Friday Column: Nevada’s Alley-Oop Wasn’t “For The NET”
The new NET rating is making fans, coaches, and the media go insane
Scoring on the final possession of garbage time does nothing to improve Nevada’s tournament resume
We all need to take a deep breath for a second.
We’re letting college basketball’s new NET rating lose whatever sanity we once had.
Alright. For those who don’t know, Nevada defeated Colorado State on Wednesday night to move to 22-1 on the season. The Wolf Pack led 96-82 in the closing seconds, and opted to complete this fantastic alley-oop between the Martin brothers with about 17 seconds left.
There’s already two sides to the story, both with a great deal of legitimacy.
First, you have the “don’t run up the score” crowd. I get that. I usually side with those folks as well. If the game has already been decided, there really is no need to put another two points on the board when the losing team expects the opponent to dribble the clock out.
The other side is the “play until the buzzer” crowd. I also get that. The game is 40 minutes long and every moment is an opportunity. Taking the last possessions off is more or less seen as lazy and selfish.
But on Wednesday night as I was sifting through Twitter and the many people who chimed in about the alley-oop, a really bizarre argument came up.
“It was for the NET.”
This guy can’t be serious.
Then another person.
Then another person.
Alrighty. Looks like I know what I’m writing about for Friday’s column.
So now, apparently, there are three sides to the argument. You have the “run the clock out” crowd (I get that), the “play until the buzzer” crowd (I get that), and lastly, the one that certainly calls for a deep dive, the “do it for the NET” crowd (I do not get that all).
If you don’t feel like understanding the actual math behind why this is an absurd take and should be uncontrollably laughed at, you might as well stop here.
If not, welcome aboard. Let’s begin.
Nevada has completed approximately 1,633 possessions through its first 23 games this season, equating to the 71.0 pace metric seen on Sports Reference (which means Nevada runs about 71 possessions per 40 minutes). The Wolf Pack has scored 1,889 points on those 1,633 possessions, which translates to 1.1567 points per possession or about 115.7 points per 100 possessions.
Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that Nevada opted to run out the clock with its final possession on Wednesday instead of completing the alley-oop. Nevada would then have then scored 1,887 points on those 1,633 possessions, which translates to 1.1555 points per possession or 115.5 points per 100 possessions.
Nevada’s efficiency on the season improved by two-tenths of a point per 100 possessions because of the alley-oop.
Two-tenths of a single point per 100 possessions.
That’s one point per 500 possessions.
Still not convinced? Alright.
Let’s say Nevada wins every remaining game between now and Selection Sunday – eight regular season games and three conference tournament games. If Nevada has the ball at the end of each of those 11 games and opts to hold until the buzzer, that means eleven empty possessions. If we assume that Nevada continues at its pace of 71 possessions per 40 minutes for its next 11 games, that will be a total of 781 possessions. Nevada’s averaging 1.1567 points per possession on the season, which would equate to about 903 points over those 781 possessions in the 11-game stretch.
Now, let’s take away 22 points off the top of that projected total (11 empty end-of-game possessions). Nevada would then have scored 881 points over 781 possessions for a points-per-possession average of 1.1280 for those 11 games.
Let’s compare the two now. The tables below show what Nevada’s efficiency ratings would look like if it wins each of the next 11 games and either doesn’t score a two-pointer on the final possession or does score a two-pointer on the final possession. On the left shows if Nevada runs out the clock and the right shows if Nevada scores on the final possession. Keep in mind we’re adding these projected 11 games to the top of Nevada’s 23 games already played on the season to get a projected season total.
The results are, well, about what I’d expect. Nevada’s offensive efficiency rank improves from 12th to 8th, allowing its efficiency margin to improve from 11th to 9th.
For those still unconvinced, remember that efficiency margin comprises just one of the five components of the NET rating formula. The before and after effects of Nevada’s NET rating are listed below.
In theory, the “every possession matters” argument is sexy but it doesn’t carry much weight at all. That quote is more of something that a team’s Twitter account would use to promote the team or something that would get printed on a team’s warm-up shirts.
In context of the actual season, how the tournament selection committee perceives a team on Selection Sunday, and what actually matters at the end of the day, scoring on the final possession of a 16-point game against a team ranked 175th in KenPom means literally nothing. Let’s not try to act smarter than we actually are.
Even if, magically, Nevada running up the score had a significant impact on its NET rating, how much does that even matter? Under the previous selection process, the actual RPI rating itself did not factor into seeding or team selection at all. The committee would never say, “Nevada is 5th in RPI so it should at least be a two-seed.” By definition, that’s not part of the selection process.
Why aren’t we pointing to the 150 free throws that Nevada has missed on the season? What about the nine games Nevada failed to shoot better than 30 percent from three-point range?
Most importantly, how about Nevada’s notable non-conference opponents completely falling flat this season?
It’s February and Nevada has zero results against NET Quadrant I opponents, despite beating three power-conference teams away from Reno during non-conference. Those are stats that actually matter on Selection Sunday.
Honestly, though. If you’re the type of parent/older sibling who deliberately swats your one-year old family member who is just learning to pick up a basketball because it “builds character” and that “every possession matters,” you do you.
Please, let’s be smarter than this.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and his work has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. Boettger is a current USBWA member.