Bracketology: How close is Kentucky to being a No. 1 seed and who is benefiting from the NET rankings?
Looking at why the Wildcats are still a No. 2 seed and which teams get a boost from the NET
A new bracket is up and I believe I had the least movement in a February bracket in all the time I have been doing this, at least among the top 16. The only change was Tennessee and Virginia swapping places on the top line, with the Cavaliers moving to No. 2 overall and the Vols dropping to third overall.
That's it. The rest of the top 16 is the same from Friday.
Kentucky got a big win over Tennessee over the weekend, but I do not believe it is enough just yet to supplant Gonzaga for a No. 1 seed. The thing that is different about Kentucky's profile vs the No. 1 seeds is losses to Alabama and Seton Hall. Only Duke has a loss as bad as either of those and the Blue Devils were down two starters when they lost to Syracuse. I believe it is possible for Gonzaga to get jumped without losing, with Kentucky and Michigan being the most likely teams to be able to do that.
Top seeds in latest Bracketology
[Check out Palm's full bracket with all 68 seeds and the first four four teams out on our Bracketology page]
Interesting NET results
With a month to go, I thought it would be a good time to see how the NET is treating some teams differently than the RPI, and what impact it might make on the selection process. The most important thing to note is one thing that is the same as it was with the RPI – the NET is not a decisive metric. No metric is. Even if all metrics agree on something, the committee may not. The metrics largely do not measure what the committee is trying to reward, which is playing strong schedules and doing well against them. Ken Pomeroy himself told the committee it should not use his ranking for that reason. They list it on the team sheet anyway.for more on how the NET is determined and used.
The NET's main function is to be the ranking that is used to define the four quadrants, which is how the committee groups a team's opponents by quality. For example, the Quadrant 1 opponents are those a team has played at home that are ranked in the top 30 of the NET, neutral court opponents in the top 50 and road opponents in the top 75. See the Bracketology page for the other quadrants.
No potential tournament team is benefiting more from the NET than NC State. The Wolfpack just cracked the top 100 in the RPI for the first time this season after losing to Duke on Saturday. They rank 96th in that metric, but because they are the top team in net efficiency, which is a form of uncapped margin of victory, they rank 32nd in the NET.
NC State's schedule is dreadful and quality wins are lacking. In the RPI era, that No. 96 ranking wouldn't get them much of a look. The NET gave them a chance to get credit for running up the score on their cupcake schedule and they did just that. The Wolfpack played eight opponents currently ranked 275 or below in the NET, six of those south of 300, and won by an average of almost 36 points per game. That is a big reason why they are so much higher in the NET. However, NET or no NET, the committee isn't going to care about that margin of victory. Since strength of schedule is still RPI-based, and the Wolfpack has the second worst non-conference schedule in all of Division I, they are going to have to overcome that. An awful non-conference SOS gets a team left out almost every year.
For opponents of NC State though, that 36 ranking is pretty nice. It makes the Wolfpack a Quadrant 1 opponent in neutral court games and if they played the Wolfpack on the road. A home game against NC State rates as Quadrant 2. Each of those is one quadrant better than if the RPI was in place.
And that's where NET differences from the RPI have the most impact. The NET ranking of a team's opponents is more important than its own. For a team like Auburn, which lost to NC State, that loss does not look as bad as it would have in the RPI.
Other teams that are one quadrant better no matter where you played them are Nebraska and Penn State, each from the Big Ten. The Cornhuskers are 39th in the NET, up from 92nd in the RPI. Penn State is up to 39 places in the NET, from 109 in the RPI to 70th.
Note that those are major conference teams. The seven teams that are one quadrant lower no matter where the game is played are all non-majors. Those teams are Drake, UC Irvine, Utah Valley, Charleston, Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Princeton. Drake is actually two quadrants lower if a team played the Bulldogs at their place.
Of the 74 teams that are one quadrant worse as an opponent in at least one of the game location categories, only four are from major conferences. Those are Washington, Minnesota, Seton Hall and Wake Forest.
This should come as no surprise. While the NET may boost the rankings of some of the better teams from the non-majors, the vast majority were going to be worse off. That means the quality of some of the opponents of those teams are going to rate lower.
We will not know until March how things may have been impacted for this season. Even then, we will not be able to draw any long-term conclusions because one year is not a trend. Also, there are rumblings that the new secret formula may be revisited in the offseason.
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