NCAA’s NET formula may be accurate

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When the NCAA Evaluation Tool’s rankings were first revealed in late November, they were met with near-universal derision. 

While no one was sad to see the scuttling of the old Ratings Percentage Index, the NET rankings had some head-scratchers: 

Ohio State, 6-0 at the time, was No. 1, while Duke, sitting atop the AP Poll, was sixth. Loyola Marymount was No. 10, and Belmont was No. 12. Radford, San Francisco and Georgia Southern all appeared among the top 26 teams. But Kentucky? 

The Wildcats were No. 61. 

Numbers guru Nate Silver, who runs the website FiveThirtyEight, immediately declared it was time for a complete redo. 

“These are the worst rankings I’ve ever seen in any sport, ever,” he wrote on Twitter. “NCAA needs to go completely back to the drawing board.” 

When it was suggested that the new tool was still in its infancy and should be given time, Silver wasn’t buying it. 

“There are a lot of other systems that produce rankings, though,” he tweeted, “and despite the relatively early point of the season we’re in, they produce much more ‘reasonable’ values.” 

ESPN’s Myron Medcalf broke down what he saw as the flaws with the new system. 

“(It) clearly has its limits, as the first rankings show,” Medcalf wrote in November. “Credit for margin of victory is capped at 10 points, which means Duke won’t be granted full credit for its destruction of (Kentucky) in the Champions Classic.” 

But Ken Pomeroy, who’s website (KenPom.com) is one of the leading advanced metrics ratings systems of college basketball teams, urged patience with the NET. Pomeroy even argued that the NET’s release got people talking about college basketball — and that that was always a good thing. 

“Much of the frenzy today was driven by media/fans wondering what this will look like in March,” Pomeroy wrote on Twitter. “Revealing that takes that mystery, and thus discussion, away. Many fewer think-pieces if we all know this will be fine in a few months.” 

Now, three months later, it looks like the NET is performing quite nicely. Its top three teams — Gonzaga, Virginia and Duke — are also Nos. 1-3 in the AP Poll. Virginia and Gonzaga swap positions in KenPom’s ratings, and Duke is No. 1, the Zags No. 2 and Virginia third in Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, which are published by USA Today. 

In fact, as of Tuesday morning, Houston (NET No. 4) is the only in the NET’s Top 10 that isn’t in KenPom’s (the Cougars are 17th). Purdue is No. 10, according to Pomeroy’s numbers, and 11th in the NET. Perhaps all the new metric needed was a little patience.

Wednesday

Tennessee at Mississippi: The Volunteers knew their SEC schedule was backloaded, and they come into this contest off losses at Kentucky and LSU in their past three after a 23-1 start to the season. Mississippi has won five of six after a four-game losing streak, but the Vols should be angry. TENNESSEE

Marquette at Villanova: The Wildcats won their first 10 Big East games but are just 1-4 since. While they’re playing at home for just the second time in three weeks, it looks like the torch has been passed — at least for a season. MARQUETTE 

Thursday

Wofford at Chattanooga: Wofford coach Mike Young knows his Terriers are probably just a couple wins from securing an NCAA Tournament at-large bid (if necessary). Wins over the Mocs and Samford (Saturday) would make them 18-0 in a stronger-than-usual Southern Conference. WOFFORD 

Saturday

Texas Tech at TCU: During their five-game win streak, the Red Raiders finally found an offense, scoring 78 or more in four of those games. They’ll likely go into this one tied with Kansas State atop the Big 12 standings, one game ahead of Kansas. TEXAS TECH 

Last week: 2-2

Season: 27-23-2

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About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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