On Friday, the NCAA announced a slight change to how the men’s basketball selection committee will evaluate teams for entry and seeding in the 2018 national championship tournament.
For the past several years, team sheets have divided results into four columns: results against the top 50 teams in the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index; 51-100; 101-200; and any team ranked 201 or lower. Effective with the 2017-18 season, team sheets will place greater emphasis on where the games are played rather than the ranking of each opponent.
There still will be four separate columns, with the first column consisting of home games against teams ranked 1-30, neutral-site games against teams ranked in the top 50 and road games against opponents ranked in the top 75. The second column will include home games against teams ranked 31-75, neutral-site games versus teams ranked 51-100 and road games against teams ranked 76-135.
The third column will consist of home games played against competition ranked 76-160, games played on a neutral court versus teams ranked 101-200 and games on the road against teams ranked 136-240. The fourth column will include home games against teams ranked 161-351, neutral-site games played against teams ranked 201-351 and road games versus opponents ranked 241-351.
Short version: “Top 50 wins” is no longer a thing. The best wins a team can get is against RPI top 30 opponents at home, RPI top 50 opponents on a neutral floor, and RPI top 75 opponents on the road. Essentially what’s happening here is that the NCAA is acknowledging that it’s a little easier to beat a team at home than it is to beat them on the road, and thus giving teams credit for those harder to get wins. It also then encourages teams to go out and play non-conference road games, since they’ve increased the margin of error. A road loss to the #68 ranked team isn’t as potentially damaging as it was in the past. A game like that is now viewed as a prime example of your team being challenged.
The question in everyone’s head, of course, is how will this impact the tournament selection process, and, because you’re reading a Marquette site right now, how does this affect the Golden Eagles?
Well, let’s take a look at last season’s team sheet. Thanks to CBS Sports, we already have MU’s team sheet from the 2016-17 season already compiled. For ease of conversion from one system to another, we’re going to label the categories as “Column 1” and so on. It’ll be less confusing when you look from one to the other, plus take up less space than writing out the slightly complicated criteria for the new system.
Here’s Marquette’s record against various categories for last season.
Column 1: 7-7
Column 2: 2-3
Column 3: 3-2
Column 4: 7-0
Here’s what the records would have looked like if the NCAA had used the new categories and given weight to road games.
Column 1: 6-7
Column 2: 2-4
Column 3: 4-1
Column 4: 7-0
Marquette had a win from Column 1 - at home vs Seton Hall - and a win from Column 2 - at home vs Fresno State - slide to the next column. They also “improved” on a loss - at Georgetown - which brought it from Column 3 up to Column 2.
It’s not a debate as to how close the Golden Eagles came to missing the tournament in 2017. We have the full seed list as a matter of public record, and the fact of the matter is that MU was #39 while the First Four play-in teams started at #42 and the final at-large spot was at #46. They ended up there with a record of 9 wins and 10 losses against the Column 1 and Column 2 opponents. In the new system, Marquette’s record would have been 8-11. Would that have been good enough to get the Golden Eagles into the field? It’s hard to say without doing this breakdown for the last 10 in and the first 10 out (and may the Lord bless you and protect you if you put in the work on that), but it’s safe to say that MU wouldn’t have been better off with a worse record against the first two columns.
If the end result is a better analysis of the quality of teams and thus a better system of admitting teams to the tournament, then I have to give the whole thing a thumbs up. Let’s just hope Steve Wojciechowski and the Golden Eagles can score a few extra wins this coming season to keep the team far away from this kind of debate.