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Angela Lento

28 Feb

Mid-Major Notebook

The NCAA Evaluation Tool (known as NET) was built by the NCAA to create an accurate ranking system.


The NCAA Evaluation Tool
Is Cinderella leaving the Dance?
As February turns to March, college basketball conversation turns toward the NCAA tournament with most of the attention focused on the at-large bubble. The chatter seems to start earlier and earlier each year as self-proclaimed bracket experts and prognosticators aim to get inside the collective brains of the 10-member selection committee who face the difficult task of selecting the 36 at-large picks and seeding the 68-team field.
This season, the committee has a shiny, new toy to help determine which resumes are worthy of inclusion. The NCAA Evaluation Tool (known as NET) was built by the NCAA to create an accurate ranking system and to compare teams fairly. This is an arduous task in college basketball, with its 32 conferences and 353 teams at the Division I level.
The court is hardly level. The system, in many ways, is flawed. From chartered planes at Kentucky to late-night bus rides at Delaware State, blue-chip one-and-done recruits at Duke to non-scholarship leagues like the Ivy, there’s a significant disparity in talent, resources and level of competition. 
“No matter what measure is used, the unaddressed failing in evaluating a schedule is the fact that not all teams have the power to build a preferred schedule,” said ASun commissioner Ted Gumbart, whose best team Lipscomb is 22-6 overall and 46th in the NET through Feb. 27th. 
“In NCAA basketball, the teams that make the most money control who they play - most of the rest struggle to get the quality games needed to build an at-large worthy resume.”
NET replaces the horrible RPI, which was confusing and easy for coaches to ‘game’ through smart scheduling. 
“Anything would be better than the RPI,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. “But, the issue isn’t the organization of the data, it’s the strength of the mind processing it. The NCAA calls the NET an organizational tool, but it can function as a list that has suggestive power over a weaker basketball mind.”
Factors included in NET are: game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive efficiency, net defensive efficiency and quality of wins and losses. Some observers, analysts and fans are hopeful NET will benefit mid-majors.
“I respect Dan Gavitt and the selection committee and want to thank them all the work they have done in developing the NET ranking system,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I think it is too early to tell if it’s an upgrade.
NET was devised to find a better method of comparing, for example, a strong Southern Conference team like Furman to their in-state neighbor Clemson, which enters March below .500 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In recent years, similar arguments have dominated the airwaves before and after Selection Sunday. Which is more impressive? Rolling through a conference schedule virtually unscathed or nabbing a victory or two when facing NCAA tournament level teams nightly? 
To Gumbart, the answer is quite clear.
“From my perspective, absolutely the committee should emphasize an outstanding conference performance as an important value,” he said. “No matter what conference you are in, you'll stub your toe in the course of 16-20 games. To expect a team at the mid-major level to go unscathed is unrealistic. Likewise, a team that gets 18 chances to prove themselves, and prevails in fewer than half its opportunities - that team has had its chance and failed.”
Lipscomb (which lost to Clemson 84-67 on Dec. 30th) and Liberty, No. 64 in the NET, share the ASun lead at 13-2.
Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander believes the NET will benefit mid-majors because it factors in ‘how a team plays’ in addition to who it plays and where it plays them. 
“Assuming the NCAA values the NET rankings, I think they should go straight down the list as a starting point for at-large teams,” Alexander said. “Then human discussion that factors in injuries, successes, failures, etc. can influence moving a team up or down those rankings.”
Belmont coach Rick Byrd, who has led the program to 411 victories in 20 years at the Division I level, understands the difficulty the committee faces. His Bruins are 23-4 and tied for the Ohio Valley Conference lead with Murray State at 14-2. 
“This much I know, it is very hard to compare the very good mid-major teams with the middle of the road Power 5 teams,” he said. “That is a really tough assignment for the folks on the committee. It's not for me to tell them how to make those comparisons. Those of us who might hope to gain an at-large bad know that we simply cannot withstand one 'bad loss' in our almost 30 games. We lost at Green Bay, Lipscomb just lost at FGCU and Liberty just lost at North Florida. Those may be tough to overcome.”
