings on the NET system?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Hate it. It has too many issues
    (57 votes)
  • 15%
    Dislike it, but it’s still better than the RPI
    (21 votes)
  • 41%
    Mixed — equally good and bad outcomes
    (58 votes)
  • 2%
    Love it — many more factors to consider
    (4 votes)
140 votes total Vote Now