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The First NET-fall Of The Winter: 2019 Edition

Season No. 2 of the NCAA’s new tool for Tournament selection and seeding got a later start than the first. So, instead of comparing 2019’s opening rankings to 2020’s, let’s take a look at those from roughly one year ago.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at North Carolina
For the second season in a row, a Big Ten team tops the NET rankings with 13 weeks to go before Selection Sunday.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Important: Tables may not appear optimally when viewing on a mobile device.

Way back in 2018, the NCAA presented its first-ever NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) rankings after the Thanksgiving tournaments. The response to them ranged from lukewarm to outraged. And while the inaugural NET had its issues, those early rankings were largely vindicated when all was said and done. Sure, the Ohio State Buckeyes didn’t stay on top all that long and exited the NCAA Tournament in the Second Round, but the second and third-ranked teams, the Virginia Cavaliers and Texas Tech Red Raiders, met in the National Championship Game. Nine of the top 10 found themselves in the field of 68, with seven of those teams making it to at least the second weekend.

For year two, the NCAA decided to wait a couple of extra weeks before unleashing the NET upon the college basketball world. Despite the delay, a familiar name sits at the top for the second season in succession.

With a three-week gap between release dates, it makes no sense to compare last November’s first-ever NET rankings with 2019’s opening set. So, I dug up the NET from roughly one year ago—December 17, 2018, 13 weeks from Selection Sunday—to see how it compares to today’s release. Then, I’ll look at how well last December’s rankings worked as a predictive tool for 2019’s field of 68—naturally, I’ll use this analysis to provide some file-and-save information for March 2020.

December 2018

NET for Games Played Through 12/16/18

Conference Top 30 31–50 51–75 76–100 Top 100 High Rank Low Rank
Conference Top 30 31–50 51–75 76–100 Top 100 High Rank Low Rank
American 2 0 1 3 6 10 239
ACC 6 2 3 1 12 2 222
AE 0 0 0 0 0 105 344
ASUN 0 2 0 0 2 35 340
A 10 0 0 2 3 5 60 339
Big 12 3 3 2 0 8 4 124
Big East 3 1 2 3 9 20 115
Big Sky 0 0 0 0 0 129 310
Big South 0 0 0 1 1 81 352
Big Ten 6 4 1 1 12 1 119
Big West 0 0 0 1 1 88 302
C-USA 0 0 1 2 3 54 306
CAA 0 0 1 0 1 75 290
Horizon 0 0 0 0 0 138 311
Ivy 0 0 1 2 3 70 269
MAAC 0 0 0 0 0 164 346
MAC 1 0 1 0 2 12 272
MEAC 0 0 0 0 0 252 353
MW 0 1 1 0 2 7 296
MVC 0 0 0 2 2 92 237
NEC 0 0 0 0 0 194 345
OVC 0 2 0 0 2 39 338
Pac-12 1 3 2 2 8 25 168
Patriot 0 0 0 0 0 137 315
SEC 4 2 3 0 9 5 207
SoCon 1 0 1 2 4 26 330
Southland 0 0 0 0 0 143 337
Summit 0 0 0 0 0 125 309
Sun Belt 0 0 0 1 1 80 268
SWAC 0 0 0 0 0 159 349
WAC 0 0 0 1 1 84 239
WCC 2 0 3 0 5 14 285
Non-Power 4 5 10 15 34 22 conferences

December 2019

NET for Games Played Through 12/15/19

Conference Top 30 31–50 51–75 76–100 Top 100 High Rank Low Rank
Conference Top 30 31–50 51–75 76–100 Top 100 High Rank Low Rank
American 2 1 2 1 6 14 243
ACC 3 2 2 3 10 8 143
AE 0 0 0 1 1 92 316
ASUN 1 0 0 0 1 19 339
A 10 3 0 4 0 7 10 258
Big 12 3 4 0 2 9 2 131
Big East 2 2 5 0 9 4 146
Big Sky 0 0 0 1 1 93 313
Big South 0 0 0 0 0 124 347
Big Ten 5 5 2 0 12 1 174
Big West 0 0 0 0 0 111 320
C-USA 0 0 1 3 4 70 284
CAA 0 0 0 0 0 120 326
Horizon 0 0 0 0 0 117 310
Ivy 0 0 1 0 1 60 277
MAAC 0 0 0 0 0 123 319
MAC 0 0 2 0 2 59 238
MEAC 0 0 0 0 0 203 350
MW 1 1 1 2 5 3 289
MVC 1 0 0 1 2 28 274
NEC 0 0 0 0 0 141 352
OVC 0 0 0 1 1 97 341
Pac-12 4 3 1 1 9 9 182
Patriot 0 0 0 0 0 165 331
SEC 4 1 2 5 12 7 281
SoCon 0 0 0 1 1 80 311
Southland 0 0 1 0 1 74 353
Summit 0 0 0 1 1 83 306
Sun Belt 0 0 0 0 0 119 308
SWAC 0 0 0 0 0 172 351
WAC 0 0 0 0 0 108 345
WCC 1 1 1 2 5 6 226
Non-Power 6 2 11 13 32 21 conferences

