As St. Louis University players and coaches settled into quarantine last week, any thoughts of earning a national ranking gave way to more significant concerns.
The focus turned to the health of those infected with COVID-19 and the hope that everyone else would avoid the virus.
No one could have guessed that a week without games would lead to SLU’s most significant national recognition in seven seasons as the Billikens moved into the national rankings at No. 23 Monday as well as landing at No. 12 in the initial NCAA NET rankings.
Gaining entrance into the Associated Press top 25 was largely a cosmetic achievement. Opening at such a lofty spot in the NET, however, was a big step in the program’s pursuit of a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a positive thing,” coach Travis Ford said. “I don’t quite understand it all because I know they’ve made some changes in the formula this year. But it says a lot about the games we’ve won and the schedule we finally put together. All the scrambling has paid off, I guess.”
Illinois, meanwhile, moved up three spots in the AP poll to No 12 and Missouri dropped one notch to No. 13. It marked the first time since February 1994 that all three programs have been in the top 25 simultaneously.
All three performed better in the NET with Illinois at No. 4 and Mizzou at No. 10.
The NET was designed as a replacement for the Ratings Percentage Index and is in its third season of use. However, the NCAA adjusted the formula after last season, reducing it from five to two components.
It is one of the tools used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee to select and seed the field, which will play the entire tournament at six venues in Indiana this year. The extent of its power remains uncertain.
“It’s a hard thing to determine and it’s a question that needs to be answered,” Ford said. “I’ve asked and there needs to be a more definitive answer. It’s a gauge is all I’m told. It’s probably used a little more than some things, but there have been teams high in the NET that haven’t gotten in.”
The Tigers ranking in the NET is the result of four Quadrant 1 wins, tied for the most among all teams. They have defeated Illinois (home), No. 19 Oregon (neutral), No. 24 Arkansas (road) and No. 61 Wichita State (road). The nonconference wins away from home could prove especially valuable.
Last year, when Missouri finished 15-16 before postseason tournaments were canceled, the Tigers were No. 84 in the final NET rankings and just 3-10 in Quadrant 1 games with wins over Illinois, Florida and Auburn.
SLU was aided in the NET by wins over No. 23 LSU and No. 38 North Carolina State as well as a road loss to No. 43 Minnesota, which helped strength of schedule.
The late addition of North Carolina State to the schedule after a game against Evansville was canceled was a boon for SLU. The remainder of the Billikens’ wins have come against teams that are No. 181 and worse in the NET.
But as games are missed due to COVID, it will be interesting to see how the rankings are impacted. It is possible not all postponements will be made up. SLU will not play this week either with two road games scratched.
“Discrepancy of games is going to be interesting to see how it’s figured out,” Ford said. “From now on you just have to win the games you play. It’s better to be there on the first (rankings) and then do everything you can to stay as high as you can.”
SLU has not been in the AP rankings since the last week of the 2013-14 season, the last of the program’s three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Dave Matter of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.