By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
I really love to hear all the NCAA Basketball bracketology talk as tournament time approaches. If one were to watch much basketball this time of year it would be difficult, based on the “eye test”, to match up some of the teams with their NET rankings.
For instance, take Purdue, as an example. They play in the Big 10 and they currently have a record of 15-14. They are still being considered as a “bubble team” if they can win a couple of key games to end the season. They have some big wins but they also have 14 losses. Now here’s the most ridiculous point about the Boilermakers. They are being considered as a possible tournament team with 14 losses because their NET ranking is at 35. As I said earlier, what about the “eye test”?
Now, Purdue is an outlier and we all realize that all statistical based systems have outliers. But what about teams that have a large body of work to consider and have lost only a handful of games? Let’s say, for example, one were to compare a few Power Conference Teams with a highly regarded team from say, the Atlantic 10.
The team from the Atlantic 10 that I am referring to is none other than the Dayton Flyers, every national media person’s darling team right now. Dayton is undefeated in the A10 and has an overall record of 26-2. The two losses coming to Kansas and Colorado earlier in the season. Both of those teams will be in the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton is projected to be a 2-seed in the tournament. But who has Dayton defeated this season? Great question. They are 4-2 in Quad 1 wins and 6-0 in Quad 2 wins. So the answer is no one that is very highly rated. Their best win is probably St Mary’s, a team that has a NET ranking of 31. (Keep in mind 14-loss Purdue has a NET ranking of 35). Their other two best wins are No. 40 Rhode Island and No. 52 Richmond. Rhode Island is projected to be an 11-seed and Richmond is not projected in the field per ESPN’s bracket.
So Dayton has a projected 2-seed, not because of who they have beaten, but really because of who they haven’t lost to.
Let me explain with another example. If one were to compare three teams from two Power Conferences – let’s say UK, U of L and Duke — the story is a little different. All three teams have very good overall records. UK is 23-5 and in first place in the SEC. Duke and U of L are 23-5 and 23-6, respectively, and currently in 3rd place and 2nd place in the ACC, respectively. UK is currently projected as a 3-seed by ESPN. They have a Quad 1 record of 6-3 and a Quad 2 record of 5-1. Their best wins are against No. 10 NET team U of L and No. 13 NET team Michigan St. They also have wins against 3 teams ranked in the NET 30s – Florida, LSU and Alabama.
U of L is projected as a 4-seed with a Quad 1 record of 4-4 and a Quad 2 record of 4-2. As mentioned earlier the Cardinals are ranked No. 10 in the NET. Louisville’s best wins were against No. 6 Duke and No. 25 Michigan.
Now, for the Duke Blue Devils. Duke has a Quad 1 record of 4-2 and a Quad 2 record of 6-2. They are ranked No. 6 in the NET with their best wins being over No. 1 Kansas and No. 7 Florida St.
So after all those statistics, here’s the point. I have watched all four of these teams play. Each one of them, except Dayton, on any given night in my opinion, could win the National Championship. Duke, UK and U of L have all been inconsistent throughout the season but they all have the size, physicality, athleticism and skill to beat any team on any given night. Dayton, on the other hand, plays great team basketball, has a player of the year candidate in big man Obi Toppin and is one of the best offensive teams in the country. But, in my opinion, they lack in physicality and to some extent, athleticism to win against top competition once they were to reach, say, an Elite Eight.
And yet they are currently projected as a No. 2-seed having only beaten a No. 31 St. Mary’s. The key is they haven’t lost to an Evansville or a Wake Forest or Georgia Tech like the other three teams have.
So if you are watching bracketology, as most of us are, keep in mind that the statistical analysis that is used, specifically the NET, has some flaws. In my opinion it overweights bad losses to the extreme and doesn’t reward teams enough for wins against Top 15 competition. A Quad 1 win counts the same whether it is a neutral site win against No. 1 Kansas like Duke had earlier in the season or Dayton had against No. 31 St. Mary’s on a neutral floor. They all count the same. In my opinion it’s that type of disparity, along with overweighting losses in Quad 3 or Quad 4, that have skewed these rankings and will make the seeding in this year’s tournament less than ideal.
Look for some key upsets of high seeds this year because of the flaws in the rating systems. Teams that are battle tested, night-in and night-out, against some of the best competition in the country and have proven that they are late season winners generally come out on top regardless of their seeding. That could bode well for UK if they can continue to play well as a team and continue to hit shots from beyond the arc. Their defense can carry them into a Sweet Sixteen or maybe even an Elite Eight matchup but beyond that they will have to make shots to win. As long as they are placed as a four-seed or higher and avoid a bracket that includes Kansas or Baylor, in my opinion, they have as good a shot as anybody to make the Final Four. After that it comes down to which team is playing their best basketball on Championship weekend.