University of Kansas

The NCAA recently switched from RPI to NET. No team has been impacted more than KU

KU coach Bill Self on his approach to the Big 12 race

Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self talks about the Big 12 race and also getting additional practice time over the winter break. He spoke to reporters on Dec. 31, 2018, at Allen Fieldhouse.
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Kansas Jayhawks coach Bill Self talks about the Big 12 race and also getting additional practice time over the winter break. He spoke to reporters on Dec. 31, 2018, at Allen Fieldhouse.

The RPI is done. Dead. Toast. No longer used.

And the Kansas basketball team sure wishes that wasn’t the case.

This is easy to see now. KU, in past seasons, specifically catered its nonconference games to help boost its RPI. The Jayhawks were successful in doing that nearly every season, earning a No. 1 or 2 seed for each NCAA Tournament this decade.

So when the NCAA introduced its new NET ranking system in August, one had to wonder just how much KU would be affected.

The answer is best illustrated in this graph from college basketball analyst Bart Torvik at his site, BartTorvik.com.

Torvik’s interactive tool shows just how far a team’s NET varies from its RPI value. This is a good shorthand to show which teams have had their team worth most altered by this year’s change in metrics.

Screen Shot 2019-01-17 at 4.26.16 PM.png

Out of 353 team dots, one is a crazy outlier.

That would be KU, a team whose RPI far outpaces its NET ... in a world where the former doesn’t matter anymore.

Here are the facts: KU’s RPI value is No. 1 at .7307, while Oklahoma is second in the ranking at .6720.

Consider this: If you look at the distance between KU and No. 2 Oklahoma, it would be the same gap as there is between Oklahoma and the 28th-best team in the RPI.

In short, RPI is still outlandish in its love for the Jayhawks.

That’s not true of the NET, which is updated daily through the NCAA’s website. KU is 12th in that measure, with Self admitting on Thursday that he was curious enough that morning to check where his team stood.

He wasn’t too concerned about that low number — yet.

“If we take care of our business, we know we’ll get a good seed,” Self said.

So how will this all impact KU’s potential standing in the NCAA Tournament? It’s a good question that still doesn’t have a clear answer.

If the NET is used as it’s intended — as a sorting tool — then this actually might not hurt KU much at all. The NCAA Selection Committee’s stated main purpose for the RPI/NET in the past two years was to help determine a team’s “Quadrant” wins and losses, which breaks down each result into a category.

History has shown us that the Selection Committee has typically overvalued teams who rack up “quality” wins in Quadrants 1 and 2. KU, based on what it’s done so far would be in a solid position there no matter if the RPI or NET was being used.



Q1Q2Q3Q4
NET8-11-13-03-0
RPI6-25-03-01-0

The NET, compared to the RPI, gives KU more credit for the top Quadrant 1 victories while bumping a few other wins out of Quadrant 2. At this point, KU’s eight Quadrant 1 wins are the most of any school, with the next-best teams (Michigan, Michigan State, Duke) a good distance back with only five.

The resumé isn’t close to complete, either. Because the Big 12 is so competitive, KU will have plenty of opportunities to continue stacking Q1 wins, making it unlikely the team will get caught in that measure at any point this season.

Here’s the potential downside, though: What if the NET is used for more than what is claimed?

This is only natural. The NCAA’s Nitty Gritty and Team Sheets both have squads ranked by their position in the NET.

Committee members are only human. Won’t it be most natural to be inclined to rank teams — even subconsciously — based off the way they’re listed in this most-used formula?

There was always a feeling that the RPI was used as the de-facto ranking tool in the past, and honestly, that’s likely for good reason. An article on the NCAA’s own site last year said this about the RPI: “While it’s far from the only statistic used on Selection Sunday, it certainly carries a lot of weight.”

One stat in the article backed that up. From 2010-17, no team had ever gotten an NCAA 1 seed without being in the Top 10 of the RPI.

Not exactly an encouraging fact for KU and Self if the NET simply replaces the RPI ... and KU remains outside the top 10.

Big picture, this could have scheduling ramifications for the Jayhawks down the line. Texas Tech, while playing a soft non-conference slate, is above KU in the NET at eighth. This makes it clear that simply scheduling tough competition with a strong record like KU’s (15-2) is no longer a fail-safe way to move to the top of the NCAA’s most-valued rankings.

KU’s future matchups, then, might start becoming easier in certain instances. It’s still nice to get Quadrant 1 victories, but if games like Stanford, New Mexico State and Vermont are all going to be considered Quadrant 3 wins in the NET (like they are this year), KU is better off finding weaker opponents to secure easier wins while also allowing extra rest for starters.

There are some other benefits to cupcake games as well. Self played center David McCormack 17 minutes in a non-competitive game against South Dakota, and that led to Self trusting the freshman more in the future. When almost every contest is close, though, Self sticks with the guys he trusts most ... which sometimes unintentionally can delay the development of young or inexperienced guys.

Those are all thoughts for down the line, though. For now, KU can be both proud that it mastered the RPI while also frustrated that it did so in a year that fact won’t mean much.

The encouraging part for Self: The Jayhawks have built a strong body of work, no matter the measuring tool being used.

Whether that’ll be enough to land a top seed like it was in the past, though, is something that remains to be seen.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.
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