February 1, 2021 

NCAA Bracketology: Feb. 1

The NET has provided more questions than answers

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There’s more guesswork involved than usual in this year’s NCAA Tournament projections, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only part of the reason. Sure, teams not playing full non-conference schedules and having to pause and un-pause multiple times has complicated things. But if those were the only issues, we would still have a vague idea of where each team belongs.

Here’s the biggest problem: The NET makes no sense right now. Sure, the top eight is fine. Those are all teams projected on the first three seed lines and we can quibble about the order if we want.

Once you get past that, the questions emerge. It starts with Indiana at No. 10. The Hoosiers are a good team and are in the field rather easily. Their NET ranking, however, implies they should be at or near the 3 line, and for that, you can’t fault a bracketologist that puts them there. Here’s the problem: Indiana has done little to warrant such a lofty seed.

Its best win, per the NET, is at Northwestern (26), which projects to be just a 10 seed. Its best win, according to my projection, is over Michigan State, which is a 5 seed but 40th in the NET. Indiana is also 1-4 against Quad 1 competition. The Hoosiers played two tough non-conference games against Kentucky and Tennessee but lost them both.

I have Indiana as an 8 seed. For now.

Then there’s Rutgers at 18. If Indiana at 10 is odd, Rutgers in the top 20 is insane. The Scarlet Knights have beaten one team with a winning record, and that was Manhattan (NET 234). To be fair, their three losses — all to good teams — have come by a total of 13 points, but you have to win games to get into the NCAA Tournament. Rutgers hasn’t played in a month and hasn’t had that opportunity.

The nonsensical NET is also hurting mid-majors. Possible at-large candidates don’t begin cropping up in the rankings until the 50s, where Drake (51) comes in. I say that to hopefully stave off some accusations of anti-mid-major bias here. I WANT TO PUT THEM IN, I PROMISE!

Anyway, part of the deal with the NET is that it will improve as more data is added. It should start to look closer to normal soon, but in a season where the sample size is going to be much smaller, it’s unclear how useful the final rankings will be. Or how closely the committee will rely on it. I spoke to a source familiar with the committee’s thinking this week who had the same concerns. They, wisely, recognized the flaws in the metric but were unsure of how committee members would interpret it if the rankings do not normalize by March.

Bracketing Note:

Last week, I raised the question about how closely the committee will adhere to traditional bracketing rules about keeping teams in the same conference away from each other. With the entire tournament happening in one city, there’s no need to bracket based on geography, so the S-Curve is suddenly much more important. I hoped that meant the committee would relax some of its conference rules so that we would have more true balance — the best 1 paired with the worst 2, best 3, and worst 4, etc.

I asked Rick Nixon at the NCAA about this and, unfortunately, he told me the same conference rules apply. Per his email:

· Each of the first four teams selected from a conference shall be placed in different regions if they are seeded on the first four lines.

·  Teams from the same conference shall not meet prior to the regional final if they played each other three or more times during the regular season and conference tournament.

·  The committee will attempt to keep conference teams from meeting until the regional final round.

·  If the committee is unable to balance the bracket after exhausting all possible options, it has the flexibility to permit two teams from the same conference to meet each other after the first round.

Oh well!

The Nitty Gritty:

Bids by conference:

ACC: 9
SEC: 9
Big Ten: 7
Big 12: 5
Pac-12: 5
Big East: 3
AAC: 2

Last Four In:

Wake Forest
Virginia Tech

First Four Out:

Arizona State
North Carolina

Next Four Out:

Central Michigan

Procedural Bumps:

(I don’t want to have ANY procedural bumps in a year where geography doesn’t matter, but you try bracketing a field with two nine-bid leagues. It’s like doing a Rubik’s Cube where you can’t peel the stickers off).

LSU 11 to 12
Rice 12 to 11

Next update: 2/8

Written by Russell Steinberg

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