2024 NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch: Why Michigan State is in, and NET confusion

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Loyal readers of this space know we usually spend far too much time answering questions and complaints in the comments section. Because of some extenuating circumstances, we won’t be doing that this week. But we’re making up for it with the first all-mailbag edition of Bracket Watch! Let’s dance …
Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length; all stats and rankings are as of Thursday afternoon.
Why do I see Michigan State in most brackets? They are 13-8 overall, 4-8 against the top 2 quadrants, 2-7 in Q1, and one of those wins (Indiana State) is not an at-large team. — Ryan H.
It’s a good question, although Indiana State (24th in NET and 38th at KenPom) could be an at-large team. But Ryan’s point remains: The Spartans simply haven’t done that much — and lose with troubling regularity.
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Tom Izzo and his guys have a few things going for them, though; they have no losses outside the first two quads, they’re in the top 20 of predictive metrics (17th in KenPom, 18th BPI, 15th in BartTorvik), and even more importantly, they’ve played a top-10 schedule. We’ve never seen a power-conference team with those kinds of metrics miss the tournament, and the selection committee always rewards teams that play challenging schedules. There are several examples of power-conference teams that were just a game or two over .500 getting at-large bids because of their schedule strength. Villanova is still in our field this week — barely — with an 11-10 record thanks to its No. 7 schedule and a few key wins.
Don’t forget the Spartans were 19-12 going into Selection Sunday last year. Even after dropping their first Big Ten tournament game, they still got a No. 7 seed. So, Michigan State is in right now with a little bit of breathing room. But they still have to, you know, win some more games.
Can you help me understand Syracuse’s NET Ranking — they are 14-7 and 5-5 in the ACC, two road wins and one (almost two depending on Oregon’s fluctuations) Quad 1 wins. Yet they are No. 75, while Iowa is 12-9 and 13 spots higher despite zero Quad 1 wins, and the same number of road wins and Quad 3-4 losses. Also, SMU is 12-7 and 39th in NET without a Quad 1 win — Jay D.
Jay wrote this before Syracuse lost at Boston College on Tuesday, but it’s still a good jumping-off point to talk about some of the confusion the NET creates. A friend texted us this week, for example, asking how Northwestern’s NET number (55) could be so low given the Wildcats’ wins (he conveniently failed to mention the Chicago State loss, but we forgave him for wiping that memory.)
Re: Syracuse. First, the Orange only have 13 wins in the committee’s eyes because they played a non-Division I team. And the conference record is not on the team sheet, so that’s irrelevant. People often confuse the NET ranking with the quad system; while the exact NET formula isn’t public, we know it’s heavily based on adjusted efficiency; in other words, how well a team scores and defends on a per-possession basis, adjusted for competition level — the widespread measurement of which Ken Pomeroy pioneered. And so a team can be ranked highly by playing quality teams close even if it loses those games (see: Michigan State) or go the opposite way by getting blown out multiple times. Syracuse lost to Florida State by 16, Tennessee by 17, Gonzaga by 19, Duke by 20 and North Carolina by 36 (ouch). Syracuse is ranked 81st at KenPom and 73rd at BartTorvik, so the NET is hardly an outlier. The quads are simply determined by the rankings of a team’s opponents.
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The good news: The committee does not rely on NET rankings when fielding the tournament. NET is a sorting tool; the most important factors, as always, are who you beat, who you played and where you played them. Unfortunately, Jay, however you slice the Orange, they do not have a tournament resume.
As for SMU’s continued top-40 ranking when their results-based metrics are closer to 100 … that’s one of the mysteries of the universe that future historians will write tomes about.
Can you give insight into how exactly the committee uses the NET and the quad records? Fans seem to lose their minds when a team moves into/out of a quad, but surely the committee understands that the difference between a road win vs. No. 75 is not THAT much different than a road win vs. No. 76. — Matt R.
