The bracket is out and, as always, mistakes were made. Who deserved a spot in the field? First of all, let’s get rid of two whiners who don’t deserve a spot on this list.
St. Mary’s Gaels: The only Power Six team you beat this year was Cal, which is 241st on KemPom, literally dead-last among power-conference teams. The only other Power Six teams you even scheduled were Washington State and Georgia. How about next year you win those games and, oh I dunno, schedule, say, Rhode Island (which Randy Bennett had the chance to do) instead of San Jose State?
Baylor Bears: The Bears (18-14, 8-10 Big 12) have nice wins, the product of playing in the Big 12, where almost every win is a nice win. But only two were on the road, and outside of a five-game surge in early February, Scott Drew’s crew was arguably the worst in the conference.
Now let’s get to the teams that actually do have legitimate gripes.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Mike Boynton has to be wondering how his Cowboys (19-14, 8-10 Big 12) are sitting at home and Oklahoma made the field. Not only did OK State sweep Kansas, a #1 seed, they also just pounded Trae Young’s Sooners in the conference tournament and won in Norman during the regular season. Add in a win over West Virginia in Morgantown and this team absolutely could have made some noise. They proved they can beat anyone at any time on any court, and they did so recently. Meanwhile, Oklahoma is 2-8 since the start of February.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
If part of the goal of the selection process is to have every team with a legitimate shot at winning the title in the tournament, then the Irish (20-14, 8-10 ACC) should undoubtedly be in. They have bad losses this year, absolutely, some with Bonzie Colson and some without. Ball State at home certainly jumps off the page. But they also won the Maui Invitational when they were at full strength and just went toe-to-toe with Virginia, the undisputed #1, on the road shortly after Colson came back from injury.
Neutral-site wins over Virginia Tech and Wichita State, coupled with a road win over Syracuse, should have been enough.
Neutral-site wins over Virginia Tech and Wichita State, coupled with a road win over Syracuse, should have been enough to put Mike Brey ahead of Jim Boeheim’s insufferable orange-clad team from upstate New York whose name I’m too angry to mention.
Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
The Blue Raiders (24-7, 16-2 C-USA) have been darlings of the last couple tournaments, ever since ousting Michigan State as a #15 seed two years ago. But that’s not why they deserve a spot in this year’s field. Giddy Potts and company dominated Conference USA (almost) all year and played a brutally tough non-con; 13th-toughest, in fact, per KenPom. They own road wins over Western Kentucky, Murray State, Old Dominion. You might not think those are impressive wins, but trust me, they are. Those three teams are all between 59 and 68 on KenPom. Again, this team is just flat-out more deserving than Syracuse — oops, I said it.
[T]he committee clearly didn’t care if all you’re good wins came early in the season, but did seem to care if your bad losses came recently.
The part that really bothers me about this omission is that the committee clearly didn’t care if all you’re good wins came early in the season, but did seem to care if your bad losses came recently, case in point, Middle’s two late-season losses to Marshall.
The Cardinals (20-13, 9-9 ACC) dealt with some stuff this year, and it feels like their (under)performance versus expectations is what held them out. Either that or bias against Slick Rick Pitino’s old employer. But let’s look at the cold hard facts: they finished with a better overall and conference record than Syracuse, finished higher on KenPom than Syracuse (33rd vs 54th), have more impressive wins than Syracuse (at Florida State; at Virginia Tech), and didn’t lose to a single team that isn’t in the tournament. Not one. David Padgett did a fine job cleaning up the mess Pitino left behind, and he deserved a better fate.
David Padgett did a fine job cleaning up the mess Pitino left behind, and he deserved a better fate.
To start with, how does the team that finished second in the Pac-12 not get in? Yes, the conference had a down year, but posting a 12-6 mark against the likes of Arizona, UCLA, Oregon, and Utah (plus a 23-11 overall record) is still something. All the more confusing is how the team that finished eighth in the Pac-12 (Arizona State) does get in, instead, especially when all of that team’s quality wins seem like a lifetime ago. USC had more wins than the Sun Devils, the same number of losses, and a higher KenPom ranking. Gripe on, Trojans, gripe on.