The NCAA Tournament committee finally modernized its main sorting metric, losing the out-of-date RPI and replacing it with the NET. The problem is that it has kept the NET formula secret.
We know it is using some of the efficiency tools such as kenpom.com, which has become such an invaluable tool for anybody trying to understand the numbers inside the numbers. What we don’t know is how different factors are weighted and how much the tool was used for at-large selections and seeding. So much for the transparency that had become the hallmark of 21st century committees.
So how did this committee do?
A few of the seeds, such as Villanova as a 6 and Marquette as a 5, made no sense. Not quite sure how St. John’s, which had a fraudulent 12-0 record at one point, made the field. Even with that, there was not much to complain about from the final teams left out. It was actually hard to find teams that deserved to be in the bracket.
Duke has the most talent and it’s not particularly close. When the Blue Devils start running, they are that boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The other team is Indy trying to get out of the way. The Blue Devils play great defense. They average 72 possessions. They have Zion. But they have a potential Achilles heel. They shoot just 30 percent from the arc, 338th nationally. As poorly as they shoot, they are great at defending the three, holding teams to just 29 percent, ninth nationally. Duke is the favorite and got what looks like a walkover to Minneapolis in the East bracket.
Only Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, and Michigan State are top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Gonzaga has the nation’s best offense, Michigan the best defense. They are the 1-2 seeds in the West. Houston, Louisville and Buffalo have efficiency profiles that make them very dangerous.
In this incredible run that stretches six seasons now, Villanova is 190-30. This is probably the least talented of the six teams, but the one attribute that has been consistent all the way shines through with this group. The Wildcats are tough, really tough.
You could make a very good case that last season’s Villanova offense was the best in college basketball history, with its 1.278 points per possession, record 464 threes that led to 576 more points than its opponents from the arc. You lose four of those players to the NBA, you can’t be as efficient
The metrics explain why these Wildcats have nine losses and had to fight so hard for so many of the 25 wins. This a solid offense (16th most efficient) that takes 53.5 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, perhaps because -- unlike their three immediate predecessors that shot 59, 59, and 57 percent on two-point shots, third, second and second in the nation -- this team is at 54 percent on two-pointers, 47th nationally.
The Wildcats are just 73rd in defensive efficiency, which is probably the main reason they are more vulnerable in the tournament than at any time since the run began. And Saint Mary’s, which upset Gonzaga in the West Coast final, is no easy draw.
Phil Booth has played in 14 tournament games, easily the most of any player in this NCAA. And that absolutely matters. These Cats are nowhere near the favorite like last year’s team, but whoever knocks them out, if someone actually does knock them out, had better be prepared to play to the finish line.
Temple was barely into the draw. The Owls, who are slight underdogs to Belmont in Dayton, Ohio, were really good at two things: steals (12 percent of their defensive possessions, 11th nationally) and winning close games, 8-1 in games decided by four or fewer points. The rest of their numbers (86th offense, 90th defense) don’t portend a long run, but, if anybody deserves a long one, it is coach Fran Dunphy, who has done everything in the game expect make that long NCAA run.
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Yale is a very dangerous team because of the league it plays in. The Ivy has never been better from top to bottom. Brown coach Mike Martin summed it up best when he texted me after I wrote to congratulate him on a great season.
“Amazing that the league has improved the way it has,” Martin wrote. “We set a school record for wins. Penn wins the Big 5 and we have to duke it out for the last spot in the league tournament.”
LSU is kind of a mess, with its coach under investigation, and could be vulnerable against Yale in a 3-14 game.
Things to consider:
The Pac-12 should be relegated.
Don’t hold Tennessee’s blowout loss to Auburn in the SEC title game against it. The Volunteers were all-in against Kentucky in the semis.
The Southern Conference had four teams with at least 24 wins. Wofford, from Spartanburg, S.C., went 18-0 in the league and won the conference tournament. Which is one reason the Terriers are 13 in the NET and a real threat to reach the Sweet 16.