How the new 'quadrant system' will impact NCAA tournament hopefuls this March

The Dagger
The NCAA tweaked its system of grouping victories to boost the value of winning away from home (Getty Images)
The NCAA tweaked its system of grouping victories to boost the value of winning away from home (Getty Images)

Another word has infiltrated college basketball’s March parlance this year.

You’ll no doubt hear commentators say “quadrant” over the next 10 days just as frequently as they do “bubble” or “bracket.”

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The NCAA announced last summer that it was tweaking the way its selection committee groups wins and losses to place greater emphasis on where games are played. The new quadrant system devalues home wins and increases the importance of victories attained at a neutral site or on the road.

When the NCAA tournament selection committee convenes this month, its team sheets will group wins and losses into four tiers. Quadrant 1 will include home results against top 30 RPI teams, neutral-court results against top 50 teams and road results against top 70 teams. The three subsequent quadrants follow a similar pattern.

Quadrant 1: Home 1-30; Neutral 1-50; Away 1-75
Quadrant 2: Home 31-75; Neutral 51-100; Away 76-135
Quadrant 3: Home 76-160; Neutral 101-200; Away 136-240
Quadrant 4: Home 161-plus; Neutral 201-plus; Away 241-plus.

The quadrant system is undeniably an improvement over the way the selection committee’s team sheets were organized in the past. Victories over top 50 or top 100 teams previously were treated identically regardless of venue even though it’s more difficult to beat a formidable opponent on the road than at home.

While taking into account where a game is played is a notable step forward, the quadrant system still has some glaring flaws. The biggest is that it’s dependent on a primitive, outdated metric to determine what a quality win and bad loss is.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. This year’s RPI overrates Texas A&M (19-11, RPI 22) and Temple (16-13, RPI 44) and underrates Michigan State (28-3, RPI 13) and Gonzaga (27-4, RPI 31) because of its overemphasis on playing good teams.

It also hurts the RPI’s credibility that it doesn’t take margin of victory into account. 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 is relevant in determining the strength of a team.

The NCAA took a step toward addressing those problems last 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 ideas on how best to include more metrics in the selection process.

A new composite metric would improve the selection process, but the NCAA still needs to address the other flaw in the quadrant system. The tiers include too wide a swathe of teams, equating wins that really aren’t that similar.

The way quadrant 1 is currently defined, a team gets the same value out of beating Duke or Virginia at home as it does Florida State or Boise State on a neutral site or UCF or Murray State on the road. That seems less than ideal, even if committee members insist they look beyond numbers and provide context to them.

More tiers would certainly help alleviate this issue. If tier 1 included home wins against the top 15, neutral wins against the top 25 and road wins against the top 35 for example, that might be a more accurate tool.

But flawed or not, the quadrant system is still an improvement over the way the selection committee grouped wins and losses in the past.

You just might be tired of hearing the word “quadrant” over and over by the time Selection Sunday arrives.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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