Not just nitpicking over NET-picking

NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball Dan Gavitt (MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference)

Editor’s note: Dan Gavitt is NCAA senior vice president of basketball.

Hey Dan, I’m back. It’s been a few weeks since my last note to you on the repugnant new NIT policy eliminating the automatic bid for mid-major conference champions who do not win their conference tournaments.

I have another request. It’s about that NET thing. Time to scrap it, or at least modify it. It only favors the big boys. You know that. We know that. Everyone knows that.

The biggest problem is the TVI (team value index), which is meant to reward teams for beating quality opponents. How does it work with teams who can’t get quadrant-one and even quadrant-two-type games out of conference, even on the road?

Let’s take the Yale and Princeton men. No one with even a scintilla of knowledge about college basketball would doubt that they are both NCAA Tournament quality teams. Yet their NETs will suffer considerably because very few top teams and nary a quadrant-one squad will play them.

These are just some of the quad-one and quad-two teams who won’t play Yale and Princeton: Seton Hall, St. John’s, Connecticut, Providence, Syracuse and Boston College.

Rutgers men’s coach Steve Pikiell, under some pressure from alumni, agreed to play Princeton on a neutral court in Trenton. The Tigers won by seven.

But take a look at the Princeton schedule. Not one other power-conference matchup can be found. And that is a shame, because Princeton’s one through six spots are as good, if not better, than half of the power-conference teams.

Last year, Yale sat at 65 and Princeton at 93 in the final NET rankings. Yale beat Princeton twice. And we know what Princeton did: a Sweet 16 run with wins over NET No. 10 Arizona, No. 47 Missouri and a narrow loss to No. 14 Creighton. Yet Yale had no shot at a second Ivy bid.

 The Ivy has never had two teams selected to the Big Dance in the same year, and that is mind-boggling.

As of Sunday, the Ivy is the No. 9 conference in the RPI rankings, ahead of the American Athletic Conference and Atlantic 10.

Ivies and many other mid-majors are unfairly penalized because the bottoms of their leagues are relatively weak. They’re also penalized because they can’t accumulate enough quality wins or even narrow defeats over top teams because those teams won’t play them. Those with a more favorable conference schedule benefit in January and February under the anti-mid-major NET algorithm.

When the NET can be expected to credit an eight-point loss to a UConn more than a three-point win over a Delaware and the top Ivies can’t get a game with UConn, that’s a problem.

It’s fine to credit offensive and defensive efficiencies. Accounting for margin of victories up to, let’s say, 10 points, also works. But the strength-of-schedule focus of the TVI isn’t fair.

It’s not fine for a hypothetical Wisconsin who goes 19-14 and 10-10 in Big Ten play to have a higher NET than a hypothetical Princeton who goes 21-5 and 12-2 in Ivy play but only played one quad-one team out of conference because no others would agree to tango with the Tigers.

Let’s level the playing field and make the NCAA tourney an equal-opportunity event. A two-bid Ivy isn’t odious. A nine-bid Big Ten may indeed be.

1 thought on “Not just nitpicking over NET-picking”

  1. Typically spot on analysis. The Tigers clearly earned a berth in the tourney by
    the league rule but I doubt Henderson would claim his team was better than the Bulldogs. The point is that a team that beat a Sweet 16 team twice in ways that make me wince should have been in the NCAA Tourney. Yale has represented the league quite well in its appearances. There may be comparable situations in other conferences but I don’t know of any.

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