Even with one loss, the Arkansas basketball team is in a much better position in the initial NET rankings, which dropped Monday morning, than a year ago.
After debuting at No. 44 despite an 8-0 record last season, this version of the Razorbacks — with a 7-1 record — checks in at No. 25 in the all-important metric.
The NET, or NCAA Evaluation Tool, replaced the old RPI prior to the 2018-19 season and is calculated using a variety of factors, including game results — with consideration given to location of the game and strength of opponent — and net efficiency ratings.
It isn’t the end-all, be-all, but the NET is the primary metric used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. NET rankings and game location are used to sort opponents into the four “quadrants” you hear about as March approaches:
- Quadrant 1 (Q1): Home 1-30, Neutral 1-50, Away 1-75
- Quadrant 2 (Q2): Home 31-75, Neutral 51-100, Away 76-135
- Quadrant 3 (Q3): Home 75-160, Neutral 101-200, Away 136-240
- Quadrant 4 (Q4): Home 161-363, Neutral 201-363, Away 241-363
The 19-spot difference between Arkansas’ starting points the last two years is likely due to the quality of opponents it has played. Even though it was 8-0 when the initial NET rankings dropped last season, six of its wins were classified as Q4 games. It also had one Q1 and one Q2 victory.
So far this season, the Razorbacks are 1-1 in Q1 games, 3-0 in Q3 games and 3-0 in Q4 games. The result is having a strength of schedule ranked No. 233 — which still isn’t great, but much better than last year being at No. 290 through eight games.
Of course, winning cures all issues. Arkansas saw its NET drop all the way to No. 98 before climbing all the way back up to No. 20 with a strong second half of the season.
The good news is that, if they can avoid ugly losses like they had last year against Hofstra, the Razorbacks have a much higher starting point from which to begin that climb.
Here are a few other takeaways from the initial NET rankings as they relate to Arkansas basketball…
1. Thanks for Nothing, Louisville
Perhaps the most notable takeaway from the initial NET rankings, both for Arkansas basketball and from a national perspective, was the fact that Louisville is at No. 361 out of 363 Division I teams.
Led by first-year coach Kenny Payne, the Cardinals are 0-8. They opened the year with three straight one-point losses to mid- and low-major opponents before the Razorbacks were the first of three teams to blow them out at the Maui Invitational. Since returning to the mainland, Louisville has lost to Maryland and Miami (Fla.) at home by a combined 52 points.
Why does this matter to Arkansas basketball? Well, typically when you play a program with as much history as Louisville at a neutral site, you can usually count on it being at least a Q2 opportunity and no worse than a Q4.
Instead, the Cardinals are so bad that they aren’t even registering on Arkansas’ team sheet that breaks down the schedule into the quadrants because the NCAA has not extended the parameters to include all 363 teams — it’s still set at the 358 teams from last year.
“I think that Coach Payne will figure out a way to continue to improve that team,” Eric Musselman said. “But certainly in the Maui Classic, going into that, looking at the field, you certainly think there’s going to be three real quality opponents. Like I said, I do think that Louisville … It’s always hard on a first-year coach in any sport. It’s really difficult to try to put schemes in offensively, defensively, and then your culture as well.”
It seems like a long shot at this point, but if Louisville could just climb into the top 200 in the NET, it would be one less Q4 game for Arkansas.
2. Who Arkansas is Cheering For
It’s hardly a secret that Eric Musselman is not a fan of San Diego State. The Aztecs were his rival when he played at San Diego and they were his top competition in the Mountain West when he was the coach at Nevada. Their fans don’t like him and the feeling is mutual — as evidenced by the postgame incident in Maui that Musselman has since apologized for.
Despite those feelings, he and the Razorbacks probably need to be huge San Diego State fans the rest of the season. It checked in at No. 45 in the initial NET rankings, which puts it just inside Q1 for Arkansas.
That’s exactly where Cincinnati — a team Arkansas beat on a neutral court last season — debuted, but it ended up dropping all the way to No. 99 by Selection Sunday, barely making it a Q2 game. If the Razorbacks want to earn a 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it needs as many Q1 wins as it can get.
