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Let’s Talk NCAA Tournament: Quadrants and KenPom and Eye Tests Oh My!

I’m saying there’s a chance

Duke v North Carolina State
Thanks for the quadrant 1 win, Mike.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

So far, NC State is 12-6 overall and 2-3 in league play in Kevin Keatts’ first season (a.k.a. K2Y1). Considering the team finished its last two seasons under Mark Gottfried under .500 overall and with a scant average of 4.5 conference wins, it’s fair to say a turnaround is under way. Still, the team’s performance has been about as volatile as Bitcoin, so we best get our (possibly farfetched) tournament talk out there now just in case the team’s performance craters down the stretch.

The NCAA has altered its “team sheets” criteria it provides for the selection committee from RPI top 50, top 100, and so on to instead break teams down into quadrants that give more weight to road performance. Quadrant 1 includes home games against the top 30 RPI teams, neutral games against the top 50, and away games against the top 75. Quadrant 2: home vs. 31-75, neutral vs. 51-100, and away vs. 76-135. Quadrant 3: home vs. 76-160, neutral vs 101-200, and away vs. 136-240. Quadrant 4: home vs. 161+, neutral vs. 201+, and away vs. 241+. Playing the #75 team on the road is a full two quadrants more valuable than the #76 team at home, though who knows if P5 schools will ever dare to go on the road to play solid mid-majors.

There’s good news and bad news for the Pack on this quadrant front. The good news is that NC State is 3-4 against quadrant 1 competition. That’s not too shabby. In fact, there are only eight teams in all the land with more than three quadrant 1 wins, and every one of them is in the top 10 in RPI. Those teams, in order of RPI, are Duke (1st), Oklahoma (3rd), Villanova (4th), Fake College of Carolina (5th), Clemson (6th), Auburn (7th), Kansas (9th), and Purdue (10th).

So, why isn’t State sitting right outside the top 10? I mean it beat two of those aforementioned teams and is tied for ninth in quadrant 1 wins! Alas, like your faithful clownblogger, the Pack’s résumé is soft in the middle. State has no games that fall in quadrant 2 and is just 2-2 against quadrant 3 competition. That loss to UNCG stings, as does the neutral site letdown post-Zona against UNI. State’s a perfect 7-0 against quadrant 4, but all of those cupcake carbs might leave Keatts feeling empty if the Pack musters a .500 conference record but gets left out of the Big Dance.

About a year ago, the NCAA held a conference with Kenneth Pomeroy and a bevy of other advanced metrics types, including Jeff Sagarin, Ben Alamar (ESPN’s BPI), and Kevin Pauga (KPI). The weight advanced metrics plays in the selection process is left to the whim of each member of the 10-member selection committee, but, increasingly, more advanced systems are at least entering the conversation. RPI is still king, but tracking State’s standing in Nerdland is no longer a purely frivolous endeavor. So, let us do so (while also comparing the current standing to last year’s finish).

As has been well documented by intrepid message board commentator Newclass, “KenPom hates us.” Unfortunately, RPI hates us even more, and that matters more. Still, in K2Y1 we have impressive improvement regardless of what metric you choose to lean on. Also, I’m digging this Pauga dude despite his site being a wee bit tricky to navigate. Thanks for putting us in bubblish territory, man.

So, how do we get from bubblish/slightly south of bubblish to Easy Street (defined as top 40 in the RPI, as you can count on about two fingers the number of top 40 RPI P5 schools not to get an at-large bid in the RPI era)? My guess is that it would take at least eight more league wins to do it, and I’m not exactly ready to bet the back 40 on that. But a .500 record in league play seems plausible, and that would have to give the committee pause given those quadrant 1 wins.

This is where the vagaries of the old “eye test” and the various other criteria the committee can call upon comes into play. Seriously, one of the criteria the NCAA mentions is “watching games.” Cool. Another is road record. As our fearless leader recently pointed out, there is work to do in this regard; the Pack has only played three true road games and lost each in lopsided fashion. No bueno.

State only has two remaining opportunities for surefire quadrant 1 road wins with games at Fake College (RPI 5th) and Syracuse (36th). Virginia Tech is just outside of quadrant 1 at this moment and wouldn’t carry the “brand name win” eye test weight even if it was in the top 75 of the RPI, but it sure would boost the RPI. We’re likely going to need one of those brand name road games and a couple more away from home against the bottom of the league to get in the conversation. But, indeed, I am saying there’s a chance, and that’s pretty impressive for K2Y1 with a roster held together by duct tape and spit. Just win (on the road), baby, and the rest will take care of itself.