Winners and Losers of the NCAA Men's Basketball Season's 1st NET Rankings

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 17, 2019

Winners and Losers of the NCAA Men's Basketball Season's 1st NET Rankings

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    Ohio State's Duane Washington Jr.
    Ohio State's Duane Washington Jr.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    Ohio State dropped to No. 5 in the men's college basketball AP poll after Sunday night's loss to Minnesota, but the Buckeyes are No. 1 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, which made their season debut Monday morning.

    In case you need a quick refresher on the tool that eliminated "RPI" from our lexicon last season, NET is a results-oriented team-ranking metric that combines wins, scoring margin, efficiency and the location of games to churn out a daily hierarchy of the 353 basketball teams. The weight of each factor in the formula has not been (and likely will never be) released to the public, but winning big against quality opponents is a good idea.

    The NCAA first published last year's NET rankings less than one month into the season, resulting in some serious outliers, like Loyola Marymount debuting at No. 10.

    This year, the NCAA waited an extra three weeks and got what at least appear to be better results. (Don't try to convince Kentucky fans of this, though.)

    Still, there are some teams in much better or worse shape than most of us were expecting.

    Read on for the full list of NET winners and losers.

Winner: Ohio State Buckeyes (and the Entire Big Ten)

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    Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson
    Ohio State's Kaleb WessonAndy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Despite losing by 13 to Minnesota on Sunday night, the Ohio State Buckeyes debuted at No. 1 in the NET rankings for the second consecutive year. 

    For the sake of morale in Columbus, here's hoping this year works out better than last year, when the Buckeyes lost 13 of their final 20 games and plummeted to a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament.

    There's little question that the Buckeyes are most deserving of this honor, though. They annihilated Villanova by 25 points in mid-November, beat up on North Carolinain the Dean Dome, no lessby the same margin a few weeks later and then devoured Penn State 106-74 three days after embarrassing the Tar Heels.

    Eight of their nine wins have come by at least 19 points.

    There's supposedly a 10-point cap per game on the scoring-margin factor in the NET formula, but net efficiency is also one of the main factors in play. Per KenPom, Ohio State is eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency and fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency, making it the only team currently ranked top 10 in both categories.

    This isn't groundbreaking news, but blowing out good teams is always a good strategy.

    While Ohio State tops the charts, the Big Ten fared quite well as a whole. Maybe Maryland (No. 11) and Michigan (No. 21) are a bit lower than expected, but 11 of the Big Ten's 14 teams rank in the top 51 of this initial NET dump. And after pounding on Seton Hall this past weekend, Rutgers (No. 61) isn't far behind.

    Other than Nebraska (No. 153) or Northwestern (No. 174), pretty much every Big Ten game is going to be a Quadrant 1 opportunity for one of the teams, oftentimes both. Eight Big Ten teams made the tournament last year, and a ninth (Indiana) probably should have, too. Buckle up for the possibility of up to 10 teams dancing this Marchespecially if this 13-0 start by home teams in conference games continue.

Loser: Kentucky Wildcats

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    Kentucky's Ashton Hagans
    Kentucky's Ashton HagansJames Crisp/Associated Press

    For weeks, we have been looking forward to this coming Saturday's big showdown between Ohio State and Kentucky. It's a neutral-site game in Las Vegas, and it should be one of the best games of the month.

    But as far as the NET is concerned, it's merely No. 1 vs. No. 58.

    That's right. The Kentucky Wildcatsranked sixth in the latest AP poll and seventh on KenPomaren't even a top 50 team, according to the NET.

    It's no huge surprise that the Cats are ranked outside the top 10. The home loss to Evansville was a Quadrant 4 blunder. Aside from the season-opening win over Michigan State, they have neither played outside of Rupp Arena nor faced a NET Top 125 foe. This resume boils down to one quality win, one terrible loss and seven games that don't matter.