Last December’s NET was a little kinder to mid-majors overall, as the Top 100 featured one more conference and two more non-power teams than 2019’s first edition. However, mids make up a full 20 percent of 2019’s first top 30, while just four teams from outside of the Autonomy 5, Big East, and American ranked that highly one year ago. It’s the resurgence of the Atlantic 10, considered by many as part of a Power 8 for college basketball, that’s largely responsible for this improvement. At this point last season, the A 10 had just two teams in the top 75, with none ranked higher than 60th. Now, the conference has three teams in the top 30, with the Dayton Flyers cracking the top 10!

For the second season in a row, two power conferences each have 12 teams in the top 100. The Big Ten Is the constant between 2018 and ‘19, with the SEC replacing the ACC this time around. The ACC saw its total of top 100 squads drop to 10, while the SEC jumped up from nine in 2018. Nine members of the Big East and Big 12 (sorry, Providence and Kansas State) rank among the top 100 this December— the Big East’s total remains stable from a season ago, while the Big 12 saw an increase of 1.

The Pac-12 not only saw a slight uptick in its top 100 membership, jumping from eight to nine, but these teams are better positioned for March based on their early results. Last December, only the Arizona State Sun Devils ranked in the NET top 25 with three of their conference rivals joining them in the top 50. This time around, seven Pac-12 members rank in the top 50 with a quartet in the top 30 (and the Colorado Buffaloes just outside that group at 31). The conference might not have to scrape together three bids on Selection Sunday 2020.

The American Athletic has half of its membership, six teams, in the top 100, for the second season in a row. However, five of these teams are in the top 75, when only three ranked that highly last December.

Of the Power 7’s 87 members, just seven rank outside of the NET Top 150: Nebraska Cornhuskers (153), UCLA Bruins (169), Northwestern Wildcats (174), South Florida Bulls (176), California Golden Bears (182), East Carolina Pirates (243), and Texas A&M Aggies (281).

The ASUN (No. 19 Liberty), Missouri Valley (No. 28 Northern Iowa), and Mountain West (No. 3 San Diego State) somewhat surprisingly feature in the top 30 with 13 weeks to play. However, the Mountain West also had a top 10 team at this point last season, in the No. 7 Nevada Wolf Pack. Meanwhile, the SoCon provided last season’s shock No. 26, the Furman Paladins.

What About Selection?

Looking back at the NET of a year ago, 38 of the Top 50 ended up reaching the field of 68. However, four of these teams (Utah State, Murray State, Liberty, and Oregon) arguably needed to win their respective conferences’ automatic bids to earn their places.

The 12 Top 50 teams that missed the field included four from the Top 25 (Nebraska, NC State, Indiana, and San Francisco) and three that ended up finishing below .500 (Butler, Northwestern, and Notre Dame).

Those failures provided opportunities for other squads, however. Nine teams ranked between 51st and 75th in the NET rankings of December 17, 2018 heard their names called during the Selection Show, though (again) both the Saint Louis Billikens and Saint Mary’s Gaels needed to win a conference tournament title to make the field.

And hope isn’t necessarily lost if your favorite team is ranked outside of the top 75 with 13 weeks to play before Selection Sunday. Three 2019 at-large squads dug themselves out of pretty substantial holes in the final weeks of non-conference play and during conference play: No. 76 Temple, No. 83 Seton Hall, and most impressively, the 113th-ranked Baylor Bears. But don’t expect a carbon copy of last season based on today’s first rankings, while current No. 76 Georgia has a theoretical shot at earning an at-large, thanks to their SEC membership, the current 83rd and 113th-ranked teams, the South Dakota Coyotes and Bowling Green Falcons, will likely only reach the field of 68 with a Championship Fortnight win.

Naturally, I will check back in March to see how predictive the first NET rankings of the 2019-20 season were for Selection Sunday 2020 and how these numbers compare to those presented above.

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