Sports, Thrill of Victory

Thoughts on the NCAA Selection Committee’s performance

Florida's Scottie Wilbekin has led the Gators to a potential No. 1 seed.

The men’s NCAA Tournament field’s just been announced, and some things definitely caught my eye. Here are my first thoughts on the kind of job the Selection Committee did.

Should’ve been in: SMU, Minnesota, Florida St.

Not that the Top 25 has anything to do with the tournament selection process, but the AP does a fairly good job in ranking teams and SMU was ranked 18th in its poll on Mar. 3. The Mustangs beat Cincinnati (5-seed), Connecticut twice (7) and Memphis (8) and there were at least a half-dozen teams that got at-large bids that didn’t have four wins as good as those.

Florida's Scottie Wilbekin has led the Gators to a potential No. 1 seed.

Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin has led the Gators to a potential No. 1 seed.

SMU had three bad losses (I define those as teams that were 100 or higher in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings) but so did Tennessee, which also got in the tournament and had just two wins over teams in the field, period. I had no problem with the Vols getting in the field and neither did the NCAA, but the inconsistency here is glaring.

Oh, and for good measure, SMU was the highest team in both Pomeroy (32) and Jeff Sagarin’s (33) computer rankings not to make the field of 68.

Minnesota and Florida State were the last two teams in my field, so I didn’t have as big a problem with those teams missing out. Both did well in the “big win” test, with UM beating Wisconsin (2), Ohio State (6) and Iowa (11) while Florida State took down VCU (5), Massachusetts (6) and Pitt (9). Again, this begs the question, why did the NCAA value those teams so much, but not give teams much credit for beating them?

To be fair, neither team was great; Minnesota was 58th in Pomeroy, 50th in Sagarin and 50th in the RPI and the Seminoles, 41, 45 and 52. Both had 13 losses. I had Minnesota in over FSU since it beat the ‘Noles head-to-head.

Should’ve been out: North Carolina St., BYU, Dayton

Like everybody else, I’m looking forward to seeing N.C. State’s T.J. Warren in the NCAA Tournament. Like everyone else, I was stunned we’ll be seeing him there. I had nine teams that didn’t make the field as being more deserving than the Wolfpack. None of the computers liked N.C. State, either: Sagarin had the ‘Pack 71st, Pomeroy had them 66th and even the RPI, the preferred currency of the NCAA, had ‘State 57th.

Like Minnesota and FSU, N.C. State lost 13 games, and its best wins — Syracuse, Pitt, Tennessee — weren’t as good as those that got in ahead of it.

Dayton and BYU were the first two teams I had out. The Flyers went 23-10 and won at St. Louis (5), plus at home against Gonzaga (8) and George Washington (9), so it wasn’t much of a stretch in that regard. However, it did have three bad losses. BYU had four bad losses, and I didn’t think wins over Texas (7), Gonzaga (8) and Stanford (10) were enough.

Seeded too high: 

I agreed exactly with 29 of the NCAA’s 68 seeding slots. Most differences were a seed and that’s generally okay by me, but I think the committee lost its mind on a few teams.

Speaking of BYU, the Cougars play in the West Coast Conference — which, if you’re not aware, ain’t exactly the Big Ten — and lost 11 games. Somehow, the Committee saw that worthy of a 10-seed.

I know all about how good a team St. Louis is defensively, but here’s the thing: the Billikens are awful offensively, and that’s a reason they lost to teams like Duquesne and St. Bonaventure in the last two weeks. It’s not that St. Louis didn’t do some impressive things, but they weren’t incredibly impressive things — the best wins came over VCU (5), UMass (6) and Dayton (11). The Committee saw the Billikens as a top-20 team, but most teams in that stratosphere had better wins. Two seed lines lower would have been more fitting.

And on the subject of UMass, boy, the NCAA obviously just loved its RPI this year. That’s the only way to explain how the Minutemen, 20th by that measure, got a 6-seed. The Atlantic 10 sure got the benefit of the doubt this year; I thought Massachusetts should have been in an 8-9 game.

Another case in point? Gonzaga, which had a 22 RPI, got an 8. I won’t go as far as to say that the ‘Zags should have been left out, but people have argued crazier things; had BYU not been erroneously included, Gonzaga would have had no wins against teams in the tournament.

At the top of the bracket, one could have argued for four or five teams as that final No. 1 behind Florida, Arizona and Wichita State, but Virginia was a couple of teams down my list there. Wisconsin clearly had better wins and beat the Cavaliers head-to-head. In spite of its nine losses, I thought Kansas was more deserving, too.

And please, repeat after me: the argument of Villanova as a 1 was never valid. I had the Wildcats as the third of my 3s, though the NCAA gave them a 2.

Seeded too low:

I can see how Louisville could be a 4 — the American Athletic was a top-heavy league and there were no other elite teams in that conference, which limited U of L’s ability  — but holy smokes, the Cardinals are the defending national champs and went through the last two weeks of the season like Jabba the Hutt goes through the buffet at Golden Corral. I had Louisville (29-5) as a 3 but you could have easily convinced me they were a 2.

Ohio State, which went 25-9, also should have likely been a high-5 instead of a 6.

Okay, so Oklahoma State lost a dozen games. There aren’t 20 teams in the country that wouldn’t have lost that many against the Cowboys’ schedule. I don’t cut them slack because they were without Marcus Smart for a few games — he did a dumb thing and deserved to sit a few games — but you also can’t ignore the fact that OSU lost three games with him on the sidelines. The ‘Pokes also had five wins against teams seeded ninth or better.

Just based on wins and losses, Iowa, which got an 11 and an extra game, probably got what it deserved. But if you believe close losses to great teams are a sign that you’re pretty good, then the Hawkeyes, which lost by five or fewer to Michigan State, Villanova, Wisconsin (twice) and Iowa State by five points or fewer, are pretty good. It’s the reason that Sagarin rated them 17th.

My guess is that Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin might strongly prefer playing some teams in that range — say, maybe BYU, or St. Joe’s, or Dayton, or Providence, or Xavier — than it would Iowa.