One thing to remember is the committee really only sits down and studies team sheets twice: the first time later this month when they reveal their early top-16 seeds, and then when they gather a few days before Selection Sunday. Committee members are busy administrators who are highly unlikely to be following the day-to-day quad-movement vagaries like some sickos (cue: Homer receding into bushes meme); while we may obsess over a win dipping in or out of a quad, they are mostly looking at the end result.
But, yes, they are smart enough to recognize shades of gray and not be confined to one particular number. We wrote about this in the preseason, if you’re so inclined to learn more.
GO DEEPER NET returns: How the selection committee’s main metric has fared, and what’s ahead
Assuming Purdue stays on the high seed line, they’re gonna end up in Indianapolis opening weekend. Is it a race between Wisconsin, Marquette, and Illinois to end up in the other Indy pod that weekend? — Jacob S.
Why would Tennessee be slotted to Charlotte as opposed to Memphis? — Drew B.
Is UConn locked in to be the No. 1 seed in the East and play opening-round games in Brooklyn? — Brian R.
Hot geography talk! Love it. As a quick refresher, the top 16 seeds are assigned to the closest available pod, mileage-wise, based on their placement on the seed list. So, yes, Purdue would have to collapse (or play Northwestern a bunch more times) not to end up in Indy, while UConn fans can count on spending a weekend at Barclays Center. As for Tennessee, it took us a minute to realize that Charlotte (230 miles) is closer to UT’s campus than Memphis (391 miles and that’s if you drive through Nashville, a Goya painting come to life at all hours). Would it be better for Volunteers fans if their team played at FedEx Forum, close to where many alumni live, rather than wrestling UNC supporters for tickets in Charlotte? Probably! The committee would have to bend its rules to make it happen, but it could.
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Non-Big Ten teams who would enjoy a weekend in Indy include Kentucky, Marquette and Dayton; it all depends on the seed list. You can also probably pencil in Arizona going to Salt Lake City and Houston to Memphis. Big 12 teams like Kansas and Iowa State would love to get right to the heart of matters in Omaha — Creighton can’t since the pod is at the Bluejays’ home arena.
How do you foresee the WCC playing out? Is there a 2-bid scenario or is it purely WCC championship or bust for both teams? — Steven O.
Hard to believe, but Saint Mary’s is in a better spot right now than Gonzaga, even though the Gaels started 3-5 and were 8-6 on Christmas. Their win over New Mexico is better than anything the Zags have. Saturday’s showdown in Spokane is almost a must-win situation for Gonzaga, which might also have to pull off a Feb. 10 win at Kentucky to secure an at-large bid. The best scenario for the league is probably the Zags winning both those games, the Gaels holding serve against Mark Few’s team in Moraga and both teams making the WCC tournament final with no other bad losses. Then both probably dance. But things are as dicey as they’ve been for Gonzaga in the Few era.
Rapid fire time …
Has Arizona played their way out of the 1 seed conversation with these egregious conference road losses? — Brad R.
They’re back on the top line with UNC’s loss at Georgia Tech. But the Pac-12 offers precious few resume opportunities the rest of the way, so it could be hard for the Wildcats to hold on.
How much (if at all) should past tournament success be factored into seeding/selection? For example, barring last year’s run by San Diego State, the Mountain West has had a pretty awful record in NCAA Tournament games, but the conference appears to be very strong this year. — Shane H.
History should, and is supposed to, have nothing to do with seeding. However, human nature can’t be discounted; we saw Butler and Wichita State get better seeds after they made tournament runs. This could help not only the Mountain West but Florida Atlantic too this time around.
TEXAS TECH! Ceiling and floor? Also, write some amazing things about Grant McCasland. — Robert P.
Ceiling might be a No. 4 seed because of that No. 303 nonconference slate. Floor is … getting chewed up in the Big 12 wood chipper over the next month and falling to the 9 or 10 line. Read this preseason story on McCasland from CJ Moore:
GO DEEPER Texas Tech wanted a fresh start. So it hired a true believer
Is there a better way to look at strength of schedule and quality of wins other than the NET quads? Winning at home against the No. 25 team and No. 1 team count the same yet there’s a large gap there. — David S.
