March Madness: Teams Worse Than NET Rankings Suggest

min read
Andrew Doughty Jul 28, 2021, 8:04 AM
NCAA Tournament Odds Betting

Colgate isn’t the 12th-best team in college basketball. 

Three-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Matt Langel has done a remarkable job building the Raiders into an annual NCAA Tournament contender and the conference’s most consistent program. For the third straight season, Colgate is the best team in the Patriot League and one of the most balanced teams in the country. They’re dominant on the defensive glass, shoot 38 percent from three, and commit only 10 turnovers per game.

Colgate is good. They’re not, however, as good as the NET Rankings suggest.

Before the 2018-19 season, the NCAA Tournament selection committee replaced the RPI with the NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) as their primary evaluation metric. The new algorithm “relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses.” It also omits “certain types of data,” including game date and order, and caps margin of victory at 10 points. 

We don’t know the NET algorithm, nor do we know how much the committee uses the NET, if all 10 committee members use it as their primary evaluation tool, if the NET quadrant system is used a little or a lot, or if the NET carries the same weight as KenPom, BPI, Sagarin, or other metrics. 

We do know the committee uses the NET. And we do know the NET loves Colgate. We don’t know why.

Colgate debuted at No. 16 in the first NET Rankings of the 2020-21 season on Jan. 4. They were 1-1 with a spit home series against Army, zero Quadrant 1 wins, zero Quadrant 2 wins, zero road wins, zero neutral-site wins, and one Quadrant 3 loss. They were ranked outside the top 100 in most major metrics, including KenPom, Sagarin, BPI, SOS, and SOR.

Colgate was ranked one spot ahead of Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights were 7-2 with three Quadrant 1 wins, one Quadrant 2 win, one road win, and zero Quadrant 3 losses. They were ranked inside the top 50 in most major metrics, including KenPom, Sagarin, BPI, SOS, and SOR. Rutgers had a better average NET win, average NET loss, average opponent NET rank, and NET SOS. Even the NET’s offspring didn’t like Rutgers over Colgate.

Seven weeks later, Colgate is a 13-seed in Bracketology and has climbed to 12th in the NET–after a brief plummet to the 40s and climb to No. 10–while Rutgers is a 7-seed has fallen to No. 30. And, as they did seven weeks ago, Rutgers sits above Colgate in every area … except the NET Rankings. And we don’t know why.

But we do know Colgate is worse than their NET rankings suggests, as are these teams:

Loyola Chicago (10)

“This year’s team has a higher upside. I don’t want to make any of my teammates mad from a couple of years ago, but I think the team this year has an incredible upside.”

That was former Loyola Chicago guard Clayton Custer in a Sports Illustrated article published on Feb. 10. Four days later, the Ramblers scored a season-low 50 points in an overtime loss to Drake. While the loss isn’t inexcusable and doesn’t crush Custer’s argument, 35-percent shooting, 19 turnovers, and a blown 10-point lead against a bubble team isn’t great.

Maybe Custer is right (and former teammate Lucas Williamson, now a senior, is right in saying this year’s team “would beat the Final Four team for sure”), but, right now, Loyola is not the 10th-best team in college basketball.

Tennessee (16)

The NET Rankings cap margin of victory at 10 points “to prevent rankings from encouraging unsportsmanlike play, such as needlessly running up the score in a game where the outcome was certain.”

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

If the NET didn’t cap margin of victory at 10 points, Tennessee wouldn’t be No. 16. The Vols have three losses of at least 10 points, including a 26-point beatdown in Gainesville and a 15-point home loss to Kentucky. The Vols are tied for the 10th-most Quadrant 1 wins (five) and rank in the top 25 of most major metrics, including 11th in BPI, so it’s easy to see why the NET also likes them. But it’s also easy to see why 16th is aggressive for a team that lost to Ole Miss and routinely struggles with inferior foes.

Colorado (24)

Colorado was a top-10 NET team for more than a week in late January and has spent the last five weeks bouncing in and out of the top 20. Barring a total collapse, the Buffaloes will make the tourney for the first time since 2016, could earn a top-7 seed for the first time in program history, and head coach Tad Boyle would be in line for his first Pac-12 Coach of the Year Award if not for Andy Enfield’s breakout season.

Colorado was a legitimate top-25 team for the first two months of the season. They haven’t been since a late-January loss to Washington. It was the first of four losses in nine games, three of which came against non-tourney teams (and the fourth against a bubble team, Oregon). Their metrics are declining with each week and don’t reflect the nation’s 24th-best team.

VCU (35)

The good news: VCU has more Quadrant 2 wins than any team in the country (8-0), a 5-2 road record, and several top-40 metrics.

The bad news: VCU has zero Quadrant 1 wins, two Quadrant 3 losses, and several sub-40 metrics. They blew a 14-point second-half lead in a 16-point loss to St. Bonaventure, lost to Rhode Island by 15, and lost to an NIT-bound George Mason team that hadn’t played in 10 days.

The Rams’ 13th-ranked KenPom defense averages more than nine steals and five blocked shots per game, has allowed only one opponent to score more than 80 points all season and suffocates teams on the perimeter. Their offense, however, is pedestrian across the board and holding back what could be a dangerous tourney team.

Louisville (48)

Louisville lost to North Carolina by 45 points at home.

They have zero high-end wins, lost to North Carolina by 45 points by home, can’t shoot, lost to North Carolina by 45 points at home, can’t pass, lost to North Carolina by 45 points by home, can’t force turnovers, and lost to North Carolina by 45 points by home.

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else. He has written for Sports Illustrated, HERO Sports, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter: @DoughtyBetMGM

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Andrew Doughty

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Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.

Andrew Doughty is a writer for BetMGM and host of High Motor by BetMGM, an NFL and college football podcast available on Apple Podcasts and everywhere else.