Sports

ACC coaches still navigating new NET world

N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts talks with his team during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Georgia Tech at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, March, 6, 2019.
N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts talks with his team during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Georgia Tech at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, March, 6, 2019. ehyman@newsobserver.com

The NCAA tournament selection committee has a new computer-generated tool to determine which at-large teams will be invited to the sport’s biggest ball this season. It is called the NCAA Evaluation Tool, or NET.

Before you go asking fellow basketball fans what NET is all about, consider that even college coaches are still learning of its inner workings.

“I’m like every coach in the country in that we don’t know because it’s the first year,” said N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts.

“I don’t know anything about the NET, whatsoever,” said UNC coach Roy Williams.

“I’m not sure anyone has a complete understanding,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Williams and Krzyzewski can be excused for lacking knowledge -- or having one iota of concern -- about NET. Their respective teams have compiled enough wins to qualify as an at-large entrant into the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens in the ACC tournament.

Duke is No. 3 and UNC is No. 7 in the latest NET rankings.

N.C. State, on the other hand, is on the proverbial bubble for an NCAA bid. NET has the Wolfpack ranked 32nd. That sounds impressive, but no one really knows how much of a factor NET will play in the committee’s at-large selections or where the cutoff point is for inviting teams based on the NET ratings.

“I like it. I like where we’re sitting,” Keatts said recently. “We’re somewhere between 30 and 33. So I think it works in my favor. . . . It seems to be our NET numbers are good at this point.”

Since 1981, the selection committee relied primarily on the Ratings Percentage Index as the primary source of quantifying a team’s overall worth. As analytic data increased exponentially over the past few years, the RPI became somewhat antiquated, or at the least lacking in more broad-based data.

Enter NET.

“What has been developed is a contemporary method of looking at teams analytically, using results-based and predictive metrics that will assist the men’s basketball committee as it reviews games throughout the season,” Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice-president of basketball, said in a statement upon approval of NET last July.

“While no perfect rankings exist . . . the rankings are built on an objective source of truth,” Gavitt added.

Gavitt said the five components of NET are team value index, net efficiency, winning percentage, adjusted win percentage and scoring margin. Within those factors are subsets that include scoring margin capped at 10 points, net offensive and defensive efficiency and quality of wins and losses.

In other words, instead of the committee relying solely on the eye test to determine that Virginia possesses one of the nation’s most efficient defenses and Duke has one of the nation’s top offenses, data backs or refutes those claims and is fed into the ratings.

You might have heard TV commentators babble this season about “quadrant wins” as well. That component, which was added to the committee’s data spreadsheet a season ago, places games into four quadrants based on an opponent’s strength and whether the game was played at home, on the road or on a neutral court.

Duke is 8-4 in Quadrant I (against the top opponents) games this season. UNC is 9-5 and N.C. State is 2-3. By comparison, Virginia is a nation’s best 10-2 in Quadrant I games.

Possibly holding N.C. State back in the view of the committee is an abysmal No. 353 ranking in non-conference schedule. Just so you know, there are 353 NCAA Division I teams. Again, no one really knows if that will factor in the committee’s decision.

What we do know is that when the NCAA committee team releases the tournament field on March 17, it will be armed with more data to verify selections than in previous years.

Teams will still bemoan being left out, but their voices will likely be drowned out by an avalanche of statistics the committee can spout about why one team was selected over another. As in past years, though, those borderline decisions will likely come down to which team won the most games.

Williams and Krzyzewski have been around long enough to recognize that.

“People start trying to explain to me (about NET), and I tell them I’ve got to worry about winning games,” Williams says. “I’m not focused on (NET) at all, but I’ve never been a guy that tries to decide where you’re going to go, what seed you’re going to have. Just play and wait until (Selection) Sunday to see what you get.”

“I just try to win games and be a good team and let our schedule and everything take care of itself, whether it be the RPI or the NET,” Krzyzewski says.

As for N.C. State, it might be wise to go ahead and win the ACC tournament, just to be safe.

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