NET loss: Michigan's Beilein, others not yet taking new ranking system seriously

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
John Beilein

Ann Arbor — The NCAA’s new ranking system made quite the first impression.

The NCAA Evaluation Tool  or NET for short  debuted on Monday to a collective chorus of boos and jeers, yielding more perplexing results than the method  Rating Percentage Index  it was designed to replace.

And even though Michigan received plenty of love  the Wolverines were ranked No. 4 in the nation in the first ratings  coach John Beilein was far from enamored with NET, just like any other early season ranking or poll.

“Nobody should be rating anything until probably January, seriously,” Beilein said on Tuesday. “You got big data, you got little data. It's like a guy hits a home run the first time up to bat. Man, he's going to get 65 this year.

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“It's so inexact because we're playing different people, we're traveling, everybody is trying to figure things out. Throw away all polls and then maybe in January we'll find out where teams really are, and you can start some bracket selection and things like that then.”

NET will be a sorting tool used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee and is comprised of five factors: a team’s net efficiency, winning percentage, adjusted win percentage and scoring margin (capped at 10 points per game). The fifth factor, known as “Team Value Index,” is an opaque algorithm that involves game results, opponent and location. It’s also not clear how all five factors are weighted and what the exact formula is.

Granted, even RPI rankings would look wonky at this time of the season, but NET’s initial rankings were full of head-scratchers and surprises.

Ohio State, which has impressive road wins at Cincinnati and Creighton but also four blowout victories over sub-200 teams in KenPom’s rankings, checked in at No. 1.

Loyola Marymount and Belmont were No. 10 and No. 12, respectively, despite each having a win over a non-Division I team. They were sandwiched around Kansas, who has neutral-court wins over Michigan State and Tennessee, both top-10 teams in the latest Associated Press poll. The Jayhawks were also four spots behind the No. 7 Spartans.

Like Kansas, Duke boasts a pair of top-10 wins over Kentucky and Auburn at neutral sites but was just outside the top five at No. 6.

Speaking of Kentucky, it was all the way down at No. 61 with its lone loss coming at the hands of Duke, albeit by 34 points.

It led to plenty of sharp criticism across social media, including statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, who called NET’s first release “the worst rankings I’ve ever seen in any sport.”

However, NET, which is updated daily, is not the be-all and end-all and is just one measurement the selection committee will have at its disposal. The quadrant system, a metric that puts a greater emphasis on success at road and neutral sites, as well as other popular metrics like the Kevin Pauga Index, ESPN’s Strength of Record, KenPom and Sagarin Ratings will still be on team sheets.

While the merits of NET could be a constant topic of debate until it resembles reality, Beilein said what isn’t up for debate is that three weeks of data simply isn’t enough to go on.

“We got to finish this period of November and December where these teams are playing in any cross leagues and then let the leagues start taking care of things,” Beilein said. “Who can win on the road? Who can win at home? Most of the teams have not played many road games. We've only played one true road game.

“There's a long way to go in this thing and it's like the batting average that goes out the first day. Every year when the (St. Louis) Cardinals win their first game, I say, 'We're going to go 162-0 this year. We're going to be really good.' It's way too early.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins