Following their six-game winning streak, the Virginia Cavaliers have rebounded from their road woes to take sole possession of second place in the ACC heading into tonight’s bout with the Miami Hurricanes. However, the NET remains skeptical of the Cavaliers, ranking them fifth in the conference and 42nd in the country.
As a refresher, when the NCAA Tournament committee convenes to set the NCAA Tournament bracket, they use the “NET” rankings to determine who receives the at large bids and seed lines. A team’s NET ranking is comprised of a formula with a whole host of computer numbers incorporated (KenPom, RPI, etc.) and the team’s schedule and results from that year make up the team’s NET Report.
So why are the ‘Hoos lagging behind in terms of their NET despite a 17-5 record?
The primary reason is pretty self-evident. The ‘Hoos have won a lot of close games and lost a lot of blowouts. Predictive metrics such as Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency margin penalize teams for losing big and don’t reward them much for winning close; KenPom’s luck metric, which essentially measures how a team’s actual winning percentage compares to their expected win percentage based on point differential, ranks the ‘Hoos as the 13th-”luckiest” team in the country. As a result, UVA’s underlying numbers don’t quite match their records on each side of the quadrants.
The flip side of this, though, is that UVA’s quadrant-by-quadrant win-loss records look more impressive than the predictive metrics say they should be.
In Quad 1, the ‘Hoos sit at a respectable 2-2 — despite opponents outscoring them by an average of 10 points in Quad 1 games! That’s what tight victories can do for you. The ‘Hoos squeaked by Clemson and Florida in one-possession victories and had their doors blown off against Wisconsin (24-point loss) and Wake Forest (19-point loss). They have three solid Quad 1 games left on the schedule: at Duke, at Virginia Tech and hosting UNC. Taking into account how good UNC has looked, how difficult it is for the ‘Hoos to win at Cassell, and how difficult it is for any team to win at Cameron, 1-2 in those games would be a perfectly acceptable result.
Virginia’s record here is 3-2, with three victories by at least three possessions and two ugly blowout losses to Memphis and NC State. This area will give the ‘Hoos their best chance to build their resume over the remainder of the season, with over half of their remaining schedule currently falling in Quad 2. Every team in this quadrant seems beatable right now, especially with UVA’s three most challenging Quad 2 opponents all coming at home.
The ‘Hoos have banked a few big wins here, including an impressive 84-52 blowout of Syracuse and a big road win against Louisville — sure, it’s Louisville, but the predictive metrics love winning big. A 59-53 margin against NC State appears on the team sheet as a comfortable victory; hopefully the selection committee doesn’t remember that UVA needed overtime to dispose of the Wolfpack at home. And in what’s becoming a clear theme, UVA’s only loss in the quadrant came in blowout fashion: a 76-54 drubbing at Notre Dame. 4-1 isn’t outstanding, but it’ll get the job done. Virginia needs to finish strong when they host Georgia Tech in their only remaining Quad 3 game.
The ‘Hoos are locked in with an 8-0 Quad 4 record against an assortment of non-conference cupcakes and the ACC’s two basement dwellers, Notre Dame and Louisville. The most notable result in this category came in a sleepy, too-close-for-comfort win against Northeastern when the Huskies nearly stole a game from the ‘Hoos at JPJ over winter break. UVA ultimately won 56-54, but had a few late possessions gone the other way the Cavaliers would be staring down a Quad 4 loss which would be debilitating for their resume.
Why don’t the metrics love the ‘Hoos?
In the current NET rankings, Virginia (17-5, NET 42) trails three ACC teams with worse records this season: Wake Forest (14-7, NET 41), Clemson (14-7, NET 37) and Duke (16-5, NET 19). Why? The answer is pretty simple: all of Virginia’s losses have been blowouts, and they don’t have any major non-conference victories to hang their hat on and boost their metrics with. Clemson has struggled in ACC play, but also beat Alabama on the road. Duke beat Michigan State and Baylor. Virginia beat... Florida? Texas A&M? Those wins just don’t carry the same pedigree.
It’s also worth noting that Virginia just finished up perhaps the easiest 10-game stretch any team will play in the ACC this season; their conference strength of schedule so far ranks 15th by a pretty significant margin. They did start their more difficult stretch with a good road win over a Clemson team which perpetually melts down in conference play under Brad Brownell. If the ‘Hoos can keep putting together wins — and hopefully start to win in more convincing fashion — against the real meat of their schedule, they’ll see a commensurate rise in their NET rank.