The tyrannical, decades-long reign of the RPI in men’s college basketball is over. The NCAA announced Wednesday that it is ridding the NCAA tournament selection process of the RPI and replacing it with a new, more advanced metric called the NCAA Evaluation Tool (catchy, huh)—or NET.
An adjustment of this sort has been on the horizon for a while—the NCAA consulted with both coaches and leading analytics experts like Ken Pomeroy to help develop a new tool, and this is the end result:
The NCAA Evaluation Tool, which will be known as the NET, relies on game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency, and the quality of wins and losses. To make sense of team performance data, late-season games (including from the NCAA tournament) were used as test sets to develop a ranking model leveraging machine learning techniques.
The NET was built to create a ranking system that was as accurate as possible while also evaluating team performance fairly. To ensure fairness, certain types of data were omitted from the model. Of key importance, game date and order were omitted to give equal importance to both early and late-season games. In addition, a cap of 10 points was applied to the winning margin to prevent rankings from encouraging unsportsmanlike play, such as needlessly running up the score in a game where the outcome was certain.
By including both efficiency margin (calculated by subtracting defensive efficiency from offensive efficiency) and margin of victory, this new evaluation tool is already a whole lot better than the RPI ever was. Will it be perfect? No, definitely not—certainly not in year one. But is this a step forward? Yeah, a big one. Matt Norlander has more specifics on the new system here.
What we won’t know until we get to March is how this might alter the thinking of the humans who make up the selection committee. Will a mid-major get more credit for being ranked 30th in NET, versus being ranked 30th in the RPI in the old days? Or will the guys building the field continue to pick mediocre power-conference schools with lower ratings ahead of the smaller schools that NET likes better?
If that behavior doesn’t change, then this new way of evaluating teams may not be of much use to mid-majors. But it should definitely help with seeding the field more accurately and sorting the power-conference schools closest to the bubble. That’s progress.