An Annual Tradition: Complaining about Bracket Selection

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The time has come at last. The brackets have been selected by the buffoons in their basement bunker in Indianapolis and as is tradition they have made some truly egregious picks. I’m not talking about some of the minor screw ups with seed numbers for smaller teams (Valpo could have been a 12 seed, UCI could have been a 14 seed… little stuff like that) or even bigger teams (Baylor scares me as a 3 seed and I would have been more comfortable with them as a 4 or even 5 seed), but rather talking about errors that frustrate the integrity of the process. So without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the worst looking decisions of this season’s edition.

Who Got Snubbed?

Let’s get the depressing part of the article out of the way first before we move on to the anger inducing portion. But first let’s buzz through the teams that played the lead role in their own demise.

The “Didn’t do enough… It’s your own fault” Division

First up on this list are the schools from major conferences that had everyone opportunity to secure major wins, but just didn’t come through. All these teams are Tournament caliber teams, but at the end of the day there just wasn’t enough on their resume to let them in.

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Texas A&M had great positioning to make the field, but an early exit from the SEC Tournament to a far inferior Auburn team (not to mention back to back losses to Florida and Alabama to close out the regular season) sank their battleship so to speak. No problems with Texas A&M being left out.

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Rhode Island would have been a FANTASTIC feel good story, and I was rooting for it as hard as anyone, but without any real signature wins on their resume, and with some ugly losses to the likes of Georgia Tech, UMass, and St. Joes we all knew they were likely out of it if they didn’t win the A-10. Still though, its a major disappointment after they had such a solid performance in an underrated basketball conference. Next year, however, they’re simply going to need to play a few more Big Conference teams in their non-conference slate if they hope to have enough of an insurance policy to make the Tournament. That early season win against Nebraska looked great at the time, but once Nebraska imploded over the course of the season, Rhode Island no longer had anything they could hang their hat on, and it cost them.

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Central Michigan had a stellar regular season. They were clearly the best performing team in a VERY good and VERY competitive MAC this year. They got all the way to their conference title game and even then barely fell short. They were never the most talented team in the MAC (Buffalo takes that crown and even Kent State and Akron may have had more talent across the board) but they played better than any of those guys all season long. At the end of the day, however, whereas teams like Buffalo went out of conference to play Kentucky, Wisconsin, and heck even Robert Morris who turned out to be a Tournament team, Central Michigan has nothing to boast of in their non-conference slate, and therefore anything short of a conference tourney win likely wouldn’t be enough.. and it wasn’t.

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Green Bay has come tantalizingly close to the Big Dance each of the past seasons without coming out on top in the Horizon. As such its especially sad to see them miss out again with this particular group of guys, but it’s awfully hard for an 8 loss Mid Major to secure an at large bid. Still, they went 2-4 against Tournament teams this year (and knocked off fellow bubble team and then #15 in the country Miami) and scheduled well in the non-conference (a home and home with Georgia State and a road trip to Wisconsin). In the end, however, the Horizon League beat up on one another too hard for more than 1 team to come out apparently and this time around Valparaiso came out on top.

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Richmond is a team that a lot of national people have discussed as a major snub, but I’m not as convinced. The major argument (and it is a good one) for why they should have been in boils down to how well they were playing right before the Tournament. 7-3 in their last 10 with a win over VCU. However, they really did nothing in the non-conference, and got pretty badly beaten up in the A-10 all year long, so to be completely honest I think they’re correctly placed in the NIT.

True Snubs: The “We did everything you asked us to do except win our Conference Tournament” Division

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Old Dominion is yet another sad case. They were the darling of the nation in the first half of the season after opening the season 13-1 with wins over LSU (Tournament team) Richmond (NIT team) VCU (tournament team and then ranked #14) Georgia State (Tournament team) and William and Mary and Mary (NIT Team). That is an incredibly impressive slate, and it seemed all but over that ODU would win Conference USA and punch their ticket to the big dance. However, they ended up losing 5 games in a very weak Conference-USA which apparently damaged their resume to the point that they needed to win the conference’s automatic bid to qualify. They did not, and they’re out. Personally I’m more mad about this one than any of the previous examples we’ve discussed. The Committee says they want tough non-conference slates for Mid Majors. Check. They say they want you to WIN those games. Check. They want you to dominate your conference. 13-5 was still good enough for 2nd place in C-USA, so I can’t see why they should be punished this hard for that. As far as I see it ODU did almost everything right, and STILL the Committee sat back and said “nah, don’t care.” Very frustrating.

