It’s that time of the year.
As the calendar flips to February, only the shortest month of the year remains between die-hard college basketball fans and arguably the most exciting tournament in sports.
A year after cutting down the nets and winning the NCAA Tournament, Tony Bennett and the Virginia Cavaliers face a much different challenge this season. They’re fighting just to qualify for the Big Dance.
With hundreds of “bracketologists” out there, it’s hard to get an accurate feel for where Virginia stands in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. It takes a detailed look at the Cavaliers’ resume to gain an idea of where they fall in the bubble picture.
To understand Virginia’s NCAA Tournament chances, it’s important to understand what the selection committee looks at when determining. The official NCAA website lists 10 selection criteria:
Season-long evaluation of watching games
Box scores and results
Head-to-head results and results vs. common opponents
Imbalanced conference schedules and results
Strength of schedule
Quality of wins and losses
Player and coach availability
We won’t look at all 10 elements of Virginia’s NCAA Tournament resume, but a few of the different criteria stand out above the rest.
The NET rankings, which replaced the RPI a season ago, offer a good idea of which teams may make the Big Dance. Each team also receives a team sheet, which offers a detailed resume of each team’s best wins and losses among other information.
The lower a team’s NET ranking, the better. Virginia, which ranked 55th in the NET ranking system prior to Saturday’s slate of games, will find its NET ranking compared to other bubble teams should the Cavaliers continue on their current trajectory. The best way to boost a NET rating is with blowout road wins over top teams. That’s challenging.
Road wins in general carry tremendous value, making UVa’s road game against Louisville on Feb. 8 a critical matchup for the Cavaliers. Other marquee opportunities to boost the team’s NET ranking include a Feb. 29 game at home against Duke and a March 7 home showdown with Louisville. Outside of those contests, most individual games won’t dramatically increase Virginia’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Stacking together wins against middle-of-the-pack ACC teams also matters.
As the ACC battles for bids, keep close tabs on the NET rankings of fellow ACC bubble teams. N.C. State, Syracuse and Virginia Tech all sit in similar positions. Head-to-head matchups between those teams as well as NET ranking comparisons could matter when the season ends.
Quality of wins and losses
The NCAA selection committee uses the team sheets mentioned above to look at each bubble team’s wins and losses. Specifically, the committee looks to see which quadrant each win and loss falls under. The four quadrants represent the quality of victories, with Quad 1 victories being the best and Quad 4 victories carrying the least value.
The quadrant a win falls into changes throughout the season as the NET ranking of each team improves or becomes worse. For example, Virginia’s season-opening win at Syracuse is a Quad 1 win because it came on the road against a Syracuse team that finds itself in the top 75 of the NET rankings. A few weeks ago, when the Orange were a .500 team, the win wasn’t a Quad 1 victory.
On the season, Virginia is 2-2 in Quad 1 games, 4-2 in Quad 2 games, 4-2 in Quad 3 games and 4-0 in Quad 4 games. The Quad 3 losses came to South Carolina Boston College, and those represent Virginia’s worst losses of the season on paper. The best win is the home win over Florida State.
Home losses to N.C. State and Syracuse hurt the team’s NCAA Tournament hopes, as those add a pair Quad 2 losses to the resume against other ACC bubble teams. With 10 ACC games left, eight are currently Quad 1 or Quad 2 matchups. This means Virginia has a solid amount of opportunities to pick up quality wins. Four of the games are Quad 1 opportunities, which give Virginia its best chance at improving its resume.
Aside from the Boston College loss, the Cavaliers don’t have any terrible losses. South Carolina is a fringe Quad 2 loss, so UVa fans should root for the Gamecocks to win the rest of the way to improve the quality of that defeat. Aside from the victory over Florida State, the Cavaliers lack marquee wins.
When it comes to the quality of wins and losses, Virginia looks mediocre. The two games against Louisville and the one game against Duke carry plenty of weight for UVa’s chances of making the tournament.
Strength of schedule
Maybe UVa’s biggest concern is its strength of schedule, especially in the nonconference. The ACC is having a down season, which limits the ability to secure Quad 1 wins, but Virginia’s nonconference schedule failed to provide significant chances for quality wins.
Seven nonconference wins fell in the Quad 3 or Quad 4 categories, and the lone Quad 1 nonconference opportunity ended in a 29-point defeat at Purdue. According to KenPom, Virginia’s nonconference schedule ranks 279th nationally. The overall strength of schedule sits at 67th, but the easy nonconference foes don’t help UVa’s resume.
Luckily for Virginia, the metric should improve as ACC play winds down, as the Cavaliers face a handful of quality foes down the stretch, including Duke and Louisville.
The bottom line
Virginia finds itself on the bubble. To secure a spot in the Big Dance, the Cavaliers need to take advantage of resume-boosting opportunities against teams like Louisville and Duke. Taking care of business at home against teams like Clemson and Boston College also matters. Avoiding bad losses becomes critical this time of year.
The Cavaliers earned No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons. This year, they’re fighting for a spot in the field of 68.