The NCAA Changing from RPI to 'the NET' Won't Matter if Committee Keeps Same Mentality

By Jason Lisk

The NCAA announced that the RPI is no more when it comes to men’s college basketball, and that it will be replaced by the NCAA Evaluation Tool (the NET).

The announcement doesn’t really clarify all that much. It’s fairly opaque as to how “the NET” will be calculated. We know that it will involve some margin of victory, but capped at 10 points max. We know–just as the RPI did even if some of the RPI’s methods were flawed–that it will involve results and strength of schedule.

The NCAA claims:

"To make sense of team performance data, late-season games (including from the NCAA tournament) were used as test sets to develop a ranking model leveraging machine learning techniques. The model, which used team performance data to predict the outcome of games in test sets, was optimized until it was as accurate as possible."

Ultimately, it would be nice if “the NET” wasn’t vague and unreproducible. You can calculate a pretty good proxy of the RPI, if you have the requisite programming, because you know that it involved the team’s win percentage, the opponent’s winning percentages, and those opponent’s opponent’s winning percentages.

But regardless of those concerns, my biggest concern is that this is shuffling the deck chairs and ultimately won’t matter much at all if the Selection Committee mentality does not change. That mentality includes overvaluing volume of big win opportunities, so that teams that played lots of tough teams, and won a couple of them, were perceived as better than others who did not get as many chances. As I pointed out last year, the Cinderella runs of the last decade would have largely not occurred if selection continues the way it is going.

Loyola-Chicago, only the greatest story and run of the entire year, may not have happened if they somehow got knocked off in the MVC Final. They got in as an 11-seed with an auto bid, despite a 28-5 record and a win at Florida. St. Mary’s didn’t get in.

Let’s take the Arizona State example, because they were perhaps the most controversial inclusion last March. Arizona State went 20-11overall, and 8-10 in a not-very-strong Pac-12 with a schedule that included not having to play on the road at USC or UCLA. They lost nine games to teams that did not make the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona State was ranked 73rd in the RPI. Their inclusion was not because of where they were ranked in the RPI. It was because they beat Xavier and Kansas before mid-December. There was no rating system that had them in the top 40, and I’m quite confident that even though we don’t know what is going into this NET soup, they would not have been inside it on the NET either.

They got in because of the mentality that those two wins prevailed over everything else. St. Mary’s would have been a Top 40 team, I’m quite confident, whether it was the NET or the RPI. They didn’t get in because of those same lack of big wins (though they won at Gonzaga in one of their few “big” games.)

So color me skeptical that this will have any impact. I certainly wouldn’t go expecting something different than the recent status quo if I were a mid-major, regardless of whether the NET rearranges teams slightly.