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Marquette Women’s Basketball, The NCAA Tournament Bubble, The NET, And You

It seems like the Golden Eagles are right around the cutoff for the field of 68 right now...... But is the NCAA forcing them to be undervalued right now?

Emily La Chapell Marquette University

On Friday morning, ESPN’s Charlie Creme updated his women’s college basketball bracketology projection. Before Marquette beat #4 Connecticut at the McGuire Center, he had the Golden Eagles as the last team in for his version of the 68 team field. Now, they’re ..... three spots up, as the best of the squads headed to the First Four.

You’d like to think that a win over a team that the NCAA’s own selection committee placed as a #1 seed on Thursday night — y’know, after Marquette beat them — would be more helpful to Marquette’s projected spot in the NCAA tournament. It wasn’t, not in Creme’s eyes right now, and I can’t help but wonder if the NCAA is actually the party at fault here.

I’ve mentioned this in the past (even as recently as the preview for the UConn game), but the NCAA doesn’t use the NET in the same way for both men’s and women’s basketball. I don’t mean the actual algorithm that creates the NET rankings, both of those are still somewhat of a mystery because the NCAA doesn’t want anyone recreating it. Can’t blame them for that, honestly. What I’m talking about is how they sort games on a schedule according to NET rankings.

If you’ve been following college basketball for more than a couple of seasons now, you’re probably very familiar with hearing about how many “Quadrant 1” or “Quadrant 2” wins a team has as we get closer and closer to March Madness. For men’s basketball, this is what those quadrants mean:

Quadrant 1: Any home game against teams ranked #1 through #30, any neutral site game against teams ranked #1 through #50, and any road game against teams ranked #1 through #75.

Quadrant 2: Home vs 31-75, Neutral vs 51-100, Road vs 76-135

Quadrant 3: Home vs 76-160, Neutral vs 101-200, Road vs 136-240

Quadrant 4: Everything else

In short: It’s harder to beat a team on the road, so you get tippy top credit for beating a deeper variety of teams in their gym than you do for beating teams in your gym. Same goes for a neutral floor, but slightly less so because it’s not a hostile environment. It’s a very simple concept, and one that I think helps sort teams out in a much more fair and honest manner.

Here’s how the NCAA sorts schedules for women’s basketball:

Quadrant 1: All games against teams ranked #1 through #25 in the NET, no matter where the games were played.

Quadrant 2: All games vs 26-50

Quadrant 3: All games vs 51-100

Quadrant 4: Everything else

Yep, that’s it.

It stinks, big time. Road games against #75 in the country is a Quadrant 1 game for men’s basketball..... and Quadrant THREE for the women. It’s absolute garbage. The most favorable reading of this is that the NCAA doesn’t want to have two different quadrant definitions for the two sports, meaning that they’ve looked at doing home/neutral/road splits for women’s hoops, but it would, for whatever reason (most likely the overall depth of strength in the sport?), shake out with different cutoffs and they don’t want to have to explain why they have different boundaries than the men’s organizing tools. The least favorable reading of this is that the NCAA is lazy and stupid and can’t be bothered to do the world’s most simple thing to bring a little bit of equality to men’s and women’s basketball.

By the way, this disparity in the sorting isn’t new. I noticed it three years ago when the men were using the NET and the women were still using the RPI. No fault to the NCAA for that part of it, the NET was still kind of new for the men, and it’s fine to make sure it works for one sport before you use it for another. But to not introduce the home/neutral/road splits when you introduced the NET? Awful decision making.

Now that I’ve broken all of this down, you’re of course wondering how this impacts Marquette. Through games played on Friday, February 10th, Marquette is sitting at #38 in the NET, one spot better than they were on Thursday morning following the win over Connecticut. Here’s how they stack up in the quadrants that the NCAA assigns to women’s basketball:

Quadrant 1: 2-5, with one game left to play
Quadrant 2: 1-1
Quadrant 3: 4-2, with two games left to play
Quadrant 4: 9-0, with two games left to play

You can see how maybe that looks like a “ehhhh, on the edge” team, especially with those two Quadrant 3 losses. But if we take Marquette’s record and apply the home/neutral/road sorting that the NCAA uses for men’s basketball.....

Quadrant 1: 4-8, with one game left to play
Quadrant 2: 3-0, with three games left to play
Quadrant 3: 5-0, with one game left to play
Quadrant 4: 4-0

Yes, that’s right, Marquette hasn’t taken a loss outside the men’s structure of Quadrant 1. A perfect 12-0 against the rest of the schedule and an argument that the strength of schedule is much tougher than it looks in the system the NCAA uses for women’s hoops.

I’m not alone in thinking that this would make Marquette look a lot better. I threw up a Twitter poll on Saturday morning for a couple of hours with Team A as Marquette’s official NCAA system records and Team B as what Megan Duffy’s team would look like if the NCAA used the men’s home/neutral/road splits. The results of the poll speak for themselves.

I’m not saying that this would automatically make Marquette a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament right now, just that this is a much fairer picture of what the Golden Eagles have accomplished this season. Every team would be impacted by this one way or another so it could still leave Marquette on the edge of the field. Take undefeated and #1 in the NET South Carolina, for example. At a glance, the Gamecocks have one road win over in the 51-100 column that should be a Quadrant 1 win and two road wins in that column that should be Quadrant 2 if you use the home/neutral/road splits. They have a road win over Vanderbilt that’s just outside the top 100 right now and is thus relegated to the final column aka “this only matters if you lose over here,” but at #103, beating the Commodores in Nashville should count as Quadrant 2 for them.

Then again, maybe it would make Jordan King and the Golden Eagles a shoo-in for the tournament. I took a look at the men’s NET through games played on Friday, and I found a team with a 5-9 record in Quadrant 1 (close enough to that 4-8, y’know) and undefeated against every other game on their schedule.

That team is West Virginia.

The Mountaineers are #19 in the NET.

ESPN’s men’s bracketology has West Virginia as a #9 seed as of Friday morning.