Power 5 Conference schools, on the other hand, are rewarded for going 7-10 against teams from Quadrant 1 (Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75) and Quadrant 2 (Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135). The quadrant system is a committee organizational tool introduced prior to last year’s tournament.
Toledo is 22-6 and 10-5 in the MAC. The Rockets only opportunities for a Quadrant 1 win this season were against conference rival Buffalo. 
“We can’t get the Power 5 schools to play us in home-and-homes and it all depends on what type of exempt tournament you go to. Some of those are difficult to get into,” Kowalczyk said. “The quad system certainly discriminates against mid-majors. The Power 5 schools have so many more opportunities for Quad 1 wins but just because they have those opportunities doesn’t make them better teams.”
Any team that lands on the wrong side of the bubble must first look at its own failure, Bilas points out.  
“This is really about what you value. It may not be the same for everybody, but it’s entirely fair,” Bilas said. “Each team had the opportunity to win its Automatic Bid against its peers in its conference. After that the rest of the bids go to the best teams remaining. If you believe a team like Wofford is better than a team like Florida, then vote that way.” 
Wofford - if it fails to win the Southern Conference tournament on the first weekend in March and is omitted from the field - is certain to become the team everyone references in the future when arguing against the value of the NET.
The Terriers have dominated an outrageously strong SoCon this season, rolling to a perfect 16-0 record through Feb. 23rd behind the nation’s 11th most efficient offense. The Southern is 10th in the KenPom rankings, which is its highest since those rankings began in 2002.
“I am just unsure of how significant or insignificant the NET will be when those decisions are made by the selection committee,” said Wofford coach Mike Young, who is trying to lead the program to the NCAA tournament for the fifth time since 2010.
“With a NET of 20 in late February, our hope is that would bode well for su, but with two league games remaining, both on the road and the SoCon tournament next weekend, we have to continue to play well.”   
Young is correct. Regardless the ratings system or metric, there’s no margin for error for a non-Power 5 team that’s on the bubble this time of the year. Taking any other perspective would be foolish. Unlike an ACC or SEC team, which can boost its resume with a first-round or quarterfinal victory in its conference tournament, the mid-majors better remain on the winning side of the scoreboard if they hope to make a deep run into March.
“We have fallen in love with upsets,” Bilas said. “But the truth is, non-Power 5 teams already make up more than half the field.  I don’t know how to better handle the selection of teams than to say best teams remaining after the AQs.”
Kowalczyk is hopeful the NET, which he feels is more consistent from game-to-game than the RPI or KenPom ratings, will boost the chances of all mid-majors and lead to more slots in the 68-team field. 
The ASun commissioner Gumbart doesn’t want the tournament to lose its allure either. 
“Our top two teams have outstanding road wins over Power 5 opponents. If we had a chance to play such competition at home once in while, I know more mid-major teams would earn their way into the dance,” he said. “But I also understand the economics, the overall power position of the five, and the wide range of thinking on what makes a team worthy, or not, when selecting the field. The magic to me is always the Cinderella story. Let's hope that never gets lost.”



college insider Contributors
Angela Lento

 Angela was born and raised in Yonkers. The NYC girl graduated Dean’s List from Krissler Business Institute in 1993 and shortly thereafter was co-founder of CollegeInsider.com. Angela was a driving force in coaches paying tribute to legendary Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan, with "Bow Tie" day on March 1, 2003. In the fall of 2005, Angela and former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg organized All Coaches Care, which helped raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. A mother of two (ages 22 and 29) Angela is an avid boxing fan. She loves to cook, take swings at the batting cages and a good cup of coffee.  Her favorite quotes are "There is more caffeine in a poorly officiated game than you will find in a good cup of coffee" and "Every day is good day to shop for shoes." 


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