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Does resume matter or do weird computer metrics matter?

It’s a new feeling that we’re actually discussing Vanderbilt’s NCAA Tournament chances!

NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s February 21, and yes, we’re discussing Vanderbilt’s NCAA Tournament resume. Which is... a place we haven’t been in a while. On February 21, in 2018, Vanderbilt was 11-17; in 2019 and 2020, 9-17; in 2021, 6-12; and last season, 14-12. (Last year’s team would promptly lose three in a row, but I don’t recall ever even considering the possibility that we might make the tournament.)

Vanderbilt also ranks 87th in NET, the NCAA’s proprietary ranking that it says is merely a “sorting tool,” and yet no team with Vanderbilt’s NET ranking has ever made the NCAA Tournament since the NCAA started using it. Vanderbilt is also 47 in RPI, the old-school metric that the NCAA doesn’t use any more for reasons that never really made any sense. If you want to know the “why,” it basically comes down to people complaining about the inaccuracy of the RPI — which is a different way of saying that the RPI only cared about wins and losses. Whereas NET pretty closely tracks with KenPom and other margin of victory-based metrics that notoriously don’t care if you win or lose. But if it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, then what are we even doing here?

Which brings me to this:

What’s the difference?

Team NET KenPom RPI Q1 record Q2 record Q3/Q4 record SOS Non-Conf SOS
Team NET KenPom RPI Q1 record Q2 record Q3/Q4 record SOS Non-Conf SOS
Vanderbilt 87 87 47 4-7 3-3 8-2 25 112
Nevada 35 37 5 3-5 6-2 10-0 36 65
Mississippi State 43 41 61 3-5 4-4 11-0 61 274
USC 56 47 57 3-5 5-1 11-2 58 122
Wisconsin 76 71 69 5-6 4-4 6-1 11 138

The four teams included are the Last Four In of Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology. Lunardi lists out eight teams in the “First Four Out” and the “Next Four Out” and Vanderbilt isn’t included in either of those groups. (They were “considered” according to a tweet that Lunardi sent out, but they apparently aren’t all that close to making the field.)

But just leave aside the NET and KenPom numbers for a minute and look at the “resume” portion of this. Obviously there are going to be some discrepancies, but are you noticing some massive difference between Vanderbilt’s resume and those of the last few teams in the tournament? Vanderbilt has four Quad 1 wins, or one more than Nevada, Mississippi State, and USC. They do have one fewer Quad 1 win than Wisconsin, but then Wisconsin isn’t liked by KenPom or NET, either. And while Vanderbilt does have a Quad 3 loss (Southern Miss) and a Quad 4 loss (Grambling), well, uh, that’s also true of USC, and one of their bad losses came last week at Oregon State.

Really, the only difference between Vanderbilt’s resume and those of Nevada, Mississippi State, and USC is that the Commodores aren’t liked by metrics that take margin of victory into account. Basically “yeah you beat Tennessee, a team that NET views as better than any team that any of these teams have beaten, but you only did it by one point, so we don’t think that’s as good as beating Arkansas-Pine Bluff by 30.”

In other words, if NET is not a sorting tool, NET is a way for the NCAA to reward teams for running up the score. Cool.