By Phil Collin
Fullerton, Calif., November 21, 2018 – It may only be November, but when the 2018 Wooden Legacy tips off Thursday, all eight teams in the tournament have at least a sliver of their eye on March.
Because whatever happens at Titan Gym on the Cal State Fullerton campus this weekend will stay remembered when it comes time for the NCAA to announce its March Madness field.
It’s a new year for the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which has abandoned the old Ratings Percentage Index for the brand-new NCAA Evaluation Tool. No more RPI; now they shoot all NET.
“That’s another acronym that they were apparently up all night thinking of,” ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi said. “We don’t know how they’re going to use the NET and we don’t know how heavily weighted it’s going to be. It’s replacing an RPI that in recent years has been devalued by the committee. Common sense would say the NCAA built a new toy, they’re probably going to want to play with it a lot.”
Naturally, it will apply mainly to the so-called power five conferences, which are represented in Fullerton by Miami, Northwestern, Seton Hall and Utah. It will likely be up to La Salle, Hawai’i, Fresno State and Grand Canyon to win their conference tournaments to advance.
But every team has a chance to bolster their standing in the early season and after each plays their three games, they’ll wish all their opponents the best of luck as they move forward.
“In any of these metrics, a game on Nov. 20 is just as important as Feb. 20,” Lunardi said. “So, if Miami is playing Seton Hall and they’re both on the bubble, a neutral court game played at 11:30 in the morning in Fullerton, those games on your team sheet are just as important as your conference tournament semifinal if Miami’s playing Duke.
“We tend to see it differently, because in the moment everybody’s paying attention on Feb. 20. These games are critically important and if anything, last year in the case of Oklahoma with Trae Young, they were 2-9 against the (NCAA) field in the calendar year after Jan. 1. But they piled up five or six quality wins in November-December, and that’s how they got in.
“So, whether you or I believe the latter portion of the season should be more heavily weighted, that’s not the way they do it. We have to take these games seriously even if we haven’t carved the turkey yet.”
The tournament opens with Miami (3-0) taking on La Salle, followed by Northwestern (3-0) facing Fresno State. In the evening session, Seton Hall (1-2) goes against Grand Canyon (3-1) followed by Hawaii (3-1) vs. Utah (2-1).
Miami has the best pedigree in ESPN tournaments. In eight events, the Hurricanes have built an 18-6 record and taken home titles twice in Puerto Rico (2007 and ’15) and Charleston (2009 and ’14).