Gonzaga could benefit if analytics becomes part of tourney criteria

Jerry Krause is a pioneer in the field of basketball analytics. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Advanced metrics years ago found a role in most college basketball programs.

Next they could influence the way the NCAA tournament selection committee scrutinizes teams under consideration for the field of 68, considered a positive development for Gonzaga.

The NCAA has invited many of the sport’s top numbers crunchers, including Ken Pomeroy (KenPom), Jeff Sagarin (Sagarin Index), CBSsports.com’s Jerry Palm, Ben Alomar (BPI) and Kevin Pauga (KPI), to a meeting next Friday to “speed the inclusion of more metrics in the selection process.”

The invite comes after a National Association of Basketball Coaches panel – Zags coach Mark Few served as one of the committee leaders – asked the selection committee to consider adding analytics to the process used to determine tournament teams and seeding.

The selection committee has long utilized Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), but many view RPI as a simplistic measure subject to manipulation by coaches who are savvy schedulers. RPI has other flaws, including the failure to factor in margin of victory.

The inclusion of advanced metrics could be beneficial to Gonzaga and other programs outside of the major conferences because RPI relies so heavily on strength of schedule. Advanced metrics could provide a broader and more accurate gauge of a program, especially when trying to compare it to a middle-of-the-pack team from a power conference.

Gonzaga annually assembles a difficult non-conference schedule with the goal of bolstering its NCAA resume, but the Zags’ RPI often drops during the WCC season because most of their opponents reside outside the RPI top 100. Power conference teams routinely face foes with strong RPIs in league play.

Fifth-ranked Gonzaga (16-0) is currently No. 13 in the NCAA RPI. Saint Mary’s is No. 22 and BYU is No. 90. The other seven WCC schools rank between 141 and 247.

The Zags have embraced analytics for years, first under former director of operations Jerry Krause, one of the pioneers in the field, and currently with John Jakus, who replaced Krause. Detailed stat packages that go way beyond a box score and specialized video breakdowns are only a few mouse clicks away.

The goal of the analytics meeting next week is to eventually arrive at a composite metric that could become part of the selection criteria as early as 2018.

“In an imperfect process, I think what the committee strives to get as perfect as possible is to have justification and rationale for their decisions,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA senior vice president of basketball. “And the more that can be rooted in fact and in data, the more comfortable they can be with those decisions and the more justifiable they can be in explaining them.”