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Iona is another frustrating one for me because they legitimately could have made some noise and provided some excitement in the NCAA Tournament with their high octane offense. Instead they’re off the to NIT. Admittedly their non-conference wasn’t great as they lost to Arkansas and Wofford but they beat several good teams in Florida Gulf Coast, and Wake Forest. Morever, I feel like they should at least be given credit for scheduling teams like Arkansas out of a division in the MAAC where Power Conference teams are loath to schedule you. Moreover, Iona absolutely thrashed the MAAC going 17-3, and I have a hard time understanding what sets them apart from a Davidson or an Ole Miss.

Temple

Next on the list is every Power Conference team’s Tournament nightmare Temple. Year after year they somehow manage to beat superior teams with little to no offense but infuriatingly tight and gritty defense. This year was no different as Temple BLEW OUT 2 seeded Kansas by 23 (!!!!!!!!) points this season and finished a respectable 13-5 in the American. All in all Temple definitely deserved a Tournament, but we had to make way for some jank so no cigar… because reasons…

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And this one is really depressing. The Mountain West Conference has worked its way up to a point where it now sits just outside the Power Five in both major sports, football and basketball. And yet their teams still get no respect when it comes to selection time apparently. Just like ODU Colorado State was a Mid Major darling to open the season after they ripped off 14 straight wins including wins over in state rival from a Power Conference Colorado, NIT Teams in UTEP, Montana, and Charleston Southern and 3 wins over NCAA Tournament teams with New Mexico State, Boise State, and Georgia State. As far as I can tell that is exactly what the committee is asking programs to do. Moreover, they finished a respectable 13-5 in a good Mountain West (that had 5 Tourney caliber teams but only put 3 into the field). Not to mention the little nugget that with 27 wins Colorado State and our next snub were tied for the highest win total to EVER be snubbed from the NCAA Field in its entire history. The fact that some of the teams we’ll discuss in a second made the field when Colorado State didn’t is an absolute joke.

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Murray State, just like Colorado State finished with 27 wins. Again, 2nd most ever for a team snubbed from the NCAA Field. Sure they lost to a good Belmont team in their Tournament Finals, but what is perplexing to me is that the Committee never even CONSIDERED them as an at large. They gave lip service to Colorado State, Temple, and even RICHMOND, as among the “First Four Out” but Murray State has been completely left out of the conversation. I get it. Their non-conference slate was bad. But the OVC was solid this year with good teams in Tennessee Martin, Belmont, and Eastern Kentucky and Murray went SIXTEEN AND 0 in conference. I can’t help but feel that some sort of change needs to happen in this system. No matter what caliber your conference is, if you go undefeated in Conference that should count for an automatic bid just like winning your conference tournament does. It frustrates me that we don’t reward teams like Murray for FIVE MONTHS of EXCELLENT work where they did nothing but win (literally… they didn’t lose a game between November 30th and March 7th) but do reward teams like Hampton who, with all due respect, were bad all year long, got hot for 4 days, and now get to play in the NCAAs. Murray was great all year, and would have been incredibly exciting to watch with sophomore guard Cameron Payne if the Tournament Committee had been able to remove their heads from their posteriors long enough to realize it.

If a team like Murray with the season they’ve had doesn’t make the Tournament then something in the system needs to be changed. That fact will only be all the more painfully obvious once we take a look at the teams that made it INSTEAD of Murray, Colorado State, and Temple.

The “Who has Naked Pictures of the Tournament Committee?” Division

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Good Lord?!?!?! How is this even possible?!?!!? UCLA is in the Tournament?!?! The Pac-12 has been the worst basketball conference of the Big 5 for several years now. Arizona is good, but after that it becomes uniformly crap throughout (with rare exceptions). And UCLA is no exception to this rule. They have beaten ONE ranked team all year long, (#15 Utah) and even that was at home which makes it less impressive. Especially when you consider the fact that they lost to Utah by THIRTY TWO POINTS when they played them in their building… In fact… 8 times this season UCLA has lost by double digits, and many of those weren’t even that close. These were brutal beatdowns. AND anytime they played anyone outside of the atrocious Pac-12 or any good team they got murdered.

