We have reached that point in the college basketball season when NCAA Tournament résumés are hotly debated. Whether it is a battle for seeding or, more importantly, for an at-large bid to the Big Dance, the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee (commonly referred to as the "selection committee") uses several data points to judge each team to build the bracket by deciding which teams earn the 37 at-large bids (one more than usual) and where each of the 68 teams in the tournament will be seeded when the bracket is announced on Selection Sunday.
The NCAA compiles all the relevant numbers and presents it on the "team sheets," which are distributed to members of the selection committee. The numbers the committee uses to evaluate each team is one of the biggest factors in what is otherwise still a subjective process.
For the 2020-21 season, the formula for the still new NET Ranking system was changed. There are two components, the "Team Value Index," which is results oriented and "Adjusted NET Efficiency," which is basically margin of victory measured in points per possession instead of points per game. Both components include strength of schedule and game location factors as well.
Below is a picture of Baylor's team sheet from last week:
The layout of the team sheets cleaned up a little for this season, but the data on them has not changed from 2019-20. The NCAA also has a slightly different version of the "team sheets" available to the public.
The data that matters
While no one criterion is necessarily THE most important on the team sheets, it is possible to group the criteria by relative importance, so I will attempt to do that here. In short, the committee is looking for teams that have performed well, especially away from home since the tournament is not played on home floors. No attempt is made to rank the importance of the criteria within a group.
- Games by quadrant, listing results and upcoming games
- Records by quadrant, away and neutral
- Non-Conference Strength of Schedule (SOS)
- Overall SOS
- Overall road and neutral records
- Non-Division I losses
- Average NET win and loss
- Overall record
- Non-Conference record, road record
Not nothing, but not very important
- NET and other computer rankings
- Overall home records, non-conference and by quadrant
- Game scoring margins
- Conference records and standings
- AP Top 25, Coaches Poll
- Tournament history
The "Not Nothing, but not very important" category could also be named "If this is all you have, you have nothing." The data in those categories should be validated by the information in the more important categories. If they are not validated, then they are outliers. Nothing in this category is decisive. For example, a team's individual NET ranking is not nearly as important as those of its opponents. The NET is designed to define the quadrants, not to choose or seed teams. It's not a tiebreaker or anything like that. Teams are not compared by NET or other computer rankings.
One factor not listed because there is no way to measure it is the "Eye Test." That term gets thrown around a lot because it is part of the subjective nature of the selection process. The committee members watch a lot of games. They will form some opinions based on that. However, if that criterion were to be listed somewhere, it would be under "Not Nothing." If a team really is good, it will show up in the important categories somewhere. If all you have is the "Eye Test," then you have nothing.
COVID impact on committee's thinking
For the 2020-21 season, and hopefully never again, the committee will have to make some considerations for schedules that have been impacted by COVID-19. Many games have been canceled because of COVID issues. This season, there were only 43% of the typical number of nonconference games played than in a normal season. That impacts the reliability of the computer rankings because their effectiveness is based on the interconnectivity between teams in different conferences.
For example, Patriot League teams played a total of eight nonconference games, four each by Navy and Army. That's it. Colgate has been in the top 20 of the NET most of the season but didn't play any nonconference games. The most important factor in trying to judge Colgate this season, or whichever team emerges from what will surely be a one-bid league, will be the "eye test." There will be no reliable, measurable way to judge the quality of their opponents.
It's not just the Patriot League. As of this writing, 48 teams have played two or fewer nonconference games against D-I opposition, including Atlantic 10 contender St. Bonaventure.
Comparing teams that have played a widely disparate number of games will be a challenge as well.
Hopefully this helps you frame your arguments for your team when you start debating its selection or seeding.