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NCAA Releases NET Rankings, But They Probably Don’t Mean Anything Right Now

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Texas A&M vs Providence Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

This week the NCAA released the first version of its NET rankings, its metric for replacing the RPI in measuring the strength of college basketball teams, and all in the sports world applauded and sent kudos to the NCAA for such an innovative system to determine the college basketball’s best teams., that’s not what happened at all.

Instead the NCAA, in classic fashion, released the rankings with little explanation of the new metric, and the actual results of the new tool were confusing and appeared incorrect.

The criticism was especially harsh from 538’s Nate Silver. Which hurts because he is one of the preeminent experts at this sort of thing. Others in the college basketball world, like Matt Norlander, have been more measured but it’s clear that we don’t know much yet about this new metric and its impact on the season.

Wondering what goes into NET’s algorithm? Take a look below.

A chief criticism of NET from Silver is that the tool only takes into consideration the strength of schedule in one of the five metrics. Why there are five metrics was also an issue. But with strength of schedule as only one of the five the metrics that could “reward teams with good records against very poor schedules.”

You can already see this with teams such as Belmont, who is no. 9 in NET and no. 214 in the strength of schedule metric from KenPom. San Francisco is no. 12 in NET and no. 330 in strength of schedule. Loyola Marymount is no. 25 in NET, but no. 332 in KenPom’s strength of schedule tool.

The coaches also seem to be skeptical of the new NET rankings at this point. Take a look at Chris Holtmann’s reaction to being no. 1 in the initial NET rankings.

The nice thing for the Big Ten so far is that the NET rankings love them. The conference has seven teams in the top 25, and nine in the top 40. No other conference has as much depth right now.

Big Ten NET Rankings (as of Nov. 30th)

No. 3 Michigan
No. 3 Michigan
No. 6 Wisconsin
No. 8 Nebraska
No. 10 Iowa
No. 15 Ohio State
No. 19 Maryland
No. 22 Michigan State
No. 31 Purdue
No. 39 Indiana
No. 51 Rutgers
No. 63 Northwestern
No. 68 Penn St.
No. 95 Illinois
No. 102 Minnesota

NET’s view of the Big Ten aligns with pretty much every other metric used to judge college basketball. The Big Ten has at least six teams in the top 25 in six of seven top metrics in college basketball (AP, Coaches, KenPom, NET, Massey, Sagarin). Only Bart Tavorik’s T-Rank puts the number of Big Ten schools in the top 25 at five. So in this view, NET seems to be spot on.

However, the criticism of NET that probably rings the truest is “why release these now?” The NCAA had to know they were going to receive heavy pushback by proclaiming Ohio State the number one team in the country using its new totally improved analytics tool. But maybe I’m giving the NCAA too much credit. I appreciate the transparency, but people weren’t really that concerned in the first place. The push to release now, with such flawed results, calls the validity of entire metric into question. And if your metric has a blatant, inherent flaw, is it really all that much better than the RPI?

The NET rankings will be a fascinating thing to monitor throughout the college basketball season. It won’t weigh entirely into the who gets into the tournament, but it will be interesting to see how the metric changes throughout the season, and if the rankings are more representative of other common metrics used by teams and college basketball fans.