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A Look At The NET Before The NCAA 2019 Selection Show

What will the committee give us?

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ACC Basketball Tournament - Championship
 CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 16: Javin DeLaurier #12 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks the ball against the Florida State Seminoles during the championship game of the 2019 Men’s ACC Basketball Tournament at Spectrum Center on March 16, 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On the morning of Selection Sunday, there was surprisingly little movement at the top of the official NET rankings, despite two monumental results yesterday: Duke’s victory over Florida State for the ACC Championship, and Tennessee’s comeback win over Kentucky. The top four in the NET remained the same, with Virginia, Gonzaga, Duke and Houston making up that tier. Tennessee’s win caused them and Kentucky to flip-flop in the 5 and 6 spots, while the other three teams with an argument for a No. 1 seed also remained set (UNC at No. 7, Michigan State at No. 8, and Michigan at No. 9).

That has the potential to change more significantly today based on the results of Round III in the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry (I’d imagine the winner not only ends up higher in the NET, but potentially jumps UNC), and if Tennessee potentially falters against Auburn in the SEC Championship. But given this is the first year of the NET, we likely won’t know until after the bracket is released what the final NET rankings are, and how they influenced the committee. Indeed, there may be more unknowns entering this Selection Sunday than any in recent memory.

What do we know? It’s extremely likely that Duke and Virginia will be the top two seeds. While there is some debate as to what the order of the ACC foes might be, most seem to think that Duke’s ACC Championship and two head-to-head victories over the Cavaliers will give the Blue Devils the No. 1 overall seed.

We also know that Kentucky’s loss to Tennessee likely eliminated them from contention for a No. 1 seed, sticking them squarely on the two-line. That leaves four teams with a legitimate argument for the final two No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, UNC, Tennessee (if they beat Auburn today), and the winner of the Big Ten Championship. The No. 2 seeds will likely be Kentucky, the loser of the Big Ten Championship, and the other two teams that miss out on the top-line, in some order.

That leaves a lot of scenarios that could unfold today, a few of which are worth discussing in detail.

First, let’s assume Tennessee wins the SEC. If Michigan State wins the Big Ten, that leaves UNC, the Volunteers, Spartans and Bulldogs fighting for the final No. 1 seeds. As I wrote previously, Gonzaga poses an interesting scenario for the committee, given that their NET ranking is that of a No. 1 seed, but their resume most certainly isn’t (not to mention that if the committee justifies selecting Gonzaga as a No. 1, but puts Houston on the three or four line as is predicted, they might have a hard time rationalizing using the NET to elevate Gonzaga but not Houston).

However, in this scenario I’d predict Gonzaga and Tennessee earn No. 1 seeds. Why? Michigan State has something unique on their resume: a huge, black mark of three bad losses (to Indiana both at home and on the road, along with at Illinois). Two of those losses are in the “Q2” category, while none of the teams they’ll be compared to have any Q2 losses. Plus, while UNC has a strong argument against both Gonzaga and Tennessee, my hunch is that the committee would like to avoid making three ACC teams No. 1 seeds if possible, and in this scenario they could point to UNC’s lower NET ranking when compared to Tennessee and Gonzaga to justify this. My bet is that the committee uses these data points to point to justify their decision in this scenario.

What about if Tennessee and Michigan win? In this scenario I’d be much more confident that UNC does not get on the top line, because they would have a very similar resume as Michigan, albeit with a decisive loss to the Wolverines. It would be hard to justify placing UNC over Michigan, given that clear head-to-head comparison, unless the Tar Heels’ resume was vastly superior to the Wolverines, which won’t be the case if Michigan adds a victory over Michigan State to their resume (which would also amount to a tenth Q1 win, equaling UNC’s total). How the committee decides between the Bulldogs, Volunteers and Wolverines would likely depend on the great unknown of how important the Bulldogs’ No. 2 NET ranking is; however, I’d predict Tennessee and Gonzaga earn No. 1 seeds in this scenario, with Michigan the top No. 2 seed.

Finally, what if Tennessee loses? I think this is what needs to happen for UNC to stay on the top line. If Michigan State wins the Big Ten with a Volunteer loss, I’d predict Gonzaga and UNC stick on the top line, again because I think the Spartans’ bad losses are a clear differentiator between these teams. If Michigan wins, things become more complicated: there’d be an odd situation with the head-to-head results, as Michigan decisively beat UNC, but UNC decisively beat Gonzaga, but Gonzaga would have the clearly superior NET ranking. While this may be my least confident pick, I’d predict the committee tries to please everyone in this scenario by putting UNC and Michigan on the top line, but Gonzaga as the top No. 2 seed out West.

None of this takes into account the so-called “eye test”, which could affect things if someone looks particularly fantastic in a victory today. It also doesn’t get into the minefield that is determining where the No. 2 seeds go considering the plethora of issues at play there (just to give you all an idea, the committee’s seeding rules say they will not put the top 2 seed with the top 1 seed, and will not but two top seeds from the same conference together… but beyond that, everything is more or less at play to balance the competing interests of giving higher rated 2 seeds location preference while also maintaining competitive balance in the brackets). And by no means do I consider myself a tried-and-true “bracketologist”, merely an amateur who has paid an inordinate amount of attention to the NET rankings throughout the year. But all of these scenarios, and the multiple legitimate arguments that could be made in each case, justify the one prediction I feel wholly confident in making: this will be the most interesting and dramatic Selection Sunday in recent memory.

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