NCAA tournament committee tweaks criteria to boost value of road wins

The NCAA is slowly amending its selection process to use modern metrics. (Getty Images)

The NCAA men’s basketball selection committee announced Friday that it intends to redefine the term “quality win” to increase the value of road victories.

Beginning next season, the team sheets the committee uses to evaluate NCAA tournament contenders against one-another will place a greater emphasis on where games are played.

Tier 1 victories on the new team sheets include a team’s home wins against top 30 RPI teams, neutral-court wins against top 50 teams and road wins against top 70 teams. The subsequent tiers continue in a similar pattern rewarding teams for beating strong opponents on the road more than at home.

This method is a clear improvement over the way the selection committee’s team sheets previously were organized. Victories over top 50 or top 100 teams were treated identically regardless of venue even though it’s far more difficult to beat a formidable opponent on the road than it is at home.

“We consulted with experts within the coaching and analytics fields who looked at historical data, based on winning percentages by game location, to come up with these dividing lines within each of the columns,” said Mark Hollis, the director of athletics at Michigan State and the current chair of the committee. “The emphasis of performing well on the road is important, as was the need for teams not to be penalized as much for road losses.

“Beating elite competition, regardless of the game location, will still be rewarded, but the committee wanted the team sheets to reflect that a road game against a team ranked 60th is mathematically more difficult and of higher quality than a home game versus a team ranked 35th. We feel this change accomplishes that.”

While this change is a notable step forward, the flaw in it is that the team sheets are still dependent on the primitive, outdated RPI to determine what a quality win is.

Three-quarters of a team’s RPI score is determined by its strength of schedule, which makes who you play often more important than whether you win or lose. The RPI also doesn’t take into account margin of victory or defeat, meaning that a one-point win over a quality opponent is weighted exactly the same as a 30-point win over a quality opponent even though context clearly is relevant.

The NCAA took a step toward addressing that problem earlier this year when it invited the minds behind some of college basketball’s best advanced metrics to meet with committee members. Ken Pomeroy (KenPom), Kevin Pauga (KPI), Jeff Sagarin (Sagarin Index) and Ben Alamar (BPI) each offered their thoughts on how best to include more metrics in the selection process.

One of the goals for the meeting is to create some sort of composite metric to be part of the selection process. The NCAA said Friday that it intends to have the new metric in place in time for the 2018-19 season.

“There was a consensus among those involved that a composite rating was a better indicator than the RPI alone, but everyone also agreed that it isn’t mathematically sound to combine metrics that are results-oriented with those that are predictive in nature,” said Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball. “The committee decided to use the upcoming season to study how different composite rankings would perform, and explore other options, as well.”

– – – – – – –

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!