Friedlander: For ACC teams, building NCAA Tournament resumes is all about the Quads
Clemson stands alone atop the ACC standings at 7-0, 2 full games clear of everyone else in the conference.
That’s a big deal for the Tigers, who after 70 years as a member of the league are still waiting to celebrate their 1st men’s basketball championship.
But when it comes to NCAA Tournament seeding – or even getting into the 68-team field, for that matter – that early perch atop the ACC has about as much value as Bitcoin in a cash-only establishment.
Welcome to the world of college basketball in 2023, where overall win totals don’t matter as much as they used to and conference records mean even less. Thanks to the NET rankings – an acronym that stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool – the quality of wins now means more than the actual number of wins teams achieve.
Or as they say in figure skating, it’s all about the Quads.
In this case, we’re talking about games divided into 4 numbered quadrants. Contrary to the flips and twirls that take place on the ice, no one is jumping up and down over this system.
Here’s how it works:
Home games against teams ranked 1-30 in the NET, neutral site games against teams ranked 1-50 and road games against teams ranked 1-75 are classified as Quad 1. Quad 2 games are those against teams ranked 31-75 at home, 51-100 neutral and 76-135 on the road while Quad 3 involves teams ranked 76-160 at home, 101-200 neutral and 135-240 on the road.
Everything else falls under Quad 4.
The more Quad 1 wins and fewer Quad 4 losses a team has, the better its chance of seeing its name flashed on the screen on Selection Sunday.
It’s a confusing formula that produced some head-scratching decisions by the selection committee last spring – the most notable of which was Wake Forest being left out despite a 13-8 ACC record (23-9 overall) while Michigan (17-14, 7-9 Big Ten) and Marquette (19-12, 11-8 Big East) were among the teams that got in.
“It’s a little different than when I coached 4-5 years ago,” NC State’s Kevin Keatts said. “We used to always say if you go .500 in the ACC, it’s a lock to get into the (NCAA) Tournament. Wake Forest won 13 (league) games and it didn’t happen. Now it’s about Quad opportunities.”
Keatts’ Wolfpack has taken advantage of several recent opportunities, stringing together wins against Duke, Virginia Tech and Miami that are likely to be helpful to their postseason chances.
But Keatts isn’t ready to start talking about tournament resumes just yet.
And it’s more than just coachspeak. The reason he’s not tallying up his Quad 1-2 wins is because they’re likely to change, several times, between now and the end of the season.
As Wake’s Steve Forbes knows only too well.
“Last year, against (North) Carolina, that win (didn’t hold up) and that was wrong because they were national runner-up,” Forbes said. “They had a great year, a tremendous year. But we didn’t get credit for the (Quad 1) win, which is why I don’t really believe in (the NET). It matters when you play teams.
“There are a lot of things you don’t control, so that’s why you’ve got to stay focused on what’s ahead of you. That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time studying that stuff, especially now because it’s going to fluctuate.”
That having been said, the ACC appears to be better positioned to get more teams into the field than the 5 it got a year ago.
You’d never know it from the way the national talking heads continue to use the conference as their punching bag.
But while the ACC might not be as top-heavy as usual, with a team other than the brand names currently at the top of the standings, there are more Quad 1-2 wins to be had because of the depth throughout the league.
Consider that 7 conference teams currently have multiple Quad 1 wins to their credit. And that doesn’t include UNC, which is the 4th-highest ranked ACC squad at No. 34.
Miami’s 5 Quad 1 victories lead the conference and are tied for the 2nd-most nationally behind only Purdue and Kansas. Clemson has the next most with 4, including Saturday’s home triumph against Duke.
And yet because the Tigers also have unsightly Quad 4 losses to South Carolina and Loyola of Chicago, the NET has them ranked only 51st. That would put them squarely on the NCAA bubble, even though they’re on top of the ACC standings.
“I’m not losing any sleep over it right now,” coach Brad Brownell said. “We’re just going to go about our business, keep our head down, keep working and those things will take care of themselves.”
At this point in the season, the only thing Brownell and his team can do – along with everyone else in the ACC, for that matter – is win as many games as possible and remember that when it comes to the NCAA Tournament these days, it’s all about the Quads.