Ignore the Analysts, Ducks Still Good for Tournament

Jordan Ingram Editorials

Enough of the bubble babble, folks. Let’s give it a rest.

When the Oregon Ducks men’s basketball team missed the game-winning shot to fall to the No. 16 USC Trojans on Saturday night in Eugene, many believe the bubble may have finally burst. But I refuse to join the growing crowd of heretics. I find it hard to believe Dana Altman’s team won’t find its way into this year’s tournament.

According to the Denver Post, the Ducks (18-11, 11-7 Pac 12) “entered Sunday ranked 58th in the NET rankings and sitting on the wrong side of the bubble according to BracketMatrix, which had them appearing on just 14 of 98 projected brackets.”

Boy, that doesn’t sound too good (Why is a Colorado daily reporting on Oregon’s NCAA Tournament chances?)

What is NET, you ask? NCAA Evaluation Tool, which replaced the Ratings Power Index, or RPI, in 2018 to sort and seed teams for the NCAA tournament. For NET, the formula is based on two elements — Team Value Index and adjusted net efficiency rating. Team Value Index “rewards teams for beating quality opponents, particularly away from home.”

The net efficiency rating is a team’s overall efficiency, which is determined through a mathematical formula (see image below), likely created by some guy living in his mother’s basement in a land-locked state buried somewhere in the middle of the country. Warren Nolan, a bracketologist and radar system analyst at Northrup Grumman (who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma), breaks down the Ducks’ NET pretty clearly on his website.

Image courtesy of NCAA

Maybe numbers don’t lie, but people do. At the very least, analysts with biases and no official connection to the tournament often make mistakes and issue bum forecasts.

Joe Lunardi, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, now has the Ducks on the bubble as “first four out,” meaning one of four teams missing this year’s tournament by a narrow margin. But Barstool Sports reminded everyone about how seriously to take Lunardi’s pseudo-wizardry when it comes to predicting brackets:

“Joe Lunardi is not on the committee. The committee does not pay attention to Joe Lunardi. Stop worrying about what he’s projecting – his job is to guess what the committee is going to do and how brackets are set. It means nothing what Lunardi has.” 

During Oregon’s victory over UCLA on Thursday, play-by-play commentator Bill Walton ribbed Lunardi for his less-than-favorable tournament projections for the Ducks (and the Pac-12 Conference overall).

“Joe, that makes no sense. Why does a loss against a great team count against you? Please. Somebody has to lose. You call these other truckstop conferences…you sprinkle rose pedals in their paths and they get to the NCAA Tournament. Please. What about a meritocracy?

Walton went on to challenge Lunardi to a UFC-style cage match.

So, how do the Ducks make it into the tournament? Oregon’s resume is filled with too many potholes of embarrassing losses against teams with average and/or losing records, right? Remember Stanford? Cal? Arizona State, twice?

It’s simple: Pac-12 Tournament. The winner gets an automatic bid to March Madness. And while it may seem like a Hail Mary without a snowball’s chance in hell, the Ducks have done it before (2018-19 season). And they went on to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

Maybe it’s a bridge too far for some of the sports realists, number crunchers and cynical pencil pushers out there. But I’m firmly enrolled at the Altman School of Postseason Success seeking a masters degree under Walton. Who’s with me?

Jordan Ingram
San Diego, California
Top photo by Gary Breedlove

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