As the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team tries to strengthen its bid for a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulls are mindful of the wins and losses on their schedule.
The No. 25 Bulls (23-3, 11-2 MAC), who have five regular-season games remaining, play Kent State (19-7, 8-5) at 7 p.m. Friday at Alumni Arena. UB is tied for first place with Bowling Green in the MAC East Division, and the Golden Flashes are third. The Bulls are jockeying for position in the all-important conference tournament. The champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“The best thing we can do is win our conference tournament and make sure we’re in,” UB coach Nate Oats said.
But if another team wins the MAC Tournament title, the Bulls have contingency plans to earn an at-large berth.
UB is cognizant of its quality wins, as determined by the quadrant system that the NCAA Tournament selection committee uses as a tool to help determine at-large bids for the tournament.
The quadrant system assigns weight to a team’s wins and losses contingent upon an opponent’s ranking in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET rankings) and the location of a game (home, neutral or away).
“You explain it to the point where (players) need to know, but after that, the only way you can use it is for a little extra motivation sometimes, if really we want to move our seeding up and have a chance at an at-large bid,” Oats said.
David Worlock, the NCAA’s director of media coordination and statistics, explained that the quadrant system sorts teams in a manner that places greater emphasis on facing teams in a true road game or on a neutral court.
“Historically, it’s been proven that winning on a neutral court or in a true road environment is more difficult than having success at home, particularly against quality competition,” Worlock told The News in an email. “The quadrant system places a premium on winning away from home and casts a wider net when it comes to scheduling opportunities because more teams fall into those first two quadrants, proving more chances at picking up quality wins.”
The quadrant system seems intimidating at first glance. It’s a rubric that determines the definition of quality wins and losses by ranking teams in Quadrant 1 (best), 2, 3 and 4 (worst).
UB guard Davonta Jordan explained the value of a Quadrant 1 game.
“It’s a game that we really need, so we can get an at-large bid,” Jordan said. “If it’s a Quad 1 game, then you really need that. But if it’s a Quad 3 or 4, it’s not as important as a Quad 1 (game). It’s a game that you can take to help seed yourself into the NCAA Tournament. There’s more weight to that win.”
How the quadrant system works
NET rankings designate which opponents fall into each quadrant. The Bulls were No. 18 in the NET as of Thursday afternoon, and are a Quadrant 1 win or loss for their opponents.
A team earns a Quadrant 1 win/loss if:
- it wins or loses a home game against a team ranked in the top 30 of the NET
- it wins or loses a neutral site game against a team ranked in the top 50 of the NET
- it wins or loses on the road against a team ranked in the top 75 of the NET
A team earns a Quadrant 2 win/loss if:
- it wins or loses a home game against a team ranked 31-75 in the NET
- it wins or loses a neutral-site game against a team ranked 51-100 in the NET
- it wins or loses on the road against a team ranked 76-135 in the NET
A team earns a Quadrant 3 win/loss if:
- it wins or loses a home game against a team ranked 76-160 in the NET
- it wins or loses a neutral-site game against a team ranked 101-200 in the NET
- it wins or loses on the road against a team ranked 135-240 in the NET
A team earns a Quadrant 4 win loss if:
- it wins or loses a home game against a team ranked 161-353 in the NET
- it wins or loses a neutral-site game against a team ranked 201-353 in the NET
- it wins or loses on the road against a team ranked 241-353 in the NET
“It’s kind of like Greek,” UB guard CJ Massinburg said. “It’s a lot of new stuff for us. I don’t sit down and just look at it, but the coaches do a good job of handling that. We need to focus on hoops and our defense.”
The Bulls have three Quadrant 1 wins (Dec. 1 vs. San Francisco, Dec. 18 at Syracuse and Feb. 16 at Toledo) and one Quadrant 1 loss (Dec. 21 at Marquette). UB has five Quadrant 2 wins and one Quadrant 3 loss.
However, the NET rankings change almost on a daily basis as teams win and lose games, and the quadrant designation of a team’s win or loss against an opponent fluctuates.
The Bulls’ 85-81 victory Dec. 1 against San Francisco on a neutral court in Ireland is a Quadrant 1 win as of Thursday, as the Dons are No. 50 in the NET. Earlier this week, it was a Quadrant 2 win when the Dons were ranked No. 51.
