Column | NET rankings are unjustly punishing Pitt men’s basketball


Ethan Shulman | Staff Photographer

Graduate student guard Nelly Cummings (0) and graduate student guard Greg Elliott (3) celebrate during Pitt men’s basketball’s game against Wake Forest on Wednesday, Jan. 25.

By Mason Carter, Staff Writer

14 out of a possible 15 teams. That’s the place Pitt men’s basketball was predicted to finish in the ACC, according to the media during their annual preseason rankings.

Fast forward to one month left in the season, and the Panthers are tied for first in the conference, alongside Virginia. However there’s one big difference between these teams. Virginia, which sits at No. 7 in the AP poll, is already considered a great team. The Panthers, on the other hand, still have to fight to earn people’s belief. Why is this?

Throughout college basketball history, most people looked at the AP poll as the most accurate rankings of teams. The AP poll consists of weekly votes by writers or other AP members across the country. Each week these individual rankings are compiled based on points they received from voters, in a one through 25 order. 

These were the rankings that most people would use for tournament projections or comparing their teams to others nationally. In the past couple of years though, a new set of rankings was released, downgrading the importance of the AP poll.

“Definitely not disparaging the Associated Press basketball rankings, but the NCAA Basketball Tournament selection committee doesn’t consider or look at them,” Wally Hall said.

The NCAA NET rankings are the new cool kid in school. NET rankings were introduced into college basketball in 2018 and quickly became a prominent tool for the NCAA selection committee. The rankings are an update of the established RPI, which uses a team’s winning percentage, their opponent’s winning percentage and their opponent’s opponent’s winning percentage. 

The NET rankings use these same factors while including many more metrics that weren’t previously available. The AP poll still assigns the number next to a team’s name, but where your team sits in NET rankings is more important.

Also, understanding the rankings and agreeing with them are two separate things. The Panthers are a prime example of a team who is disrespected in both the AP and NET rankings. 

Coming into today, the Panthers have won their last six games and eight of their last nine games. They are sitting tied atop of the ACC, with a 12-3 conference record to go along with their 19-7 overall record. This resumé is quite solid and should warrant some attention — but is receiving little.

The Panthers received a total of 82 points in the AP poll, coming in at 29 — not quite the top 25. In this poll, all three ranked ACC teams — No. 8 Virginia, No. 23 NC State and No. 15 Miami — were defeated by the Panthers this season in conference play. 

The rankings also featured teams with worse records, like No. 19 Iowa State, who stand at 16-8 and No. 18 Creighton, who are 17-7, but play in so-called tougher conferences. Considering the strength of a conference is reasonable. However, it’s not fair to give teams respect for losing games in their respective conferences but not show respect to teams dominating their conference.

When you head over to the more attributed NET rankings, the Panthers are ranked much lower. They are sitting at No. 49, which is actually down a spot from last week’s ranking of No. 48. This is one of those moments when analytics hide the truth. 

The rankings continue to punish the Panthers for their slow start, which featured back-to-back blowout losses from Michigan and WVU, along with a close defeat to VCU. Even with notable ACC wins, including UNC twice, Miami, NC State and Virginia, the Panthers can’t seem to jump up in the NET Rankings. 

It’s confusing how teams like Kentucky, who have zero quad one wins compared to the Panther’s five, are still ranked above them. The analytics want to knock Pitt for beating their competition but boost other teams because of their close losses. 

Head coach Jeff Capel and the players may avoid focusing on these rankings. But to the fans, they are important. It’s more than just a number next to Pitt, but a symbol to show the progress. Pitt hasn’t entered the top 25 since 2016 and has experienced some forgettable seasons since then. For fans, seeing Pitt in the top 25 just shows how far the program has come.