November 27 vs. UNC – 22 point loss

December 13 vs. Gonzaga – 13 point loss

December 20 vs. Kentucky – 39 point loss (and they only scored 7 points in the first half!!!! SEVEN!!!!!!)

January 4 vs. Utah – 32 point loss

January 24 vs. Oregon – 18 point loss

This team is terrible. I have a hard time understanding why wins over Washington, Washington State, and USC (none of whom are in the NCAA Tournament or even the NIT mind you) and a 6 points loss to Arizona counts as “getting hot” and “playing better lately” to justify a tournament bid for the Bruins. This is clearly an example of favoritism on the part of the Committee, choosing to put a once great power program into the field to generate story-lines and ratings for TV (a theme we will unfortunately see again in this article).

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Ugh. The Indiana Hoosiers. While the Pac-12 is down and has been recognized as being down for some time, the Big 10 this season is still clinging to the remnants of its reputation from the last couple seasons as College Basketball’s premier league. Which it is not. Don’t get me wrong. Wisconsin may very well be the second best team in the country. However, the dropoff after them is staggering. There is no scenario where the Big 10 deserved to put 7 teams into the field, and the primary reason for that is the fact that IU should be in the NIT.

Unlike most Mid-Major teams which are lucky if they even get ONE crack at a power conference team on the road in a hostile environment, Indiana, like all Power Conference teams, gets multiple cracks at top tier teams to pad their resume throughout the year. And what did Indiana do with these opportunities? Well, in large part they squandered them. Indiana are 4-12 this season against Tournament Teams. So forgive me for asking, but why does a 25% win percentage against Tournament teams (which included a loss to 13 seed Eastern Washington IN BLOOMINGTON mind you) earn you a ‘secured’ place in the field (because lest we forget, Indiana weren’t even part of the “last 4 in” … the committee had them as a LOCK to make the field). Are you really trying to tell me that Murray State, Colorado State, or Temple couldn’t win 1 game out of 4 meetings with the likes of a rebuilding Michigan State, a one man band in Ohio State, Iowa (does anyone remember one impressive thing Iowa has done all year besides getting blown out by Texas and Syracuse in back to back games?) or Purdue (your typical “try hard team” they play well and work hard, and deserve to be in the field, but they’re not actually good). Give me a break. The fact that we threw out those bubble teams for the likes of UCLA and Indiana is a joke. Again… you have a blue blood program from the past making the field on a reputation which is 30 years from being fresh… cool… keep working those TV Ratings guys.

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Texas is a tough one for me to write about. If you look at their roster on paper, and even if you watch these guys on the court, they are, by all accounts, a Tournament team. The amount of length, athleticism, and general basketball ability on this team is absolutely staggering. This team should have been a top 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The only problem is their performance. They were absolutely abysmal this year once they got into Big 12 play. Now, the Big 12 was the best conference in college basketball this year so that might help explain some of this, but TEXAS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE THE REASON THE BIG 12 WAS SUPPOSED TO BE SO GOOD.

They were solid in the non-conference with an 11-2 record. Moreover, 1 of those losses was to #1 Kentucky (excusable) but the other was to Stanford… from the horrendous Pac-12… not good. And once they hit Big 12 play everything fell apart. Texas with 8-10(!!!!!!!) in the Big 12 to finish with a 19-12 regular season record… NOT a tournament team. Moreover, they didn’t help themselves in teh Big 12 Tournament, going 1-1 by beating Texas Tech in the opening round and then immediately losing to eventual Champion Iowa State. In fact, Texas went 4-12 against NCAA Tournament teams, and one of those wins was against #15 seed NDSU… They, just like Indiana, were given a myriad of opportunities to build an impressive resume and failed nearly every time. But hey… at least the Tournament Committee was consistent… just like an unequivocally positive regular season resume didn’t matter for Murray State… an unequivocally bad one didn’t matter for Texas… they just pick the teams they want regardless of what happened in the regular season.

Bonus Anger

My complaints aren’t restricted to teams that did or did not make the field, however, as I have a couple major complaints that I want to touch on really quickly in regards to seeding.

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Georgetown deserves to be in the field. That isn’t up for debate. However, the Committee, for some reason, gave them a FOUR seed… This would mean the Committee thinks they are somewhere between the 13th and 16th best team in the country in spite of the fact that they have never been ranked higher than 21 all season and have consistently LOST their ranking the week after they earned it all season long.

