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Nothing but NET: the new path to Madness

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Bracketology gets a new wrinkle in 2019. How will it impact TCU in the hunt for another Tournament bid?

TCU Basketball vs Baylor | January 5, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
TCU Basketball vs Baylor | January 5, 2019 | Fort Worth, TX
Melissa Triebwasser

Football season is officially over and we turn our focus away from the exclusive velvet rope of the College Football Playoff and look towards the Madness of March. The basketball version of the selection committee has long relied on the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) as its lodestar, guiding Duke to the easiest path to the Final Four the bracket seeding and bursting the bubbles of teams deemed unworthy. For about as long, the RPI has been reviled by savvy hoops fans as a flawed, outdated, meaningless measure of a team’s season-long résumé. RPI is the NFL head coach Mike Mularkey of metrics. Enter the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET); also reviled, flawed and meaningless, but new and shiny. NET is the NFL head coach Kliff Kingsbury of metrics. The NET took heavy criticism when first released, but has normalized some and should further do so as conference play gets into full swing. There will likely still be some oddball outliers, but I expect by the end of the season the NET will be a clear improvement over RPI.

The prime criticism of RPI is that it is too simplistic, can be easily gamed by schedule-makers, and in no way represents a team’s strength. As a refresher, the RPI simply uses winning percentage, opponents’ winning percentage and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage. Basically: win games against teams that win games - doesn’t matter if those opponents are in the OVC or the ACC. The NCAA implemented a quadrant system last season in an effort to better highlight opponent quality. The only problem was, the system still used RPI to determine the quadrants.

2019’s selection committee will still use the quadrants, but the NET ranking will determine into which quadrant teams fall. Is winning at Old Dominion (current NET #75, a Q1 win) really better than beating Villanova at home (current NET # 31, a Q2 win)? Probably not, but the lines have to be drawn somewhere. Sure, an away win is more difficult than a home win, but the quadrant gap and adjusted win percentage impact puts a massive emphasis on winning on the road.

The NCAA released the details about how the NET is calculated that can help us better understand how each game will impact the ranking throughout the season. There is still some secret sauce with the Team Value Index algorithm, which happens to be the most heavily weighted component, but we can now measure the Bubble race and our Horned Frogs’ position with each game result. How did a home win over a conference rival impact the TCU resume in the new rating system?

NET impact of the home win over Baylor

One thing we all have in common with NET is an absolute disdain for the Baylor Bears. Saturday’s win ultimately did little for TCU’s overall NET rank, moving from #31 to #30, primarily due to the way TCU had to hold on for dear life to escape with the win, but also because the game was at home against the NET’s #108 squad. Baylor actually jumped into the top 100 with the performance, up to #94. The NET loves a good moral victory, but the Bears have since secured a huge actual victory over Iowa State to move into the top 75. This move makes TCU’s win over the Bears a Q2 win rather than a Q3 win. Baylor remaining in the top 75 throughout the season would be a significant boost for the TCU résumé going forward.

Tonight’s trip to Allen Fieldhouse will certainly be the biggest test of the season and presents the first Quadrant 1 opportunity for TCU. Follow along all season as the Frogs push to reach the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years for the first time in the modern era.