CBS Sports will be televising its early bracket reveal on Saturday morning, and you can bet there will be a lot of Kansas officials paying attention.
We’ll get to the reason in a minute. For now, a blind résumé comparison.
In the last two seasons, the NCAA has used a quadrant system to help organize a team’s victories. The simple gist is this: Each of a team’s wins is put into one of four quadrants, with the most credit given to teams who can rack up wins in quadrants 1 and 2.
Knowing this, let’s say you’re a committee member and need to compare these two below.
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|Overall record||Q1 record||Q2 record||Q1+Q2 Ws||KenPom rank||SOS rank|
Looks pretty similar, right? Team 1 might be slightly more impressive with an additional quadrant 1 win, but it’s also played two more games. Both teams are viewed similarly by a possession-based ranking system like KenPom, and both challenged themselves with difficult schedules, which the NCAA says it likes to reward.
Team 2, as you might have guessed, is this year’s Kansas team.
Team 1? That would be last year’s Jayhawks when the NCAA had its bracket reveal on Feb. 11, 2018. The important part to note: KU was listed as a No. 2 seed then — and sixth overall.
Whether KU gets similar-type treatment on Saturday is another matter ... and the reason KU officials are likely to pay attention to this early exercise.
The NCAA made a significant change in the offseason by replacing RPI with its newly created NET ranking. In short: The RPI was an outdated formula that relied heavily on a team’s opponent’s record for its output; with NET, the goal was to take in more data, like points per possession and location of victory, to use more info to better distinguish between the top teams.
This change has affected KU more than any other school. The Jayhawks’ RPI this season is 1, while their NET is down at 18.
It’s difficult to know how this might affect KU’s spot in the bracket both Saturday and a month from now.
According to the NCAA’s guidelines, the NET is supposed to be used primarily as a sorting tool to help separate a team’s wins into quadrants. As we can see in the chart above, KU hasn’t been hurt by that specific change, as its quadrant 1 and 2 records still look stellar.
There’s still the matter of perception, though. NCAA selection committee members receive team sheets that have each squad ranked by their NET, and wouldn’t it be tough to talk about someone in the 2 seed consideration if it can barely stay in the top 20 of the NCAA’s primary ranking tool?
This year’s KU team faces other seeding challenges. The team is 1-6 on the road, which could be a negative in the eyes of the committee. The Jayhawks also have not played as well without the injured Udoka Azubuike, meaning there’s a chance it could be docked for not being the team now it wasn’t before.
It all seems silly when spelled out this way. In recent days, NCAA selection committee chair Bernard Muir has done multiple interviews discussing the process of seeding for this year’s bracket reveal, and the more he talks, the more it appears this whole ordeal is a fuzzy venture at best.
This isn’t to pick on Muir, who has a difficult job. But just an example, here’s a snippet of his response to CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander when asked about how the NET will be used this year.
“I would say you’re right that it is a sorting tool,” Muir said. “We will use it in all facets of our work in selection and seeding, but at the same token, each committee member has the opportunity to weight different things. I should also underscore observation is going to be really critical.”
So the NET is a sorting tool, but it’s used for more than that. Committee members are free to weigh it more or less at their own discretion, yet they also should rely heavily on watching games.
Got all that?
Trying to make sure this selection has a “human” touch sure seems to be making it an inexact science. Perhaps in the future — and with more of a sample — the NCAA can continue to improve its NET ranking system to the point it can trust it to become the main tool for the seeding process.
That’s for a future time, though.
What KU will be watching closely is this: Does a great résumé (like KU has this year) still hold significant weight in the committee’s eyes even when a team does not have an impressive NET (18 in this case)?
The ramifications could be significant this year. The Jayhawks have two opening-round sites within a short driving distance (Des Moines and Tulsa) and also has a team that’s performed much better in friendly environments. Not only that, a 2 or 3 seed potentially could still put KU in the running for the Kansas City regional, which we’d expect would be worth at least a couple points per game because of the potential home-crowd advantage.
We’ll know better Saturday morning whether those locations are likely. It wouldn’t be outlandish for the committee to give KU a 2 seed, citing the team’s impressive body of work; the Jayhawks are second nationally in quadrant 1 wins (8) and also tied for first in combined victories in quadrants 1 and 2 (13).
It also wouldn’t be shocking if KU wasn’t a top 4 seed, missing the cut based on specific factors that became important in this particular committee room.
Either way, we’re about to learn a lot more about how the committee functions.
That’ll be important insight — for KU and others — as they learn to navigate a NET-based world.