Behind The ScenesNCAAB

Championship Week: Strength of Record new ESPN metric for NCAA Tournament debates

(Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images)
Many basketball teams – and their fans – believe they are worthy of NCAA Tournament consideration. In Strength of Record, ESPN’s Stat and Information team believes it has the metric to best measure worthiness.
(Phil Ellsworth/ESPN Images)

Debates have been the hot topic of 2016. On Selection Sunday, it will be front and center in the college basketball world.

When the NCAA Selection Committee releases the field of 68 teams for the NCAA Basketball Championship, undoubtedly, there will be joy and heartbreak across America. Almost always, the crux of the conversation can be boiled down to one question: Should the NCAA Tournament consist of the best or the most deserving teams?

Enter: ESPN’s Stats and Information.

“In the 2011-12 season, our group introduced BPI [Basketball Power Index] as a college basketball evaluating metric,” said analytics writer Sharon Katz. “BPI’s goal is, ultimately, to rank the best teams. The metric accounts for score, pace of play, where the game was played, strength of opponent and absence of key players. Simply put, BPI is a predictive measure: If two teams face off head to head on a neutral court, in theory, the higher ranked team is the perceived ‘better team.’”

For all the good BPI does, it doesn’t answer a key question when it comes to the formulating the Championship field: “Who are the most deserving teams?”

Enter: Strength of Record.

The newest metric introduced by the Stats and Information team this year has three simple criteria:

  • Who a team played
  • Where the game was played
  • Who won

“Our group introduced this metric in college football in 2014,” explained Katz. “This year, we wanted to expand it to college basketball. In mid-January, after we could compile data for the 2015-16 season, we rolled it out to ESPN’s television producers, college basketball commentators and the digital team. Since then, we have been evaluating the trends this season and working with our staff to help them understand the role it can play when evaluating the college basketball landscape.”

Strength of Record measures the difficulty of achieving each team’s record, given its schedule; therefore, an obvious, but important element to a team’s Strength of Record is the difficulty of each game played. Take this scenario:

  • Team A is ranked No. 25 in BPI
  • Team B is ranked No. 100 in BPI
  • If Team C were to defeat Team B on the road, that win would be considered equal to beating Team A at home, despite the large difference in the perceived quality of the two teams.

“Simply put, the biggest difference between BPI and Strength of Record: BPI is forward thinking, more of a predictive measure,” said Katz. “Strength of Record is looking at what the team has already accomplished.”

Selection Sunday will provide an opportunity for Strength of Record to be at the center of the coversation. Which teams were snubbed? Which ones were over- or under-seeded teams based on their résumés?

“Strength of Record can answer these questions,” concludes Katz. “But it will never stop the debates.”

Current Rankings based on Strength of Record, compared to BPI ranking

TeamStrength of Record RankBPI Rank
Villanova 23
North Carolina61
Michigan State84
West Virginia97

Chart above reflects stats as of March 9

Joe Lunardi’s Bubble Teams as of March 9:

TeamStrength of Record RankBPI Rank
St. Bonaventure4873
Saint Mary's3531
Oregon State4662
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