Likewise, Oklahoma — which the Razorbacks play in Tulsa on Saturday — is sitting at No. 46 in the NET rankings already. Arkansas basketball fans should be rooting for the Sooners this season so they can remain a Q1 opponent, just as they were last year.
As far as other non-conference opponents are concerned, Bradley and Fordham are relatively close to jumping up from Q3 to Q2. Bradley, which Arkansas plays Dec. 17 in North Little Rock, is at No. 79 and Fordham, which Arkansas beat 74-48 on Nov. 11, is at No. 98. They would need to get inside the top 75 to move quadrants.
3. Not Many Q1 Chances at Bud Walton Arena
As things currently stand in the NET, Arkansas won’t get too many Q1 opportunities in front of its home crowd. In fact, the Razorbacks are set to play only two teams in the top 30 of the initial rankings — No. 8 Alabama (Jan. 11) and No. 5 Mississippi State (Feb. 11).
That would be half as many as last year, when it had four Q1 SEC games in Fayetteville and six on the road.
However, there’s a decent chance that number will grow by the end of the season. Missouri is just outside of the top 30, sitting at No. 34, but who knows if it will continue its hot start to the season. A team more likely to jump into that Q1 range is Kentucky, which is No. 42 in the initial NET rankings.
4. SEC Appears Strong Again
The SEC was as strong as its been in quite some time last year. Even though it didn’t necessarily translate to postseason success, the conference got six teams in the NCAA Tournament, with a pair of 2 seeds, a 3 seed and a 4 seed (Arkansas). Another team — Texas A&M — was one of the first teams out and finished runner-up in the NIT.
When the NET rankings first came out last season, the 14 SEC teams had an average ranking of 76.7. This year? The 14 teams have an average ranking of 76.1.
Assuming there aren’t many slip-ups against bad teams between now and the start of conference play, that ranking should only climb. By Selection Sunday last season, the average rank was 63.6.
In the most recent AP Poll, Arkansas moved up to No. 9 and is one of six SEC teams in the top 25, with the others being No. 7 Tennessee, No. 8 Alabama, No. 11 Auburn, No. 16 Kentucky and No. 23 Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs are off to a surprising 8-0 start, while Texas A&M spent time in the top 25 earlier in the season but is off to a disappointing 5-3 start. Missouri, which is 9-0, also received a couple of votes in the AP Poll.
If those teams continue playing well, Arkansas should benefit from a strength of schedule aspect in conference play.
“Mississippi State has done a great job, Missouri has played great basketball,” Eric Musselman said. “There’s a lot programs right now that have had really, really good non-conference success in the SEC — obviously, Tennessee and Kentucky and Auburn and Alabama.
“There are a lot of teams that are really playing good basketball. The SEC, just like the last couple years, is really challenging every night.”
SEC Basketball in the NET
|Team||Location vs. Arkansas||Quadrant|
|5. Mississippi State||Home||Q1|
|66. Ole Miss||Home||Q2|
|120. Texas A&M||Home/Away||Q3/Q2|
|294. South Carolina||Away||Q4|
NET of Arkansas Basketball Non-Conference Opponents
|Nov. 7||vs. North Dakota State||No. 333 (Q4)||W, 76-58|
|Nov. 11||vs. Fordham||No. 98 (Q3)||W, 74-48|
|Nov. 16||vs. South Dakota State||No. 138 (Q3)||W, 71-56|
|Nov. 21||*vs. Louisville||No. 361 (Q4)||W, 80-54|
|Nov. 22||*vs. Creighton||No. 33 (Q1)||L, 90-87|
|Nov. 23||*vs. San Diego State||No. 45 (Q1)||W, 78-74|
|Nov. 28||vs. Troy||No. 128 (Q3)||W, 74-61|
|Dec. 3||vs. San Jose State||No. 199 (Q4)||W, 99-58|
|Dec. 6||vs. UNC Greensboro||No. 242 (Q4)|
|Dec. 10||*vs. Oklahoma||No. 46 (Q1)|
|Dec. 17||vs. Bradley||No. 79 (Q3)|
|Dec. 21||vs. UNC Asheville||No. 193 (Q4)|
|Jan. 28||at Baylor||No. 32 (Q1)|
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