NCAA adjusts tournament selection process after input from Gonzaga’s Mark Few, other coaches

Gonzaga’s Mark Few, shown during a 2018 NCAA Tournament game against Florida State, has been involved with a coaching committee that has successfully lobbied for changes to the NCAA Tournament selection process. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The NCAA has made another significant adjustment to the ranking system used for selecting and seeding NCAA Tournament teams.

Once again, Gonzaga coach Mark Few was one of the leading proponents for change, the latest sending the antiquated Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to the sideline while inserting the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET).

This comes roughly 18 months after Few and others on a National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) panel successfully lobbied for the inclusion of advanced analytics on team sheets studied by the selection committee.

NET, which will go into effect this season, uses game results, strength of schedule, site of game, scoring margin and net offensive and defensive efficiency, the NCAA announced Wednesday.

NET should provide a more comprehensive measure than RPI, which only factored in winning percentage, opponents’ winning percentage and opponents’ opponents’ winning percentage.

“This will have the components of all the metrics,” Few told NCAA.com correspondent Andy Katz. “This will prevent the outliers. There were teams and leagues that were able to trick the RPI, either intentionally or unintentionally. We have all the technology and analytics, and it was silly not to use it.”

NET was the end result of discussions between the selection committee and the NABC, analytics gurus and Google Cloud Professional Services.

NET will include margin of victory – contrary to RPI – but caps it at 10 points in an effort to prevent teams from running up the score. Games played in November carry equal importance to those played in February.

Northeastern coach Bill Coen told Katz that the NABC asked the selection committee to “more narrowly define a quality win,” which brought about last year’s switch to the quadrant system.

“Then Mark Few brought up an idea of using a composite of all the various prominent indices, some of which have predictive qualities that could help identify the best teams,” Coen said. “After consulting with many of the designers of these other metrics, the NCAA began to develop its own index that would incorporate the most current evaluation measures.

“With an improved sorting tool, and a tighter definition of a quality win, the hope is we now have a more accurate selection and seeding procedure.”

There is no perfect ranking system out there, but changes implemented the past two years are major improvements on the old system. The NCAA took NET for a test drive late last season, including some tournament games, tweaking it along the way to try to make it more accurate.

The quadrant system, which includes greater reward for teams winning road/neutral site games, remains in place. As a refresher, Quadrant 1: Games vs. home 1-30, neutral 1-50, away 1-75; Quadrant 2: Home 31-75, neutral 51-100, away 76-135; Quadrant 3: Home 76-160, neutral 101-200, away 136-240. Quadrant 4: Home 161-351, neutral 201-351, away 241-353.

Quadrant team rankings will be determined by NET and not RPI, which has carried serious influence on Selection Sunday since 1981. Analytics data appearing on team sheets, such as KenPom and ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, will not be factors in NET.

NET is expected to be a key evaluation tool, but committee members will continue to use analytics and “there will always be a subjective element to the selection process, too,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball.

NET rankings are expected to be released on a weekly basis roughly a month into the season. Eventually, they will be updated daily.