Nothing But NET Rankings: Longwood tops Big South in first report

Published 12:17 am Tuesday, December 5, 2023

FARMVILLE – Fans, coaches and players alike kept hitting refresh on Monday, waiting for the numbers to be released. And these first NET rankings really held no surprises, for Longwood or the rest of the Big South Conference. 

The first NET rankings of the college basketball season came out Monday morning. NET stands for NCAA Evaluation Tool. It’s the current way the NCAA ranks teams to help determine who gets in the postseason tournament and who stays home. Now yes, as we’re still very early in the season, these rankings don’t have a lot of weight and will change on a regular basis between now and March.

But it gives us a look at both where the NCAA currently views teams and what each one has to do in order to make that climb to the tournament. Let’s be clear though. There have been teams with strong NET rankings left out in the cold before during March Madness and some with ugly rankings that found a way in as a 15 or 16 seed. So this isn’t the only metric that decides who gets a seat at the dance. But it’s the beginning. 

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And that’s where Longwood comes in. It’s been a smooth ride so far for the Lancers, who currently stand at 8-1 on the season after beating Morgan State 88-54 Sunday night. On an eight game winning streak, Longwood sits atop the NET rankings for the Big South at #102 in the nation, out of 350. For those keeping score, that’s 34 spots out of an NCAA tournament seat. High Point is second in the league, with a ranking of #116, but then the bottom falls out for the league. Gardner-Webb is at #154, with Radford at #194, Winthrop at #216, Presbyterian at #222 and UNC Asheville at #256.

It’s more of a struggle for USC Upstate at #275 and #350 Charleston Southern. Those lower NET rankings for the rest of the Big South put a spotlight on Longwood, both for what they’ve done so far and how this current eight-game winning streak is viewed by the NCAA itself. 

How do NET rankings work?

That’s the biggest question surrounding the NET rankings. How are they assembled? First, NET is the NCAA Evaluation Tool. Starting with the 2018-19 season, it replaced RPI as the major sorting tool used by the NCAA tournament selection committee to rank teams, as we mentioned. As for how the ranking is decided, there’s two pieces. First is the Team Value Index, which rewards teams for beating quality opponents, particularly away from home. The more quality opponents, the higher your score. 

Next is the adjusted net efficiency rating. It looks at both strength of opponent & location across all games played. For example, scoring 50 points per every 100 possessions rates higher if you do it against a UNC Chapel Hill than it does against Old Dominion. And doing that on the road rates higher than doing it at home.

The NCAA then takes this data and sorts games into tiers, ranking them from Quadrant 1 to Quadrant 4. Quadrant 1 is that game where you go on the road, knock off the University of Virginia in overtime and make Sportscenter. Quadrant 4 is where you invite a glorified D2 school to campus and blow them out by 50 points. It’s expected, it’s easy and so you don’t get as many points for it. Lose one of these, however, and for a mid-major it can be lights out for your tournament chances. 

Does it work as a predictor? Eh that’s up to the eye of the beholder. Multiple sportswriters and coaches like it, but it’s equally received criticism as well. Our reigning national champs from UConn come in at 9, while UNC is 32 and Duke is 37, respectively in this first round of NET rankings. The Houston Cougars finished last season at the #1 NET ranking and they start this one up in the same spot.

Looking ahead

As for Longwood, head coach Griff Adrich said the team’s ranking and their current play combined for a good start. But he was clear as of now, a good start is all that it is. 

“It was nice to receive such a high ranking in the NCAA NET rankings. It is so early for these rankings to be overly-meaningful – but it does reflect the hard work our guys and staff have put into the season to date,” Aldrich said. “Nevertheless, we are much more focused on our daily growth process and what we are doing to get better every day.” 

After a solid run at home, the Lancers are on the road this week. After finals wrap up, they’ll head to Delaware State Saturday, with five of its next seven on the road. Beyond Delaware State, Longwood takes on Gallaudet, Milwaukee, VMI and NC Central to close out December. Then it’s time to focus on the Big South. Aldrich said the team just needs to keep focused on development. 

“For us to reach our potential – our focus has to remain there – what we are Pouring Into the Root,” Aldrich said. “The results will flow out of that – and we hope they will continue to be great results.”