Countdown to Hoops I: Goodbye RPI
The Hoops Department of IlliniBoard.com interrupts your regularly scheduled Illinois football angst for an important news bulletin: COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON STARTS IN LESS THAN A MONTH!
Actually the first game on the Illini schedule is not until November 8, but as official practice can now start six weeks before the first game, by my math that's September 27 - less than three weeks from now! So seeing as that's super close, Robert thought that I should sprinkle in a few hoops columns here and there to help pass the time between now and November.
Following a volatile spring in which seven players left the program via graduation or transfer, it's been a rather quiet summer over at the Ubben facility. Ayo Dosunmu making the USA Basketball U18 national team and then winning gold was a fun story, and we did add two new faces (Anthony Higgs and Adonis De La Rosa) to the roster, but summer time is usually all about recruiting, and it's been Cricketsville for the most part on that front.
The only real recruiting story line over the summer was the ascension up the rankings of prime Illini target Khalil Whitney. That rather unfortunate turn of events led John Calipari to take notice and about 17 minutes later, Whitney was a Kentucky commit and we Illini fans were quickly and coldly reminded of our current place in the college basketball pecking order.
So in the absence of any real compelling Illini news in the moment, I thought I would kick off this fall series with a quick primer on the new methodology the NCAA unveiled this summer by which they will rank teams for NCAA Tourney selection purposes. With hope eternal that sooner-rather-than-later, Illinois will once again be contending for a tournament bid, I'd certainly hate for any of our faithful readers to be caught unawares regarding the new ranking criteria.
So it was nice knowing you RPI, thanks for playing, but now make way for the "NCAA Evaluation Tool" - or "NET" for short. If you haven't read the NCAA's release on this new methodology, you can read that here.
This is actually pretty fascinating stuff. While it remains to be seen how willing the NCAA will be to share not only the exact formula, but also how it is applied, I at least give the NCAA credit for trying to incorporate modern analytics into the system. For example, it's been known for a while now that numbers like scoring margin and defensive/offensive efficiency matter when objectively ranking teams, and so it's nice to finally see the powers that be incorporate some of these more predictive metrics into their algorithm. Then again BPI is apparently still a thing, so it's certainly not without its faults.
Some key takeaways (NET POINTS if you will):
+ One immediately intriguing difference between RPI and NET is the inclusion of margin of victory into the equation - at least to a certain point. The NET puts a cap on relevant margin of victory/defeat at 10 points "to prevent rankings from encouraging unsportsmanlike play, such as needlessly running up the score in a game where the outcome was certain." (That booing you hear is from walk-ons across the land.)
+ The Quadrant system will stay intact. If you remember from last year, each game on the schedule was assigned a quadrant ranking based on the RPI rank of the opponent and where the game was played, with neutral court and road games given greater weight. The quadrant tiers will now be based of off the new NET rankings instead of RPI. This is potentially good for Illinois based on a schedule that likely promises a high volume of Quadrant 1 and 2 games. Of course, you have to win a fair share of those games for it to matter, but (spoiler alert!) that's a different column for a different day.
+ When a game is played will not be a factor. November games will hold equal weight as late February ones. As they should.
+ Like it or not, this thing is going to be shoved down your throat. In the interest of transparency, and, of course, to generate buzz, the NCAA is promising weekly updates on NET rankings starting in late November/early December. Actually this sounds pretty fun. At least it will allow the teeth gnashing from the mid-majors to begin super early!
+ NET is actually being billed as using artificial intelligence to formulate its predictive model. If so, it sure seems like the NCAA missed a huge Terminator tie in opportunity. (Sky)NET. IS. REAL.
(Along those lines, I'm going to need to ask all of you to start working on your "NET" basketball puns. There are just too many at our disposal to responsibly ignore. Here's hoping the Illini can successfully SURF THE NET this season to maximize their NET WORTH by March. At the very least let's hope they can avoid hitting NOTHING BUT THE BOTTOM OF THE NET. I'll stop.)
Did I remember to tell you all that basketball season is just three weeks away? Just checking. I'll be back soon with a deeper dive into the Illini schedule. Until then... beat USF!!