The first NET rankings of the 2019-20 men's basketball season will debut on Monday, Dec. 16, which means the first rankings this season will be based on almost two-and-a-half more weeks of data than the first rankings last season, when the NET rankings debuted on Nov. 26.
Here's a refresher of everything you need to know about the NET rankings and a preview for what I expect on Monday.
It's been a while, what is the NET again?
Click here for the full explainer but the short answer is that the NET is the primary ranking system that the NCAA developed to replace the RPI starting last season after consultation with the Division I Men's Basketball Committee, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, basketball analytics experts and Google Cloud Professional Services.
The ranking system relies on relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses.
The graphic below includes more details.
What are the NET Rankings?— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) November 26, 2018
Here's EVERYTHING you need to know. Be on the lookout for the first release pic.twitter.com/kdZwDEjFPS
How is the NET applied?
Prior to the 2017-18 season, a quadrant system was adopted by the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee to place more emphasis on winning games away from home so games will be sorted as follows, based on the opponent's NET ranking:
Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 135-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353
The quadrant that an opponent falls in will be based on a team's end-of-season NET ranking, not the team's NET ranking at the time of the game.
Last year's initial rankings held up very well
Look, people don't like change, especially when there's some level of unknown variables involved. So it probably shouldn't have been surprising that there was some varying responses to the release of the first-ever NET rankings last November.
But the top 10 teams in the NET rankings on Nov. 26, 2018, were as follows (2018-19 finish in parentheses):
- Ohio State (20-15, lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament)
- Virginia (35-3, won national championship)
- Texas Tech (31-7, national runner-up)
- Michigan (30-7, lost in the Sweet 16)
- Gonzaga (33-4, lost in the Elite Eight)
- Duke (32-6, lost in the Elite Eight)
- Michigan State (32-7, lost in the Final Four)
- Wisconsin (23-11, lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament)
- Virginia Tech (26-9, lost in the Sweet 16)
- Loyola Marymount (22-12, lost in the third round of the CBI)
Nine of the top 10 teams made the NCAA tournament, seven made the Sweet 16, five made the Elite Eight, three made the Final Four and two played in the national championship game. Six of the eight teams that were eliminated from the NCAA tournament (with Virginia being the ninth team) lost to another team that also debuted in the top 10 of the NET.
Remember, the NET rankings are both predictive and results-based, as Senior VP of Basketball for the NCAA Dan Gavitt told NCAA.com's Andy Katz in a recent interview, so it's hard for last season's debut to have been more on the mark than it was, with Virginia at No. 2 and Texas Tech at No. 3.
Don't be surprised if Ohio State is No. 1 (again)
If you took a critical eye to the debut of last season's NET rankings, perhaps Ohio State being ranked at No. 1 was one of the rankings that would've jumped out. But don't forget that the Buckeyes had true road wins over Cincinnati and Creighton at a time of year when many top teams haven't played many games away from home, let alone multiple true road games.
Ohio State's four other wins at the time the NET rankings debuted were by a combined 119 points, so while the NET formula caps scoring margin at 10 points to prevent the rankings from encouraging running up the score, it's not like the Buckeyes had been anything but dominant in the first three weeks of the season.
They arguably an even stronger statistical case to be No. 1 this season, even though they suffered their first loss of the season on Sunday night at Minnesota. Ohio State has wins over Cincinnati, Villanova, North Carolina and Penn State with three of those wins coming by 25 points or more and the win over the Tar Heels coming on the road.
Even Kent State, which represents Ohio State's fifth-best win through nine games, is a potential top-100 team.
It's a good time to be an Ohio State fan with the Buckeyes' football team in the College Football Playoff and their men's basketball team debuting at No. 1 in the NET rankings for the second season in a row.
What do I look for on Monday?
You'll start by finding your favorite team, obviously. Then maybe you'll look to see if your favorite team's rival(s) is ranked lower than your favorite team.
But look at where your favorite team's past and future opponents are ranked in relation to the key cutoff points for the quadrant system (i.e. No. 30, No. 50, No. 75, No. 100, No. 135, etc.). While the NET rankings will be updated daily until Selection Sunday, this will give you a sense of how many quality wins your team has or will have the opportunity to add later this season.
Don't forget that road (and neutral-site) games provide more leeway than home games in terms of the cutoff points for the quadrant system. You can find the official NCAA team sheets here, which will sort wins and losses by quadrant for you. They'll also be updated daily.
Who could be this season's 'surprise' teams in the NET?
A larger sample size generally leads to more accurate analysis, so the extra two-plus weeks of data will presumably lead to less-apparent variance in the first edition of the NET rankings.
Don't be surprised if some combination of three-loss teams like Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan or Texas Tech are ranked amongst the remaining undefeated and one-loss teams due to factors like their efficiency margins (how many points they've outscored their opponents by on average) and strength of schedule.
Even four-loss teams like Seton Hall and BYU could be ranked highly given the Pirates' efficiency margin and the Cougars' wins over Houston, Virginia Tech, Nevada and UCLA, plus a non-conference schedule that ranks as one of the 30 or so toughest in the country.
San Diego State, which is among the five remaining undefeated teams in the country, could be the team that could potentially be ranked in the top 15 or 20, to the surprise of some fans, given the Aztecs' 10-0 record, which includes three true road wins (BYU, San Diego, Colorado State) and two neutral-site wins (Creighton, Iowa).
Dayton, which had an impressive week in the Maui Invitational and climbed into the top 15 of last week's AP poll, will likely be ranked highly as well.
Who finished last season ranked highly in the NET?
Here are the top 25 from the final NET rankings last season.
- Michigan State
- Texas Tech
- North Carolina
- Virginia Tech
- Florida State
- Iowa State
- Mississippi State
- Kansas State
If you needed further proof that the NET rankings held up in their first season, there you go.