Selection for the NCAA and NIT should be about just one thing: The games you won and lost. That’s what the NCAA claims it’s doing, but it’s not that simple. The selection committees have consistently looked at the top teams you beat and lost to (i.e. Quadrant I and II in the current system). This ultimately does a disservice to teams that don’t get to play a bunch of top tier games. But it turns out there is a solution! We could look at a team’s entire resume.
There are lots of different metrics that people have developed to deal with this issue and my personal favorite is Wins Above Bubble or WAB, because I think it’s easy to understand. It’s just how many more (or fewer) games you won against your schedule versus the average bubble team. But, while you can find WAB on sites like T-Rank, it isn’t on team sheets — at least not yet. Instead, a similar metric, “Strength of Record” (or SOR), is at the top of the team sheet.
ESPN developed Strength of Record and it “is a measure of team accomplishment based on how difficult a team’s W-L record is to achieve.” SOR tends to treat mid-majors, which don’t have the chance to rack up QI and QII wins at home, more fairly than other metrics. Stephen F. Austin, Furman, Utah St., and Richmond are ranked 45-48 in SOR right now. SOR also tends to help teams that play truly difficult schedules, such as 15-14 Purdue. The committee could use SOR to more accurately compare the gaudy records of the best mid-majors to their major conference counterparts.
Instead, it appears the committee focuses on those big wins. That’s why a team like Providence (55th in SOR) or Stanford (63rd) can be seriously considered for the NCAA Tournament field. It’s also how teams like Furman end up on the road in the NIT when they should be fighting for an at-large bid.
So I have one request for the committees: This season, let’s focus on a team’s whole resume. Let’s use SOR.
With that said, there are a number of around-.500 major conference teams in the current NIT bracket. All of them are contingent on actually finishing .500, since the NIT has never taken a team with a record below that mark. The biggest questions there are Minnesota and Georgetown. The Gophers continue to find heartbreaking ways to lose games and the Hoyas are facing two top 20 teams in their final two contests. If either were to finish below .500 it could open another NIT bid. One possible team not in this bracket? St. John’s. The Red Storm (15-14) crushed Creighton on Sunday, but they still have two difficult games left on the schedule (at Butler and home against Marquette).
In addition, it appears that there could be a large number of automatic bids. 12 No. 1 seeds in the 22 mid- and low-major conferences could ultimately need an automatic bid. (And that doesn’t even begin to start correcting for other types of bid stealers.) There will be a lot of movement in this bracket between now and Selection Sunday and no team that is a 6 seed or lower is safe.
Last 10 NCAA Tournament (in order): Florida, Xavier, Texas Tech, Rutgers, Providence, Stanford, Texas, Cincinnati, Wichita St., North Carolina St.
NIT Bracket (bubble teams in italics):
8. San Francisco
4. Saint Louis
3. Oklahoma St.
6. Notre Dame
2. Utah St.
1. Mississippi St.
8. Louisiana Tech
2. Rhode Island
3. South Carolina
6. UNC Greensboro
7. Boise St.