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Autumn Johnson | January 12, 2021

How NET rankings work in women's college basketball

How NET rankings work in women's college basketball

The NCAA DI Women's Basketball Selection Committee will use NET rankings for the first time this season to help select the field for the NCAA tournament.

I spoke with Division I Women's Basketball Committee Chair Nina King to break down what the new metric means for this season and how it will help determine who will compete in the NCAA tournament. You can watch that interview above. She described the move to the NET rankings as a historic step after using the RPI. Men's basketball made a similar shift in 2018 when the NET replaced the RPI. 

"This is really an exciting time to be able to move into a new temporary sorting tool, and that's exactly the NET," she said. "(It's) a tool that the committee will use to help evaluate teams' resumes for Selection Sunday."

The NCAA released its first women's NET rankings Jan. 4. Part of that release were the following points, which help to explain how the NET will be used in this pandemic-impacted season and some of the differences between the women's and men's rankings:

  • While both the men’s and women’s NET rankings share high-level goals and individual components, the NET algorithm used in each is different. 
  • The machine learning model developed for each sport utilizes only that sport’s data. The women’s model uses only women’s game data, while the men’s model only uses men’s game data.  
  • The weights for each are trained using the historical data from the respective sports.
  • The NET rankings are used for the NCAA tournament. The rankings are released every day in an effort to be transparent but the NET rankings in January carry little significance during the selection process in March.
  • Despite the unusual scheduling circumstances, the NET rankings are largely aligned with other metrics that the selection committee tracks. There are certainly outliers involving teams that have played very few games, but as more data becomes available with the addition of more games, the more stable the NET rankings will become.
  • The NET rankings do not include games played against non-Division I opponents.
  • With teams playing home games with limited or no fans, the committee and staff is studying the impact that’s having on home-court advantage compared to a typical year.

You can always see the latest NET rankings here. In a regular season, teams would have played 10-12 games by Week 7 of women's college basketball season. Instead, many teams have only played an average of five games thus far. There will be several other factors and metrics that the committee will consider in order to maintain balance and fairness when picking the field of 64. 

"The challenge is in the unknown," King said. "But it's definitely something that the committee is up for and we're ready. We know that we have that unknown challenge in front of us. But it's going to be an exciting opportunity to create a historic bracket for this year." 

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