SALT LAKE CITY — Chances for postseason play seemed bleak for the Runnin’ Utes as they neared the regular season finale and conference tournament play. But an overtime win against Colorado at home was able to give the Utes a bit of hope as it added another quality win to its resume.
In the Mid-Major Madness bracket, which gives projections for the NIT, John Templon has Utah as a four seed playing against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
How are they projected as a four seed in the NIT? Could the Runnin’ Utes actually make a postseason tournament with a 16-14 regular season record? And with 15 of their 17 players being freshman and sophomores?
"I know people look at Utah's 86 NET and wonder if they're really trending to be an NIT team, but the answer is yes," Templon tweeted out Monday night. "Their wins are good (9-11 vs. Q1/Q2) and their SOR and KPI are definitely NIT worthy."
Let's break his language down. We’ll also touch on the reasoning behind why some projections such as midmajormadness.com have the Utes in the NIT, and why some others are leaving Utah out of their NIT projections.
"NET" is the NCAA’s evaluation tool they use to determine how good a team is. This includes strength of schedule, results, location, and quality of wins.
Utah is currently the 86th-best team out of 353 Division I college basketball teams, according to NET. That's good, but even that is a bubble tournament team for the NIT. This is why many bracket projectors such as dratings.com and thebarkingcrow.com don’t have Utah in their pre-conference tournament projections.
The Runnin’ Utes were 9-11 against Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 teams. Quadrant 1 wins are home games against a top 30-ranked team, neutral games against a top 50 team, or a road victory against a top 75 team. Quadrant 2 wins are home games against teams ranked between No. 31 and No. 75, neutral games against teams ranked between No. 51 and No. 100, and away games against teams ranked between No. 76 and No. 135.
During the 2019-20 season, Utah topped No. 14 BYU and No. 6 Kentucky, among others on their way to nine quality wins.
The strength of record, or SOR, which takes into account how well a team did with the difficulty of their schedule, ranks Utah 74th, which is a good ranking for the NIT selection committee. Utah's 16-14 record looks a bit better stacked against a 47th ranked strength of schedule, showing their interest in Utah’s strength of record.
"KPI" is based on a -1.0 to 1.0 scale, from worst possible win to best possible win. These scores are then averaged out throughout the season to determine a team's winning ability against top teams. To give perspective, the Kansas Jayhawks ranked No. 1 in KPI with a score of .502. The Runnin’ Utes are ranked at No. 63 with a .182.
Before you think that 63 isn’t very good, 68 teams make the NCAA Tournament each year. The Utes would be a bubble team in the big dance if the selection was strictly off of KPI rankings. According to KPI, Utah’s best win came in a neutral court game against No. 6 Kentucky, while their worst loss came in a neutral court defeat against Tulane.
The Runnin’ Utes' chances to make a postseason tournament can be benefitted by a victory over Oregon State on Wednesday, which would add another Q2 victory to Utah’s resume. If they can get past the Beavers, their stock will only rise with each game played in the Pac-12 Tournament.
There is still a chance the young Utes could make the NIT during the 2019-20 season. Help from other teams, alongside at least one victory in the Pac-12 Tournament isn’t necessary, but it would absolutely be a benefit to Utah’s odds.
Stay tuned as Utah takes on the Oregon State Beavers in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The game will take place on Wednesday at 1 p.m. MDT on the Pac-12 Networks.