Use the very cool team sheet view feature on Bracketologists.com to see how wins are sorted by the committee. Pretty easy to see which ones truly stand out. Since we just talked about it, here is Texas Tech’s:
Any chance of an at-large coming from the MVC? — Chris W.
Yes! Indiana State, Drake and Bradley are all in the top 70 of KenPom. Drake’s four Quad 3 losses are difficult to absorb, but if the Bulldogs or Braves or somebody else wins Arch Madness, we could see Indiana State as an at-large. And what a story that would be for Josh Schertz.
GO DEEPER He was a tennis prodigy and high school dropout. Now he’s one of the hottest coaches in the country
What’s a realistic landing spot for Dayton? Let’s say they lose 1-2 more times in the regular season, plus a semi or final loss in the A-10 tournament. — Dan M.
Probably a No. 5 or 6 seed. If Richmond can win at Dayton and lose maybe only one more in the league, the Spiders would have a strong at-large case as well.
How many bids do you think the ACC gets? — Ian T.
Still waiting for a fourth team to emerge and for somebody besides UNC, Duke and Clemson to do … anything, really. Virginia, maybe?
Does the Pac-12 truly have four teams in? — Leif T.
I’ve had the league with three pretty consistently. Washington State is making a case. Colorado and Oregon need a strong finishing kick.
Is there any hope? — Jeremy K.
Always!
First Four Dayton 16 Eastern Kentucky 16 North Carolina Central Dayton 11 Florida 11 Butler Dayton 16 Central Connecticut State 16 Grambling Dayton 11 Villanova 11 Colorado Midwest Region (Detroit) Indianapolis 1 Purdue 16 Green Bay Indianapolis 8 Ole Miss 9 Providence Spokane 4 Duke 13 Louisiana Tech Spokane 5 Auburn 12 Indiana State Omaha 3 Kansas 14 Morehead State Omaha 6 San Diego State 11 Butler Florida Omaha 2 Marquette 15 Colgate Omaha 7 Oklahoma 10 Michigan State South Region (Dallas) Memphis 1 Houston 16 Eastern Kentucky North Carolina Central Memphis 8 Nebraska 9 Utah Brooklyn 4 Illinois 13 McNeese State Brooklyn 5 Utah State 12 Appalachian State Salt Lake City 3 Creighton 14 Drexel Salt Lake City 6 TCU 11 Texas A&M Charlotte 2 Tennessee 15 Quinnipiac Charlotte 7 Clemson 10 Seton Hall West Region (Los Angeles) Salt Lake City 1 Arizona 16 Central Connecticut State Grambling Salt Lake City 8 Mississippi State 9 St. John’s Pittsburgh 4 Dayton 13 UC Irvine Pittsburgh 5 BYU 12 Grand Canyon Memphis 3 Iowa State 14 Vermont Memphis 6 South Carolina 11 Villanova Colorado Indianapolis 2 Wisconsin 15 Eastern Washington Indianapolis 7 Colorado State 10 Texas East Region (Boston) Brooklyn 1 UConn 16 South Dakota State Brooklyn 8 Northwestern 9 Saint Mary’s Spokane 4 Baylor 13 Samford Spokane 5 Kentucky 12 Princeton Pittsburgh 3 Alabama 14 Akron Pittsburgh 6 Florida Atlantic 11 Boise State Charlotte 2 North Carolina 15 High Point Charlotte 7 Texas Tech 10 New Mexico
First Four Out Next Four Out Last Four In Last Four Byes Gonzaga Memphis Butler New Mexico Washington State Virginia Florida Texas Kansas State Wake Forest Villanova Nebraska Nevada Richmond Colorado Boise State
Multi-bid conferences League Bids Big 12 9 SEC 9 Big East 8 Big Ten 6 Mountain West 5 ACC 3 Pac-12 3

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