TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — As far as Dazon Ingram is concerned, it’s too early to be thinking about his team’s chances for making the NCAA Tournament.
There’s eight regular-season games to go, plus the SEC Tournament before Selection Sunday rolls around on March 17
“I feel like that’s not important right now,” the University of Alabama junior guard said. “The next SEC game is.”
Nevertheless, the NCAA Tournament is never too far from anyone’s minds especially since the selection committee had its early reveal of the top 16, which will eventually correspond into the four favorites in each region.
Alabama (15-8 overall) wasn’t mentioned. It wasn’t expected to be either as the Crimson Tide hasn’t been ranked in the AP Top 25.
However, it is on pace to make the field of 68 for the second straight year.
According to bracketmatrix.com — which as of now is looking at 108 different projected brackets, Alabama is in the field in 106 of them.
The predictions range from a No. 8 seed by CrashingTheDance.com, while DPIBracketology had Alabama as a No. 12, facing Utah State in a first-round game in the East, with the winner facing No. 5 Iowa State in Harford, Conn.
The general belief is that if the tournament started today it would be an No. 11 seed, but some of the most established tournament experts have come to a different consensus. Among them:
• Joe Lundardi, ESPN: His latest “Bracketology” was updated today, and has Alabama as the No. 10-seed in the East, facing Buffalo in Des Moines. The winner would get the winner of No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Loyola-Chicago. He projects the SEC with seven bids, with Florida among the first four out.
• Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com: On Monday, he had Alabama at the No. 10-seed in the East, playing Cincinnati in Des Moines. The winner would play the winner of No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 15 South Dakota State. He also has Alabama listed as a bubble team. Palm projects seven SEC teams in the tournament with Arkansas among the first four out.
• Andy Katz, NCAA.com: The analyst did a full bracket projection on Sunday and also had Alabama the No. 10 seed in the East, facing Syracuse.
Yet even they aren’t sure by what criteria the tournament committee will ultimately use to select and seed the teams.
The great unknown: The Net
This was the second straight year in which the NCAA made a significant change about how teams are picked for the championship tournament.
Last year it adopted the quadrant system, which was designed to better reward road wins. It’s still being utilized, only now there’s also NCAA Evaluation Tool, known as the NET.
The ratings are used to classify teams within the quadrant system rather than the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) – which had been the selection committee’s primary tool for evaluating teams since 1981.
Specifically, instead of using the top 50, top 100, 200 and 201 and above as dividing categories, the quadrants are as follows:
- 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 135-240
- Quadrant 4: Home 161-353, Neutral 201-353, Away 241-353
The criteria the NET ratings go by include “game results, strength of schedule, game location, scoring margin, net offensive and defensive efficiency and the quality of wins and losses.”
All games are supposed to be weighed equally, so early-season results mattering as much as the most recent, and margin of victory was capped at 10 points in an effort to keep teams from running up the score.
The selection committee can also use other metrics, everything from computer rankings to strength of schedule, but judging by how it's been doing the early-look seeding there appears be a heavy reliance on the NET rankings.
All of this has only confused the bejeebies out of fans.
Alabama’s road to the tournament
Coming into Tuesday night’s game at Mississippi State, the Crimson Tide is ranked No. 43 in the latest NCAA NET rankings and are 25th in strength of schedule.
It’s coming off wins against Georgia and at Vanderbilt last week. Neither is ranked high by NET (114th and 124th, respectively), but Alabama avoided taking any damaging hits to its tournament resume.
“We were fortunate to win those games,” Coach Avery Johnson said. “I don’t necessarily like from a rebounding standpoint where we are overall. We can still rebound a little bit better. Our decision making needs to improve. We still haven’t figured out a way for a team that’s an experienced team to hold on to leads, that are 10-or-more points.”
Things will be significantly tougher this week, with two opponents rated ahead of Alabama. Here’s the remaining schedule by week, and each opponent’s NET ranking:
- At Mississippi State, 29; Florida, 41
- At Texas A&M, 87; Vanderbilt, 124
- At South Carolina, 99; LSU, 17
- Auburn, 20; At Arkansas, 62
If the ratings hold true, Alabama should go 4-4. That would mean a 19-12 overall record, 10-8 in the SEC, at the conclusion of the regular season. It would likely put the Crimson Tide in a similar situation as a year ago, needing a win in the SEC Tournament to secure its spot in the NCAA field.
The Crimson Tide is currently tried for fifth in the league standings. If it finished there Alabama would have a first-round bye in Nashville (March 13-17), then play the winner of the No. 12-13 game. Right now that would be Texas A&M vs. Georgia.
The team that advanced to the third round would likely get the No. 4 seed, currently held by South Carolina.
In this scenario, there’s the potential for an SEC Tournament run.
Regardless, Alabama’s NCAA Tournament chances will remain good if it simply wins the games it should, stay in the top half of the SEC and avoid a significant letdown. Five wins may be enough, with six there should be no doubt.
But considering how tight the league is there’s little margin for error.