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NCAA men’s basketball committee replaces RPI with vague ‘NET’ rating

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The RPI is gone, but we don’t really know much yet about what takes its place.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Villanova vs Kansas Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

The Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) has been terrible for a very long time, and in recent years, the NCAA has tried to rectify that fact when it comes to making NCAA Tournament selections.

In the past, they’ve talked to folks like Jeff Sagarian and Ken Pomeroy to improve things, and last year, they implemented that quadrants system to better inform team sheets. Regardless of what recent tweaks did though, the Syracuse Orange haven’t really seen a negative result from it all. Despite being squarely on the bubble for three straight seasons, SU has made the NCAA Tournament field in two of those years (advanced to at least the Sweet 16 both times). The miss in 2017 is mostly due to struggling so much away from home.

Well now, there’s another wrinkle: The RPI is dead, per an NCAA release on Wednesday. In its place? Something that’s still fairly vague, the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). It’s so #BRAND, it hurts.

Here’s how the NCAA describes this new ranking system, which will take effect this season...

“[NET] relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses.”

They add that game date and order have been omitted to keep equal importance on contests at every point in the season. A 10-point cap has also been applied to the scoring margin portion to prevent running up the score.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Midwest Regional-Syracuse vs Duke Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

All of this seems fine, though it’s hard to rely get much of a read on “what” this NET actually is until we see exactly how those figures are pulled together to create a usable metric to evaluate teams. Information like efficiency ratings and actual game results are a great step forward, but if implemented poorly, it’s just as bad as the RPI. The one major step forward from RPI is that it eliminates the weird dynamic where you’re hurt (or helped) by the teams your opponents beat as well.

Efficiency ratings are a great addition — though we don’t know exactly whose efficiency numbers they’ll be using (or again, how they’ll be weighted or used in the overall formula). For reference, Syracuse was 135th in offensive efficiency last year according to KenPom, but fifth in defensive efficiency. Are they rewarded for having a great defense, or penalized because the offense was only so-so? Does this hurt teams that aren’t as balanced?

We’ll likely know more soon on what exactly the NET is and how it’s applied to teams. But even if it has some flaws, the team sheets will once again include those much-talked-about quadrants from last year. Those quadrants undoubtedly helped Syracuse get in last year (thanks, Buffalo!), so we can’t just ignore them completely. A refresher on what those look like:

  • 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 161-351, Neutral 201-351, Away 241-353
NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

If applying the quadrant system to this year’s non-conference schedule, using RPI because we have no idea what NET will look like yet, we end up with Quad 1 opportunities against Ohio State, Buffalo and St. Bonaventure, and Quad 2 chances against Northeastern, Oregon and Old Dominion. That’s on top of a strong ACC schedule which includes home-and-home dates against Duke and Clemson, plus at least one game each against the rest of the conference as well.

Thoughts? Nice of the NCAA to announce this, but going to have to wait on the methodology to really arrive at a verdict. For now, just be glad the terrible RPI is gone.