    Outside of the top 50, though, behind both 5-5 Wisconsin and 5-5 Minnesota?

    That won't sit well with Big Blue Nation.

    Check back two weeks from now, and it should be a much different story. In addition to the Ohio State game, Kentucky has a neutral-site game against Utah and the annual showdown with Louisville.

    Even if the Wildcats lose one of those three games, that drastic recalibration of the overall strength of schedule will probably vault them into the top 30 by New Year's Day. Cruise through the first seven SEC games like they should and the Wildcats could be back in their "rightful" spot in the top 10 by early February.

    Still, it's hard to fathom that this predictive metric would only give Kentucky the slightest edge in a neutral-site game against Kent State (No. 59) and would list the Wildcats as an underdog for Wednesday's game against Utah (No. 54).

Winner: Undefeated and 1-Loss Mid Majors

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    San Diego State's Matt Mitchell
    San Diego State's Matt MitchellJohn Locher/Associated Press

    Across the board, the NET loves mid-major teams with either a zero or a one in the loss column a whole lot more than KenPom does. The one exception to that rule is Gonzaga, which ranks sixth both on KenPom and in the NET. But isn't Gonzaga always the exception when we're talking about mid-majors?

    Aside from the Zags, there are 13 mid-major teams who fit the undefeated or one-loss description. Here's a look at how much better they rank in NET than in KenPom, in ascending order of magnitude:

    • Dayton (No. 10 in NET, No. 14 in KenPom, +4)
    • SMU (88 NET, 96 KP, +8)
    • Memphis (16 NET, 28 KP, +12)
    • Wichita State (14 NET, 34 KP, +20)
    • San Diego State (3 NET, 32 KP, +29)
    • Eastern Michigan (147 NET, 178 KP, +31)
    • Duquesne (20 NET, 60 KP, +40)
    • Kent State (59 NET, 102 KP, +43)
    • UTEP (70 NET, 114 KP, +44)
    • Richmond (22 NET, 69 KP, +47)
    • Northern Iowa (28 NET, 76 KP, +48)
    • Liberty (19 NET, 71 KP, +52)
    • George Mason (67 NET, 121 KP, +54)

    San Diego State, Liberty and Duquesne stood out like sore thumbs when we all got our first glance at the rankings, as seeing the Aztecs in theoretical position for a No. 1 seed and both Liberty and Duquesne as top-20 teams flies in stark contrast to opinions that had been formed in the first six weeks of the season. But those three are just the most noteworthy examples of the NET's mid-major obsession.

    A few of these teamsmost notably San Diego State, Wichita State and Libertydeserve to be ranked higher than they are in KenPom. But what sort of precedent are we setting here by rewarding these other inflated records?

    Duquesne has yet to play a true road game, nor has it faced an opponent ranked higher than 85th in either metric. But because it hasn't lost yet, it deserves to be ranked one spot ahead of Michigan, which is 8-3 against one of the nation's most grueling schedules?

    UTEP has played only four D-I games. One was a loss to New Mexico State. One was a three-point win. Another was a home game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (No. 342 in NET). Yet the Miners are ranked just ahead of 9-2 Xavier for...some reason?

    Winning is better than losing, but these initial rankings seem to be rewarding teams for not trying. Thankfully, we still have a selection committee to comb through resumes and penalize teams for putting together atrocious nonconference schedules, but it's disconcerting to see where some of these resumes are currently landing in the committee's primary sorting metric.

Loser: The ACC

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    North Carolina head coach Roy Williams
    North Carolina head coach Roy WilliamsChris Seward/Associated Press

    For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And for the aforementioned mid-majors to rank so much higher in the NET, the entire ACC apparently had to pay the price.

    Virginia Tech (No. 63 on KenPom, No. 62 in NET) is the only ACC team rated better by the NET.

    Duke has four quality wins away from home against Kansas, Michigan State, Georgetown and Virginia Tech, but the Blue Devils (No. 2 on KenPom) debut at merely No. 13.

