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NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee finally moving toward inclusion of advanced metrics

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This is good news for mid-majors. And sanity. Also good news for sanity.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Butler vs Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not happening overnight and will not affect the selection committee process in 2017, but the NCAA is getting closer to involving advanced statistical metrics in its tournament selection process. Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin, among others, will meet with NCAA officials next week to begin outlining a plan for the inclusion of more analytics into the committee’s approach.

There’s no telling where exactly this will lead, but the mention of a possible composite metric in this initial release certainly implies a lot.

“They’ve got some pretty strong thoughts on what a composite metric could look like and maybe should look like,” [NCAA SVP of men’s basketball Dan Gavitt] said of the working group. “I also think they recognize their fallibility in advanced mathematical and analytical areas, so they feel that it’s important to engage experts in the field.”

Finding a way to combine the Pomeroy Ratings, BPI, the Sagarin Ratings, etc., will be the hard part but also is probably necessary since we’re dealing with a group of people on the selection committee who are used to the singular RPI. Throw too many different numbers at them, and the process likely bogs down or becomes a headache-inducing mess.

If and when this comes to fruition, there will be consequences for programs on both sides of the power-six/mid-major division. There will be less value in scheduling strategically to maximize your RPI, which is one thing that Mark Gottfried’s staff has done extremely well. At the same time, though, teams will get credit for playing schools that are much better than RPI suggests they are—and State will benefit from this, too.

I think the biggest winners from this will be mid-major programs that are consistently undervalued because they simply do not have the built-in top-50 games in league play that the major-conference teams always have. Ohio State athletics director and selection committee rep Jim Schaus:

“There’s many examples where when you look at team sheets and look at who they played and who they’ve beaten and where they played, there’s still not a lot of separation," he added. "I think it’s especially important when you look at teams that have very different backgrounds in terms of their schedule. Some teams have perhaps more ability and access to play higher ranked teams and to have their top 50 or top 100 wins than others. But when you look at those other things from a metrics standpoint, they kind of help level the playing field.”

Here are some examples just from the last couple years, based on the Pomeroy Ratings only:

2016

— Wichita State was No. 13 in the ratings, received an 11-seed. It’s true seed was in the 3-4 range, based on its Pomeroy rank.

— Gonzaga was No. 21, also received an 11-seed. True seed in the 5-6 range.

— Stephen F. Austin was No. 41, received 14-seed. True 10-11 seed.

2015

— Wichita State was No. 13 in the ratings, received 7-seed. True 3-4 seed.

— BYU was No. 28, recieved 11-seed. True 7-seed.

— Davidson was No. 37, received 10-seed. True 6-7 seed.

There are plenty of mid-major programs that can successfully navigate the current RPI-heavy process, and obviously there is not much difference between earning a 7-seed and getting a 10-seed.

This will have the highest impact at the extreme ends of the spectrum—Wichita State gets a 4-seed instead of an 11-seed, for example, and some mid-majors vault past some iffy, mediocre major-conference teams to claim some of the last few at-large bids. I don’t think anybody stands to gain more than those mid-majors that end up on the bubble, the ones that are better than their power-conference counterparts but lack the same RPI-based resume due to lack of opportunity.

Some mid-majors have profited off the RPI-based system, same as the power-conference schools, but in general it seems like this will be better for the entire mid-major population.

I’m getting ahead of myself here, since there are no concrete plans set to incorporate advanced analytics into the selection process, and further this whole deal requires selection committee members to actually give these analytics the time of day, which is far from guaranteed.

Still, this is an appropriate and necessary step by the NCAA that has been long overdue. A lot of college basketball coaching staffs take advantage of more advanced metrics, so it behooves the NCAA to do the same. Together we can make a saner NCAA tournament field! It’s possible!