Georgetown’s situation becomes even MORE curious when you compare their 4 seed to Big East Conference-mate Butler’s 6 seed. Now, Butler, I feel, is properly seeded. However, I also feel that Butler and Georgetown at parity… ergo Georgetown should be a 6 seed. Butler and Georgetown both flirted with low rankings in the top 25 all season long, never handing on to their rankings for too long, but Butler actually topped off at a 15 ranking (too high) and more consistently was at 18 or 19 (probably accurate). Moreover, Butler actually finished 1 slot ahead of Georgetown in the Big East standings, so how, exactly, did Georgetown get a 4 seed and Butler a 6? Georgetown swept Butler in the regular season, and went a grand total of 1 game further in the Big East Tournament (where they both were upset by the same team, Xavier) so I could see Georgetown getting seeded ahead of Butler at perhaps a 5 seed, but the difference between a 4 seed and a 6 seed is far too great for whatever disparity may be present here.

Georgetown is definitely one of the 50 best teams in the country, but definitely not one of the best 20, let alone a pencil in for Sweet 16. This is yet another example of the committee unfairly rewarding programs for achievements from multiple decades ago. They think (probably correctly) that Georgetown drives ratings so let’s give them a 4 seed no matter how undeserved it is. Whatever. They’re probably going to lose in the first round to an Eastern Washington team that is playing like garbage anyway so who cares right? Well… here’s the problem… if Georgetown gets a 4 seed that they most assuredly DO NOT deserve… it means they took it from someone else…

IA-U of N Iowa

Georgetown probably should have been a 5 seed, but they got a 4. So who’s 4 seed did they steal? The Univeristy of Northern Iowa Panthers. UNI picked up only 2 losses in their non-conference schedule before obliterating the Missouri Valley Conference and ending the year at a staggering 30-3. There were a grand total of SIX total teams to win 30 games this year in NCAA College Basketball. Kentucky (34-0, #1 seed), Wisconsin (31-3, #1 seed), Arizona (31-3, #2 seed), Gonzaga (32-2, #2 seed), Villanova (32-2, #1 seed), and UNI (30-3, 5 seed). Notice anything funny lookin’ about that list? Like… ohhhh… I don’t know… maybe the fact that EVERYONE on that list is a top 2 seed except for UNI who is a FIVE?!?! seed?!?!?!

Now, I understand that going through the Missouri Valley isn’t as difficult as going through the Big 27, The SEC, or even the horrendous Pac-12 and Meh Big East, but the comparison to the West Coast Conference is where it all falls apart. There were 2 good teams and 1 great team in the WCC this year. Gonzaga was great, and BYU and St. Mary’s were both good. The MVC, on the other hand, had 2 great teams in UNI and Wichita State, and UNI came out on top. I’m not saying that UNI deserves a 2 seed, because they don’t. And I’m not saying Gonzaga DOESN’T deserve their 2 seed (they do… and had to work hard for over a decade to earn enough national respect to secure high seeds like this out of a mid major conference) but I have a very hard time believing the disparity is as large as 3 seed spots (aka 12 ranking spots).

Even more frustrating is the fact that historically 5 seeds are the most likely ‘high seeds’ to be upset by a double digit seed in the first round of the Tournament. So this isn’t just an issue of “ohhh its ok its not like the different between a 4 seed (which UNI deserved, but which the committee egregiously decided to give to an undeserving Georgetown instead) and a 5 seed (which UNI got) is that big” because it is. Now, UNI lucked out with Wyoming as their opening opponent, but I can’t help but look at these 2 seedings and be furious with the cavalier and irrational manner in which the Committee goes about organizing this thing.

These mix ups aren’t the end of the world. At the end of the day we still get to see great basketball, and most of the time the snubbed / undeserving / mis-seeded teams aren’t going to be winning any titles anyway. However, its really frustrating that this Tournament which is constantly billed as a great equalizer in sports, where Cinderellas are championed and “everyone gets their fair shot to enter,” is such a fraud. The Committee repeatedly rewards undeserving teams from major conferences with basketball pedigree and history instead of rewarding the teams who rightfully deserve it in a given season. But o’well… at least we can revel in Georgetown losing, right?

If there weren’t mis-seedings, there wouldn’t be upsets I guess.