    Virginia (No. 9 on KenPom, No. 39 in NET) is one of five ACC teams rated at least 30 spots lower by the NET than KenPom.

    The biggest surprise is North Carolina, which is all the way down at No. 95. This season unquestionably has not gone according to plan for the Tar Heels. If they were lingering in the 50s with Kentucky, no one would have batted an eye. But Sunday's home loss to Woffordplayed without starters Cole Anthony and Leaky Black—was almost enough to punt the Heels out of the top 100 altogether.

    While nearly 80 percent of the Big Ten (11 of 14) is ranked in the top 51, only 33 percent of the ACC can make that same claim, and NC State (No. 50) can barely do so. At this point, a home game against Virginia doesn't even count as a Quadrant 1 opportunity, and a road game against Syracuse (No. 75) barely does.

    Before the season began, we knew there was a good chance that this would only be a six-bid league, but even that seems generous right now. If UNC doesn't turn things around in a hurry, this may even be a repeat of 2012-13, when only four ACC teams made the tournament.

Winner: Stanford Cardinal

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    Stanford's Daejon Davis
    Stanford's Daejon DavisCody Glenn/Getty Images

    Stanford received three 25th-place votes in this week's AP Top 25 and was tied for 42nd in vote points. On KenPom, the Cardinal is in 48th place. ESPN's BPI says 83rd place.

    But the almighty NET has Stanford at No. 9.

    Each of Stanford's nine wins has come by a margin of at least 11 points, including an eye-opening 73-54 neutral-site victory over Oklahoma. Moreover, its lone loss came by only one point on a neutral court against Butler, which is No. 4 in the NET.

    Still, it's hard to believe that beating up on 90 percent of this schedule was good enough to land the Cardinal in the top 10 while fellow one-loss teams like Texas and DePaul are down in the 40s.

    Five of Stanford's nine wins are of the Quadrant 4 varietyincluding a home game against No. 349 Maryland-Eastern Shore. Three of the other four victories are Quadrant 3, meaning the win over Oklahoma and the loss to Butler are the only results on the left half of this team sheet.

    All hail the NET power of consistently winning blowouts, regardless of the quality of the competition.

    By debuting in the top 10, Stanford is the early candidate to become this year's NC State, which missed the 2019 NCAA tournament with a NET ranking of 33.

    The Cardinal could change that narrative entirely by winning their home game against Kansas on Dec. 29 or by winning 11 or 12 games in league play. For now, though, they look like the most out-of-place team among the top 15.

Loser: Saint Mary's Gaels

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    Saint Mary's guard Jordan Ford
    Saint Mary's guard Jordan FordJed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    For as much as the NET loves mid-major teams with fewer than two losses, it sure does take umbrage with 10-2 Saint Mary's.

    The Gaels have neutral-site wins over Wisconsin and Fresno State, a convincing road win over California and a solid home win over Utah State. That isn't a sensational collection of victories, but it's a lot more than they were able to manage in nonconference play in most recent seasons.

    Unfortunately, they also lost a neutral-site game against Dayton (forgivable) and a home game against Winthrop (decidedly less forgivable), and it seems the NET is hammering the Gaels for the latter. At No. 64, they are 20 spots lower in the NET than they are on KenPom.

    Strangely, the NET adored Saint Mary's last year, as they benefited from blowing out bad teams. 

    Their next opponent (Arizona State) is ranked 30th in the NET, the one after that (Nevada) is in the top 100, and Gonzaga (No. 6), BYU (No. 42), San Francisco (No. 79) and Santa Clara (No. 91) are all rated high enough for the Gaels to get a bunch of Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 opportunities in league play for a change. With a moderate amount of success against that schedule, they'll be back in at-large position in no time.

    But for a team that has been a headache to the selection committee for the better part of a decade, this isn't a great starting point.


    Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.