In the 2018-19 men’s basketball season, the NCAA started leaning on something called NET rankings when comparing team resumes come tournament time. But what are NET rankings, and how do they work?
The N.E.T., or “NCAA Evaluation Tool” Ranking, is a system used by the NCAA to rank men’s college basketball teams, both during the season and when it comes time to select and seed tournament teams. In 2018, it replaced the RPI, which had been around since 1981 but had become increasingly disfavored over time.
According to the NCAA general description of the system, the NET evaluates a team based on “game results,
Okay, fine. We’re going to look at stuff that matters when trying to figure out how good a team is. Good start
A more detailed explanation identifies five main factors in the NET Ranking: Team Value Index, Net Efficiency, Winning Percentage, Adjusted Win Percentage, and Scoring Margin.
Team Value Index
The Team Value Index component of the NET is a results-oriented algorithm designed to reward teams for beating other good teams. The man remains mysterious behind the curtain, but the NCAA has said that this component includes factors such as who won (duh), the opponent (okay, good), and the location (um, okay.) I’d love to see more detail on what’s happening inside the machine here, but I doubt they’re going to make the process that transparent.
The second component is Net Efficiency, which is defined as Offensive Efficiency minus Defensive Efficiency.
Offensive Efficiency is calculated as total points divided by Total Number of Possessions. Total Number of Possessions equals field goal attempts minus offensive rebounds plus turnovers plus .475 of free throw attempts. I’m not sure whether to agree or disagree on the number-of-possessions calculation, but I’ll defer to the nerds here.
Defensive Efficiency is a similar calculation: Opponent’s total points divided by Opponent’s Total Number of Possessions. Opponent’s Total Number of Possessions is opponent’s field goal attempts minus opponent’s offensive rebounds plus opponent’s turnovers plus .475 of opponent’s free throw attempts. Whew, that’s a lot of math with words.
Winning Percentage is a simple calculation of wins divided by total games played. Thank you.
Adjusted Win Percentage
Adjusted Win Percentage appears to juice the
Scoring Margin is, as you’d expect, simply the difference between a team’s score and its opponent’s score. However, the point differential is capped at 10 points, and all overtime games are capped at 1 point.
I like that scoring margin is considered, and I like a cap, but I’d like to see some more data to determine whether 10 points is the best threshold for that to kick in. A one-point cap for overtime makes sense.
Here’s how all of that looks in infographic form:
The NET is a tool
Pardon the heading; I just wanted to make sure you were still reading. The NET isn’t actually a TOOL, but it is merely a tool, meaning it’s not the final word in NCAA Tournament teams or anything. It’s just one component of the selection process. The at-large teams will still be chosen by the selection committee, and the committee will still use a combination of analytics and human subjectivity to select and seed those teams. They’ll still use the team sheets, and the team sheets will still rely heavily on the quadrant system utilized for the first time last year. The primary difference is that the game results are now sorted into the quadrants based on NET ranking instead of RPI.