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More March Madness: A Host of Mid Major Contenders

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March is a time of basketball related rejoicing. The NCAA Tournament starts midway through the month, but in the early weeks we get a flurry of fantastic college basketball with the various conference tournaments which will help decide the field for the Big Dance. I’m going to take a look at each conference, try (almost certainly unsuccessfully) to pick the winner, and determine whether anyone from that conference can make some noise, come Tourney Time. So with that, onward and upwards amigos! 

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First up on our next slate is the Northeast conference. And this one we can make real quick cuz they’re terrible. This conference sucks. Sorry guys.

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St. Francis is the best team in the League and they should win the upcoming Tourney on the 5th handily. If they don’t something went horribly wrong. They’ve got far and away the best player in the entire league in Jalen Cannon. That’s honestly all I have to say here. Mount Saint Mary’s looked good at times, and Robert Morris could be good, but don’t expect too much out of anyone from the Northeast this season.

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The MAAC, however, is a little more interesting. This is the same conference that gave us that stellar Manhattan team from last season that should have knocked off Louisville in the first round (aka round of 64… I refuse to call the play in games the first round… they are exciting and I love them but come on…). Again, the MAAC is yet another one of these conferences that takes undersized, less athletic guys, and somehow manages to build a brand of exciting offensive basketball, and this year is no different.

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Rider has put together an impressive season this year, and I want to give them all due credit, but Iona is the class of this league this year. They’re on a whole different level. 7th in the country in scoring with 79.6 points per game and 12th in assists with 16.4. This team can absolutely eat up a team trying to grind out a win against them, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see them make a Sweet 16 run if given the right circumstances.

(Photo Credit: ICGaels.com)

(Photo Credit: ICGaels.com)

David Laury and AJ English are absolute beasts when it comes to putting up points and the rest of Iona’s starting five can really turn the heat up as well. The only problem is that beyond their starting 5 Iona has basically noone who scores. So the way I see it, as long as they can avoid teams like an Arkansas or Duke who want to push the tempo and run they’ll be fine. If they do run into an athletic team, however, it could see them getting worn down easily, and not having anyone on the bench they can turn to for energy or a spark. If the cards fall right, however, Iona is going to make an impressive run.

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Where the MAAC only has one team that can make a deep run, however, the Missouri Valley has two spectacular Mid Major Contendors.

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This is not the same Wichita State team that entered the Tournament undefeated last year. The loss of Cleanthony Early is a real issue, and while I thought last seasons Wichita State team could very well have won a national title, this year’s team just isn’t in the same league. However, they’re still a great team, and with guys like Fred Van Fleet, Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker still on the team you can rest asssured that Greg Marshall’s bunch (currently ranked #8 in the country) are poised for another exciting run in the NCAA Tourney.

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However, they have been overshadowed for long stretches of this season in their own conference by UNI. Northern Iowa is no stranger to big moments in the NCAA tournament, and are just a few years removed from a stunning upset victory over Kansas.

 

They were knocked down a peg for several seasons as Wichita State rose to the top of the MVC, but the Panthers are back now with a vengeance. Currently the #11 team in the country they’ve flirted with the top 10 all season long, and even managed to split the season series with Wichita this year. Seth Tuttle is the real deal and there’s no reason to think this year’s Northern Iowa team can’t match the 2010 team’s Sweet 16 run.

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But here we run into our first real contender of the previews. All due respect to Saint Mary’s and BYU. Both schools have spectacular basketball programs, and have put together very impressive seasons. However, Gonzaga is quite obviously the team to worry about in the WCC. By all accounts they should be a #1 seed heading into the NCAA Tournament, but a late season loss to a desperate BYU team may have cost them that luxury.

(Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

(Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. The addition of Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer may be the turning point Mark Few finally needed to break through and win a title. Wiltjer can’t cover your grandmother defensively, but he’s one of the best scorers in college basketball, and in large part thanks to him Gonzaga is the #5 rated team in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency statistics this season. Add to that senior guard Kevin Pangos to conduct the offense, and Domantas Sabonis (son of Arvydas Sabonis) and Przemek Karnowski to protect the rim and grab boards, and I can see absolutely no reason why Gonzaga can’t compete with some of the best teams in the country this year. If they manage to reclaim their 1 seed I’d be perfectly comfortable picking them to make the Final Four. After that it’s anybody’s game, but this has got to be the best roster Mark Few has ever had in front of him during this spectacular streak of 16 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, so if this isn’t the year he finally breaks through and makes at least an Elite 8, it probably will never happen. I for one, however, have faith that it will happen, and possibly even more than that.