Why the NCAA’s NET system is NC State’s new best friend as Pack fights for tournament bid

Kevin Keatts following loss to North Carolina: ‘We have to start playing smarter’

NC State coach Kevin Keatts addresses the media following the Wolfpack's loss to North Carolina on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
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NC State coach Kevin Keatts addresses the media following the Wolfpack's loss to North Carolina on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The NCAA’s decision to switch metrics, from the old RPI to the new NET, might turn out to be a boon for N.C. State’s basketball team.

Despite losses in five of the past seven ACC games, the Wolfpack (16-7) sits comfortably at No. 34 in the NET, or NCAA Evaluation Tool, rankings.

N.C. State will try to get back on the winning track on Saturday (2 p.m., WRAL) at Pittsburgh (12-11, 2-8).

The NET is the primary tool the selection committee will use to compare and seed teams for the NCAA tournament this season after relying on the RPI (Rating Percentage Index) since 1981.

The NET factors in offensive and defensive efficiency and has a margin of victory component, which is how N.C. State has been able to overcome such a soft nonconference schedule.

N.C. State, as its resume stands now, could turn out to be a test case for the NET. ESPN’s latest tournament projections have N.C. State as a No. 10 seed and CBS has the Wolfpack as a No. 12 seed (in the “First Four” in Dayton, Ohio).

But under the old standard, N.C. State would be in serious bubble trouble. CBS still tracks the old RPI formula on its website. After its 113-96 loss to North Carolina on Tuesday, N.C. State is No. 123 in the RPI.

N.C. State’s nonconference strength of schedule ranks No. 351, out of 353 teams, is why it would have been on the outside looking in with the old RPI. The RPI relied more on strength of schedule and the location of each game (placing more value on games played away from home, regardless of the quality of the opponent).

But N.C. State has figured out how to turn its supersoft schedule into a positive. The NET factors margin of victory and caps the difference at 10 points. N.C. State has 10 wins outside the ACC by double-digits. It doesn’t necessarily matter to the NET that eight of those teams are ranked No. 285 or worse.

Under the old RPI system, N.C. State would have been penalized, or in the least not rewarded, for playing so many teams the ilk of Saint Peter’s (317 in the NET), Maine (321), UNCA (352) and UMES (353). Under the new system, the lopsided wins over lollipops are considered valuable.

That doesn’t mean N.C. State doesn’t have a few other factors in its favor. The selection committee will use quadrants to compare and seed teams again. The quadrant breakdown is the same as last year:

Quadrant 1: Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Road 1-75

Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Road 76-135

Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, Neutral 101-200, Road 135-240

Quadrant 4: Home 161-351, Neutral 201-351, Road 241-353.

One key difference for Kevin Keatts’ first N.C. State team, which was a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament last year, and this one is in Quadrant 1.

N.C. State had Q1 wins over Duke, UNC and Arizona last year. A home win over Auburn (20) is N.C. State’s only Q1 win this season. That six of N.C. State’s seven losses on the season are to top 15 teams (in the NET) is actually a good thing. Mark Gottfried’s first N.C. State team in 2012 actually made the NCAA tournament with the help of a handful of “good” losses.

N.C. State’s 4-0 Quadrant 2 record will hold up nicely compared to other bubble teams like UCF, VCU, Arizona State, Temple and Arkansas. The Wolfpack is 2-1 in Quadrant 3 (with a road loss to Wake Forest) and 9-0 in Quadrant 4.

Saturday’s game at Pitt (87) is a chance at another Quadrant 2 win. There are still two more chances at a Quadrant 1 win — at Duke (3) and at Florida State (27) — left before the ACC tournament. A home date with Syracuse (49) on Feb. 13 also looms large for the Wolfpack.

Either way, N.C. State needs to figure out how to win more ACC games but it still could be helped by the NCAA’s new metric come Selection Sunday.

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