The NET’s formula was never made public, which was a big part of why there were questions as to how it would be utilized. The NCAA acknowledged when it announced the change that its new metric would take into account things like victory margin (up to 10 points per game) and efficiency at both the offensive and defensive ends (which were not capped). More than anything, though, it was a break from the easily gamed RPI, though the selection committee had long ago moved on from simply rewarding teams with strong RPIs and shepherding them into the tournament with little fuss.
So it was this year as N.C. State (No. 33 in the NET rankings), Clemson (No. 35) and Texas (No. 38) are off to the NIT, while Minnesota (No. 61), Arizona State (No. 63) and St. John’s (No. 73) are in the field of 68.
“I think it's important for people to keep in mind the NET is just one tool of many that we use to evaluate teams,” Stanford athletic director and NCAA committee chairman Bernard Muir told reporters on a conference call Sunday night. “Certainly we're spending a lot of time observing what the teams do in competition.”
And here we see the main difference from the previous era. A team like an Indiana would probably have been rewarded in recent years for its treasure trove of high-end victories — Michigan State twice, Wisconsin, Marquette and Louisville among them — while a Belmont probably would have been dismissed for not collecting many high-end triumphs.
This committee balanced out the previous adoration of quantity of victories with a judicious look at quantity of losses. That’s good for a mid-major regular season champ that went out and picked up some interesting non-conference victories, like a Belmont, which toppled Lipscomb twice and also won at UCLA.
It’s not so great for a midpack high-major team like an N.C. State or a Texas Christian that dealt with loaded top halves of their respective conferences. TCU was 3-8 against the top half of the Big 12. N.C. State was 1-8 against the top half of the ACC. Both are in the NIT.
The difference between the RPI and the NET is the data inputted into the formulas. The hope in changing metrics was to have a better result with which to work. But, for the most part, what the committee did with the output was basically the same as with RPI. The RPI was, especially at the end, a sorting tool. Remember top-50 and top-100 victories? Those were based on the RPI.
The NET was used in much the same way. The quadrant system began in the final year of the RPI, but it could be utilized independent of whatever formula was in favor. And a look at the teams at the edge of the field give a pretty good indication of what was emphasized when the sorting was complete.
Also worth mentioning is something often unnoticed about the committee: The individuals who are actually on it. These are 10 people with experiences and perspectives and opinions of their own, and this was an atypical year with three new members. Usually, two members rotate off and two others are added to begin a five-year term.
This year, Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade and Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds were the scheduled newcomers, replacing Brigham Young athletic director Tom Holmoe and Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen. Toledo AD Michael O’Brien replaced conference counterpart Jim Schaus from Ohio, who stepped down from the committee in the middle of his term.
A bigger-than-usual change in continuity is arguably every bit as significant as a new metric.
Ultimately, though, the data is going to get the most attention. It will be pored over in the months to come as shrewd programs try to figure out exactly what they can do to improve their chances of landing NCAA tournament berths in the future.
The biggest message seems obvious enough: Win at least as many of your noteworthy games as you lose. On NET, that’s generally good advice to follow at all times.