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Best of the West: NET rankings, committee seeding decisions, and a familiar look at the top

By Jon Wilner Bay Area News Group

San Diego State was good enough to crack the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s early reveal of the top 16 seeds late last week. Brigham Young wasn’t, and neither was Saint Mary’s.

Why does that matter? It doesn’t, except in the way it illuminates the discrepancy between the frequently cited NET rankings and the selection committee’s reality.

Brigham Young is 11th in the latest NET rankings, with Saint Mary’s just four spots behind. Both would have made the cut had the committee followed the NET. It doesn’t, which explains why San Diego State was one of the 16 seeds despite its No. 18 ranking.

The situation allows us the opportunity to remind fans of the difference between the committee’s seeding decisions and the NET rankings.

As the NCAA explains, the NET rankings “serve as the primary sorting tool” for the committee. They are derived from a complicated formula that includes efficiency metrics and a “team value index.” But they are not judge and jury.

Instead, the committee leans heavily into three simple components: quality of opponent, location of game and outcome.

The NET features so many components that those basics can get lost, or minimized.

We won’t plunge too deeply into the weeds, but let’s use three examples to illustrate the differences in resumes that likely impacted the committee’s decisions:

• SDSU has played 12 Quadrant I opponents (the highest tier), whereas BYU has played nine and Saint Mary’s six.

• SDSU has more Quad I and II wins (eight) than the Cougars or Gaels (seven each).

• Only four of SDSU’s 18 wins (or 22%) have come against Quad IV opponents (the weakest). In contrast, nine of BYU’s 19 wins, and 10 of Saint Mary’s 21, are against Quad IV foes.

In other words, the guts of the committee’s criteria – quality of opponent and outcome – favor SDSU.

That doesn’t make the Aztecs a better team than the Cougars or Gaels and certainly doesn’t assure them of greater success in March Madness.

Nor does the committee’s early reveal lock SDSU into, or BYU and SMC out of, the top tier of seeds on Selection Sunday.

But let’s hope the situation helps explain the discrepancy between the NET rankings and the committee’s process.

To the Best of the West …

1. Arizona (20-5/11-3 Pac-12)

Last week: 1

Results: beat Arizona State 105-60

NET ranking: No. 3

Next up: vs. Washington State (Thursday)

Comment: Tommy Lloyd’s newly approved raise, to $5.25 million, makes him one of the 10 highest-paid coaches in the country, which is precisely where Arizona’s coach should be.

2. Brigham Young (19-7/7-6 Big 12)

Last week: 2

Results: lost at Oklahoma State 93-83, beat Baylor 78-71

NET ranking: No. 11

Next up: at Kansas State (Saturday)

Comment: The Cougars are one or two wins from their inaugural season in the Big 12 being a success, regardless of what else happens. Those one or two wins will be difficult to secure given the schedule, but credit them for playing as well as they have for as long as they have in the toughest conference in the land.

3. Colorado State (20-6/8-5 MW)

Last week: 3

Results: beat Utah State 75-55

NET ranking: No. 25

Next up: at New Mexico (Wednesday)

Comment: The Mountain West remains absolutely glorious, with seven teams within a game of first place (in the loss column) and the Cal Tech supercomputers likely needed for the tiebreaker process.

4. Saint Mary’s (22-6/13-0 WCC)

Last week: 5

Results: beat Pepperdine 103-59 and San Francisco 70-66

NET ranking: No. 15

Next up: vs. San Diego (Saturday)

Comment: Randy Bennett has been coaching SMC since the 2002 season. Never has he made it through WCC play with fewer than two losses.

5. Washington State (20-6/11-4 Pac-12)

Last week: 6

Results: beat Cal 84-65 and Stanford 72-59

NET ranking: No. 32

Next up: at Arizona (Thursday)

Comment: Here comes the most trappy of trap games that ever laid a trap – not Thursday night in Tucson but Saturday evening in Tempe.

6. San Diego State (20-7/9-5 MW)

Last week: 4

Results: beat New Mexico 81-70, lost at Utah State 68-63

NET ranking: No. 18

Next up: at Fresno State (Saturday)

Comment: The Aztecs have an entirely manageable finishing schedule and, in our view, are the front-runners in the race for the No. 1 seed in the MW tournament.

7. Gonzaga (20-6/10-2 WCC)

Last week: 7

Results: won at LMU 91-74, beat Pacific 102-76

NET ranking: No. 22

Next up: at Portland (Thursday)

Comment: Another team with a NET position that doesn’t accurately reflect the resume. The Zags are just 1-5 in Quad I games and have only three combined Quad I and II victories. That spells bubble trouble, in our opinion.

8. Oregon (17-8/9-5 Pac-12)

Last week: 9

Results: won at Oregon State 60-58

NET ranking: No. 63

Next up: at Stanford (Thursday)

Comment: The Ducks have three home games remaining, and so we wonder: Will they be the final appearances in Matthew Knight Arena for Dana Altman?

9. New Mexico (20-6/8-5 MW)

Last week: 8

Results: lost at San Diego State 81-70

NET ranking: No. 23

Next up: vs. Colorado State (Wednesday)

Comment: The Lobos aren’t quite elite on either end of the court, but they are fabulously balanced: They rank 31st nationally in offensive efficiency and 30th in defensive efficiency, according to the Pomeroy metrics.

10. Utah State (22-5/10-4 MW)

Last week: 10

Results: won at Wyoming 84-76, lost at Colorado State 75-55, beat SDSU 68-63

NET ranking: No. 30

Next up: at Fresno State (Tuesday)

Comment: Utah State’s finishing schedule isn’t substantially more difficult than SDSU’s, but the Hotline is not convinced the Aggies can survive unscathed.

11. San Francisco (21-7/10-3 WCC)

Last week: 12

Results: won at LMU 82-59, lost at Saint Mary’s 70-66

NET ranking: No. 59

Next up: vs. Pepperdine (Saturday)

Comment: The Dons have no chance to reach the NCAAs through the at-large pool, so they must win the conference tournament. And if they do, the WCC would have a chance to claim three bids … if the Gaels and Zags were to make the cut.

12. Grand Canyon (24-2/14-1 WAC)

Last week: Not ranked

Results: beat Utah Tech 72-61 and Cal Baptist 79-76

NET ranking: No. 45

Next up: at Tarleton State (Thursday)

Comment: The Antelopes are back in the BOTW rankings after seven consecutive victories. But two early-season results continue to loom large in our assessment: They beat both SDSU and San Francisco.

Also considered: Boise State, Colorado, Eastern Washington, Nevada, Santa Clara, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UCLA and Utah