Men's Basketball

NCAA Makes Changes to NET Rankings, Expands to Women’s Basketball

Abby Schnable | The PhoenixThe women's basketball team huddles together before taking the court.

Division I women’s basketball will switch to using the newly revised NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) to help determine which teams make the big dance, according to the NCAA officials. The updated NET formula will apply to both Division I men’s and women’s basketball, according to the NCAA.

The NET is a metric used to estimate the strength of each team and is part of the process used to determine at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament.

The decision to bring NET to Division I women’s basketball was announced May 4 and will go into effect for the 2020-21 season. This comes less than two years after the men’s side made the move to the new metric. Like its male counterpart, women’s basketball previously used the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) to evaluate teams based on wins, loses and strength of schedule.

NET’s algorithm is a better indicator of a team’s strength — Nina King, the chair of the 2020-21 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee said in a press release from the NCAA. That’s why the committee decided to shift away from the RPI, which had been used by the committee since 1984, King said.

“What we found during our comparison analysis was that the NET does a more precise job measuring opponent quality given performance than RPI has been able to provide,” King said in the release. “Doing well on the court and beating good teams continues to be imperative.”

“I want to emphasize that the NET, like the RPI, will be one of many criteria used by the committee in the selection of the 32 at-large teams and seeding of the 64 teams which make up the bracket for the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.”

Nina King, the chair of the 2020-21 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee

Loyola women’s basketball head coach Kate Achter said she followed the RPI very closely as a way to gauge the strength of her team throughout the year. She also used it to see how the team stacked up against past seasons. However, Achter also said the Missouri Valley Conference used the RPI as a way to measure its place among all Division I conferences.

“We had a working group on the women’s basketball side in the Missouri Valley Conference that set some benchmarks for our conference in order to return to prominence as a mid-major conference,” Achter said. “Part of those benchmarks had to do with the RPI. … The [transition to] NET came as a surprise to all of us.”

The original NET metric created to help decide at-large bids into the men’s NCAA Tournament — incorporated five different variables. However, the NCAA said the new NET metric is simplified for both men’s and women’s basketball, using just two components: the Team Value Index (TVI) and an adjusted net efficiency rating. 

The NCAA describes TVI as “a result-based feature that rewards teams for beating quality opponents” with road wins being particularly favorable. Adjusted net efficiency rating is the difference between offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency. 

Zack Miller | The Phoenix Division I men’s basketball will also use the updated NET formula.

Offensive efficiency measures how many points a team scores per possession, while defensive efficiency measures how many points a team allows per possession. Then, that net efficiency rating is adjusted for the strength of the opponent and location of the game.

This added importance on road games could affect how the team plans its non-conference schedule, according to Achter. 

“If [road games] set us up better for postseason play, then absolutely it’s going to be something that we look at in the future,” Achter said. “Revenues and expenses considered, obviously, but if the ultimate goal is that we position ourselves as a postseason team … then that’s something that we certainly have to consider.”

These changes will result in a more precise evaluation of teams and a simplified process that’s easier for the public to understand, according to Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball.

“When we adopted the NET in 2018, we had reviewed several seasons worth of data and we insisted that we would continue to evaluate the metric,” Gavitt said in a May 12 press release

Gavitt couldn’t be reached for comment and King didn’t respond to a request for comments.

The NCAA eliminated three components from the original NET metric: winning percentage, adjusted winning percentage and scoring margin.

“We’ve been very satisfied with its performance thus far, but it became evident after two seasons of use that this change would be an improvement,” Gavitt said in the release. “While we will continue to monitor the metric, I don’t anticipate any additional adjustments for several years.”

“If [road games] set us up better for postseason play, then absolutely it’s going to be something that we look at in the future.”

Kate Achter, Loyola women’s basketball head coach

While the end goal and major components of the NET ranking are the same for both men’s and women’s college basketball, the algorithms themselves will differ in each sport. 

These potential differences are due to the computer evaluating each sport’s historical data separately to come up with an accurate model for predicting the strength of a team in that specific sport. This could lead to the NET metric for men’s basketball having different weights for certain statistics than the NET metric for women’s basketball.

This season, both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments were canceled due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. However, there was some controversy over the men’s NCAA Tournament selection committee loosely following the NET rankings when selecting teams for its inaugural 2018-19 season. 

While the end result is to pick the best teams for both NCAA Tournaments, King said in the statement the NET metric is still just a small part of the decision-making process.

“I want to emphasize that the NET, like the RPI, will be one of many criteria used by the committee in the selection of the 32 at-large teams and seeding of the 64 teams which make up the bracket for the Division I Women’s Basketball Championship,” King said via the NCAA’s release.

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