What a time for the NCAA to decide to modernize its basketball metrics — at least as far as the LSU Tigers are concerned.
A year after breaking down NCAA teams into four quadrants, it chucked the decades old Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) this season in favor of the NCAA Evaluation Tool or NET.
Some websites out there still compile RPI, calculated by a team’s strength of schedule and how well its opponents’ opponents fare as well. By that calculation, according to sites like RealTimeRPI.com and TeamRankings.com, LSU (21-4, 11-1 Southeastern Conference) has an RPI of 6 right now.
Instead NET is the metric of choice, and its formula isn’t as enamored with the Tigers as the RPI is. LSU improved to No. 14 in the NET last week after beating Kentucky but fell Monday to 16 after an 83-79 win over Georgia, the SEC’s second-to-last place team.
A pair of road wins, one of them a stunning upset of No. 5 Kentucky, has propelled the LSU men's basketball team to its highest ranking in a decade.
David Worlock, the NCAA’s director of media coordination/statistics, said NET is a more nuanced formula than the RPI.
“The RPI was strictly a results-based metric,” Worlock said. “The NET has some characteristics of results but is also a predictive component.”
There are five elements to NET:
1. Team Value Index: This is an algorithm that uses opponent, location and results to produce a team value index score.
2. Net efficiency: This subtracts defensive efficiency from offensive efficiency to produce a net efficiency score. Offensive efficiency comes from field goal attempts minus offensive rebounds plus turnovers and a multiple of free-throw attempts divided by total possessions. Defensive efficiency takes the same factors and divides a team’s total score by total opponent’s possessions.
3. Winning percentage: Ye olde standard — wins divided by games played.
4. Adjusted win percentage: A long-time NCAA staple. Wins are weighted at 1.4 points on the road, 1.0 at neutral site and 0.6 points at home. Home losses are a 1.4-point deduction, neutral losses are 1.0 and road losses are 0.6.
5. Scoring margin: capped at 10 points per game.
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As complicated as it looks, LSU coach Will Wade said the NET really isn’t that difficult to figure out. Of course, Wade is an admitted analytics junkie.
“You have to schedule good games and win the games, and you've got to make sure your efficiencies and stuff look good,” Wade said.
“You have to monitor it, and I've got some people I consult with on the schedules — some numbers guys. It's not all me; I have a guy that crunches numbers out west who suggests teams to play and some different things I like. So I can guess five spots either way what our NET or RPI will be. We have a pretty good idea what it is, so we just have to keep scheduling smart, and then you have to win the games when you schedule them.”
That may make sense to Wade, but his lead point guard isn’t a NET fan.
“If we win, we win,” Tigers sophomore Tremont Waters said. “Offensive and defensive efficiency will be what it is. It’s just too much (data).”
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In a recent sneak peek of the NCAA tournament’s top four seeds in each regional, the NCAA selection committee hove to the NET’s top 16 pretty closely. That said, it would be incorrect to automatically stamp LSU as a No. 4 regional seed were the season to end today. Worlock insisted the metric is only one of several that the NCAA selection committee will use.
“It’s not a be-all, end-all. The committee isn’t going to scrub (term used for comparing two teams) LSU and Wisconsin and say Wisconsin is 15 and LSU is 16 just based on that,” Worlock said, referring to those schools’ current NET rankings. “It’s who had a better non-conference schedule, a better road record, how many Quadrant 1 wins.
“LSU is 6-2 against Quadrant 1, not as many wins as Wisconsin (7-6). But if they (LSU) can rack up wins against teams being considered for the tournament that will mean more having played the rigors of an SEC schedule and teams like Florida State and Houston.”
As big as LSU’s win over Kentucky was and as huge as Saturday’s game with Tennessee is, other teams in the Tigers’ past also bear watching. Teams like Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
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LSU’s 90-77 consolation-round loss to OSU back in December in the Advocare Invitational at Walt Disney World is an anchor on the Tigers’ rankings. The Cowboys are only 9-16 with an NET of 91, ranking as a Quadrant 2 loss in the same tier with LSU’s damaging 90-89 home loss to Arkansas.
The Razorbacks, by the way, were so inspired by their LSU upset they have gone 1-3 since with a three-point win over last-place Vanderbilt. At 71 in the NET, the Tigers need Arkansas to get some wins to keep that home loss from slipping into Quadrant 3.
If this is all too confusing, just remember this: the more LSU wins, the easier its NCAA seeding destiny becomes to figure out.
Advocate sportswriter Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.
The “nitty gritty” on LSU
The NCAA generates a “nitty gritty” report on each team considering these major factors:
Record: 21-4 (11-1 SEC)
NCAA NET ranking: 16
Strength of schedule (SOS): 18
Non-conference SOS: 9
Quadrant 1 record: 6-2
Quadrant 2 record: 7-2
Quadrant 3 record: 5-0
Quadrant 4 record: 3-0
Quadrant 1 is defined as home games against NET 1-30 teams, neutral site games against 1-50, road games against 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, neutral 51-100, away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, neutral 101-200, away 136-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161+, neutral 201+, away 241+
AP rank: 13
USA Today coaches’ rank: 15
RPI (per RealTimeRPI.com): 6
Jeff Sagarin rating: 22
KenPom.com rating: 21
LSU bracket projections
Michael Beller, SI.com: 3 seed East Regional (no first-round site)
BracketMatrix.com: 4 seed (no regional)
Bracketville.wordpress.com: 3 seed, West Regional (Hartford, Connecticut)
Scott Gleeson, USAToday.com: 3 seed, West Regional (Jacksonville, Florida)
Joe Lunardi, ESPN.com: 4 seed East regional (Jacksonville, Florida)
Kerry Miller, BleacherReport.com: 3 seed, West Regional (Hartford, Connecticut)
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: 3 seed, West Regional (Jacksonville, Florida)
RealTimeRPI.com: 3 seed, South Regional (no first-round site)
Howie Schwab, FoxSports.com: 4 seed, West Regional (no first-round site)
TeamRankings.com: 2 seed (no regional), No. 8 overall seed
Yahoo!Sports.com: 3 seed (no regional), No. 11 overall seed
#-Ranking before LSU-Georgia game
NCAA tournament dates and sites
March 19-20: UD Arena, Dayton, Ohio
March 21 and 23: XL Center, Hartford, Connecticut
March 21 and 23: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City
March 21 and 23: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
March 21 and 23: Jacksonville (Florida) Veterans Memorial Arena
March 22 and 24: BOK Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma
March 22 and 24: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio
March 22 and 24: Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, South Carolina
March 22 and 24: SAP Center, San Jose, California
March 28 and 30: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky (South Regional)
March 28 and 30: Honda Center, Anaheim, California (West Regional)
March 29 and 31: Capital One Arena, Washington (East Regional)
March 29 and 31: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri (Midwest Regional)
April 6 and 8: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis