Making Sense of the Madness: A Look at Net and Quads

The NCAA March Madness logo is seen on the basket stanchion. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP.

Teams are entering the home stretch of the regular season.

We are a few weeks away from Selection Sunday and the start of March Madness. As teams play the last few games on the schedule, we’ll be treated to an alphabet soup of acronyms as coaches and supporters point to the various analytic models to make a case for a tournament bid.

In the second installment of a series of posts looking at which models can help as you try to bet basketball’s craziest season, we look at NET. That’s the model the NCAA selection committee uses to rank teams for seeding and at large bids, and it brought the word Quad into basketball observers’ vocabulary. But can it provide any value for gambling?

What is NET

The NET model replaced the RPI, which had been used by the selection committee for nearly four decades, a few years ago. It stands for NCAA Evaluation Tool, which doesn’t shed much light on how it works.

NET combines different measures of a team’s quality. The formula was adjusted prior to last season to simplify things by eliminating three of the components used.

Currently, the formula consists of two components: A team’s net efficiency, which basically subtracts the team’s defensive points per possession from the offensive points per possession, and a team’s value index, which combines a team’s win-loss record and location of the game.

The three components that are no longer used are straight win percentage, adjusted win percentage (which weights neutral site and road wins higher), and scoring margin.

READ MORE: Making Sense of the Madness: A Look at KenPom and Tempo

Quadrants

The second component: Team Value Index, introduced the concept of quadrants, or “quads”. The point is to reward a team for beating quality opponents, particularly away from its home court. Each game on the schedule is given a score measuring how difficult it is to win, based on the opponent’s strength and the location of the game.

Opponents are put into four categories, based on their relative strengths, based on their NET rankings.

Quadrant I teams are considered the toughest opponents. A Quad I opponent is a top 30 team that you play on your home court, a top 50 team on a neutral court, or a top 75 team on the road.

Quad 2 is a team ranked 31-75 on your home court, 51-100 on neutral courts, or 75-135 on the road.

Quad 3 is 76-160 at home, 101-200 on a neutral floor, or 136-240 on the road.

Quad 4 is any team ranked lower than 160 at home, 200 on a neutral floor, or 241 on the road.

The way the model works means that all games are not created equally. If a team is playing a Quad I opponent, a win will give its tournament hopes a big boost. A loss to a Quad I team, however, does nothing for it. In other words, there’s no such thing as a “good loss.” Losing by one at Gonzaga gets you no credit in the NET model.

On the flip side, there are games that are “must-wins” … because losing them would be a torpedo to tournament hopes. A Quad III or Quad IV loss can tank a team’s NET ranking while beating those teams does nothing to help a team’s NCAA prospects.

How Does That Help Us

Since games have different levels of importance, it means a team’s level of urgency can vary greatly. For example, UNC, who is firmly in the NCAA bubble, lost to Pitt at home last week. The Panthers were ranked No. 179 at the time, which means the Tar Heels were saddled with a Quad IV loss. It’s just the second time in 65 games that UNC has lost a Quad IV game, which spanned the last 14 seasons.

It was a near-fatal loss to UNC’s hopes of an at-large bid. The top 44 teams in NET (which included UNC) had a combined 286-2 record against Quad IV teams heading into that game, and none of the top 25 teams had a Quad IV loss.

Making matters worse for the Tar Heels, the team was 0-5 against Quad I opponents, meaning that they didn’t have any good wins on their resume, just one glaringly bad loss.

UNC’s next game was at No. 41 Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels beat the Hokies at home earlier in the year, which counted as just a Quad II win. But since this game was on the road, the Hokies would now count as a Quad I opponent.

It was one of UNC’s last chances this season to get a Quad I win, and it was coming immediately after a crushing loss. For all intents and purposes, the season was on the line, and the Tar Heels played like it, pulling out a 65-57 win in one of their best performances of the year.

Eyes on the NET

All games are not created equal, and knowing how an upcoming game can (or can’t) impact a team’s NCAA standing in one direction or the other can help gauge the motivation level a bettor can expect. You can be sure the players and coaches will know what’s on the line. So should you.