UB’s loss Jan. 22 at Northern Illinois was a Quadrant 2 defeat as NIU was No. 118 in the NET. It’s now a Quadrant 3 loss as NIU ranks No. 151 as of Thursday afternoon.
UB knows it needs a strong showing in their final five regular-season games to strengthen its case for a higher seed as an at-large team. ESPN on Monday projected UB as a No. 7 seed, while CBS Sports projected UB as an 8 seed. The Washington Post on Tuesday projected UB as an 8 seed.
The Bulls also understand the weight of the early-season Quadrant 1 wins and losses.
“Just being home or on the road, that makes a big difference,” Massinburg said. “And (Oats), he definitely lets us know before the games that, ‘Hey, this is a Quad 1 win and we’ve got to have this, because our ultimate goal is to get a good seed in the NCAA Tournament and do damage there.' ”
Factoring the future
The quadrant system isn't just relevant to the current season. When Oats and his staff assemble a future schedule, they target opponents that have a strong probability of being a Quadrant 1 win or loss.
Over the summer, Oats said the Bulls' coaching staff listed all the bubble teams for the 2018 NCAA Tournament – particularly the last teams that earned at-large bids – and how many Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 games they had on their schedule.
“We were trying to get to a certain number that most of those teams had,” Oats said. “You’re trying to win as many as you can, but you have to get to X number of Quad 1 and 2 games. Our goal was to hit that number and we did a pretty good job with that, but some of the teams were not as good as they thought they would be.”
Case in point: West Virginia.
The Bulls faced the Mountaineers, thinking it would be a Quadrant 1 game. But the Mountaineers were No. 141 in the initial NET rankings that were released Nov. 26, 17 days after Buffalo’s 99-94 overtime win in Morgantown. West Virginia is No. 121 in the NET, and is now a Quadrant 2 win for UB.
“You set your schedule up in the summer, and we try to schedule as tough as we can, and you set it up thinking one thing,” Oats said. “And then, in the season, you control what you can control. We can’t control how teams do before or after us. We can control how hard we play the night we play them, and that’s what we have to worry about. If we’re going to constantly worry about how West Virginia plays, that’s pointless.”
Oats acknowledged that when it comes to scheduling opponents he believes could potentially help UB's NCAA Tournament resume, some things are left to chance.
"You predict what you can predict,” Oats said. “You can’t predict suspensions or injuries to other teams or yourself. Schedule what you think is going to be a great schedule and what could accomplish what you need it to, and then you’ve just got to control what you can control during the year.”
Here is a look at how each game on UB's schedule stacks up through Wednesday:
|Nov. 6||St. Francis, PA||W||Quad 4|
|Nov. 9||at WVU||W||Quad 2|
|Nov. 12||at Southern Illinois||W||Quad 3|
|Nov. 21||vs. Dartmouth||W||Quad 3|
|Nov. 24||vs. Marist||W||Quad 4|
|Nov. 30||Milwaukee - Ireland||W||Quad 4|
|Dec. 1||San Francisco - Ireland||W||Quad 2|
|Dec. 5||LeMoyne||W||NA - D2 school|
|Dec. 8||at St. Bonaventure||W||Quad 3|
|Dec. 15||vs. Southern Illinois||W||Quad 3|
|Dec. 18||at Syracuse||W||Quad 1|
|Dec. 21||at Marquette||L||Quad 1|
|Dec. 29||at Canisius||W||Quad 4|
|Jan. 4||at Eastern Michigan||W||Quad 3|
|Jan. 8||vs. Toledo||W||Quad 2|
|Jan. 12||vs. Miami||W||Quad 3|
|Jan. 15||at Western Michigan||W||Quad 4|
|Jan. 18||vs. Eastern Michigan||W||Quad 3|
|Jan. 22||at Northern Illinois||L||Quad 3|
|Jan. 25||at Kent State||W||Quad 2|
|Jan. 29||vs. Ball State||W||Quad 3|
|Feb. 1||at Bowling Green||L||Quad 2|
|Feb. 9||vs. Central Michigan||Quad 3|
|Feb. 12||at Akron||Quad 2|
|Feb. 16||at Toledo||Quad 1|
|Feb. 19||vs. Ohio||Quad 4|
|Feb. 23||vs. Kent State|
|Feb. 26||vs. Akron|
|Mar. 2||at Miami|
|Mar. 5||at Ohio|
|Mar. 8||vs. Bowling Green|