Wow. I had a feeling we were going to see some controversy this afternoon. But… wow. In what has to be the most controversial Selection Sunday in the history of the tournament, here are my immediate reactions:
Now, let me preface my comments by saying that I am a big proponent of the mid-majors. I always root for the little guy to get in and do some damage, and I would routinely scoff at Billy Packer’s major conference bias year in and year out.
But there were some egregious decisions made by the committee this year, none more appalling than the inclusion of the following two mediocre teams.
UAB, it seems, was included primarily because of their impressive (though inflated) computer numbers and a Conference USA regular season title. But any good college basketball fan knows that the RPI is not a reliable tool and can be manipulated by savvy scheduling.
How can one justify rewarding UAB for its 12-4 Conference USA record and first place finish in conference play, while leaving out Alabama, who finished first in its division in the SEC with that same 12-4 mark?
Let’s actually look at UAB’s good wins. In the non-conference schedule, its best wins were VCU and Kent State. The Blazers left opportunities on the table by losing at Georgia and getting blown out at Duke. They couldn’t get over the hump in either game against traditional conference powerhouse Memphis and they went out in the quarterfinals of their conference tournament to an unimpressive East Carolina team.
What in that resume says tournament team?
The VCU Rams may have even less of a case. They dropped five of their final eight games. They lost to Northeastern and Georgia State, RPI No. 178 and No. 223, respectively.
They do own impressive wins over UCLA and George Mason, but with 11 losses and a fourth place regular season finish in the CAA, their run to the finals of their conference tournament did not seem like it would earn them entrance into the Big Dance. The committee, though, thought differently. I wish I understood their rationale.
While these two teams were chosen, several other teams had their bubbles burst in heartbreaking fashion. No one left out had a better case for inclusion than Colorado. The poor Buffaloes had zero truly bad losses (outside the RPI top 150), and won six games over teams in the RPI’s top 50. These victories included three wins against #23 Kansas State (away, home, and in the Big 12 tournament quarters), one win against (RPI No. 35) Missouri, and a win over No. 10 Texas.
The Buffs deserved better after avoiding a bad loss in the Big 12 tournament’s first round and knocking off a very good Kansas State team three times—the same Kansas State team that was given a No. 5 seed by the committee.
Stepping back and looking at the big picture, the Buffaloes are not a great team and their exclusion will most likely have little impact on the way the tournament plays out. But they have certainly accomplished significantly more than the above-mentioned teams this season, and they have earned the right to complain.
Next up is poor Seth Greenberg. The Virginia Tech coach has had bubble woes for four years running now, as the Hokies just cannot make it over the hump. After Florida State’s Derwin Kitchen knocked down an incredible buzzer beater against the Hokies in the ACC quarterfinals, it looked like Virginia Tech’s NCAA hopes were hanging in the balance. But after a lengthy video review, the shot was disallowed and Virginia Tech advanced to the ACC semifinals, where they were handled by Duke, 77-63.
Still, there was little shame in that loss, and the Hokies had to feel like they would finally be selected to dance. Alas, the committee decided that Virginia Tech’s 9-7 record in the ACC and late season win over No. 1 seed Duke was not enough, relegating them to the NIT yet again.
The Hokies certainly had chances to take away any doubt on Selection Sunday, such as winning either of their final two conference games against fellow bubble contenders, Boston College and Clemson. They dropped both of those contests. They were also swept by Virginia earlier in the season and fell to a miserable Georgia Tech team. A single win out of any of those five games probably gets the Hokies in at 10-6 in ACC play.
Other teams that had a case for inclusion were St. Mary’s and Alabama, though I extend little sympathy to them, and even less to Boston College. The Gaels were 1-4 against Top 100 competition since Jan. 1 and the Tide could never fully make up for a horrendous non-conference performance. The Eagles were too horribly inconsistent and 100 percent dependent on their one star, Reggie Jackson.
Harvard had a great season, but three top-100 victories are not going to do it when your best win is at home against Colorado (we already know how the committee feels about the Buffs), no matter how good of a feel-good story you have.
I feel for the seniors on these squads, but at the end of the day, this appears to be one of the weakest fields in recent memory. If you don’t take care of business during the season, you have no one to blame when you leave your fate in the committee’s hands on Selection Sunday.
On a related note, I have to think that the committee actually gave itself a tougher task when it added three teams to this year’s field. I think it would be much easier to justify excluding these mediocre final bubble teams like UAB, VCU, and Clemson than it would be to explain why they have been included, while other teams with very similar resumes were forced into the NIT.
Fans of March Madness can only hope that the fallout from this year’s Selection Sunday will help keep the tournament from expanding any farther in order to maintain the high quality of basketball that we have come to expect during March weekends.