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Bracket impressions: Committee missed it with Indiana, Texas, UCLA

March 15, 2015 Columns 1 Comment

Texas and its 3-12 record against the top 50? In.

UCLA going 2-8 against the top 50, 5-10 against the top 100 and 4-11 in road/neutral games? In, and not even needing a play-in game. (Yet Dayton goes 1-3 against the top 50, 6-6 against the top 100 and 9-8 in road/neutral games and needs to play in?)

Indiana and its 4-9 mark against the top 50? Not just in, but a comfy 10 seed.

What can one say? Apparently this year’s NCAA Tournament selection committee, more than ones the past couple years, thoroughly enjoys mediocrity.

If there was ever an advertisement for the NCAA Tournament going back to 64, the magic number for the tourney at its peak and the one that makes the most sense, this season is it. This year’s bracket objections are far more than just one or two teams, as there are at least four teams that have no business in the tourney.

You can mostly ignore the teams that are in the “First Four” or play-in games, because three of them deserved to be safely in the field (BYU’s selection, based entirely on one quality win in five chances against RPI top 50 teams, is another head-scratcher). It’s the teams in just ahead of them that gives us some incredibly weak entrants among the later at-large squads.

Indiana, Texas, UCLA. Put them in whatever order you want. None of them deserved a bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament. You can also include BYU in there as well.

Perhaps it’s just simple ignorance by the committee. Perhaps it’s the effects of “autonomy” in action, a not-so-subtle reminder from those with the Big Football conferences to the rest of Division I that they wield the hammer, and they will use it when they like. (That doesn’t quite explain BYU…yet, though perhaps having the Cougars’ AD on the committee does.) Perhaps it really is a preference for mediocrity.

One expects more from the selection committee than it displayed this year. In recent years, committees have made some enlightened choices, including teams such as Iona, La Salle, Middle Tennessee State and VCU that may not have measured up completely in metrics like strength of schedule or top 50 wins, but that the committee correctly noted sometimes you can’t fairly measure those teams in those categories for reasons of no fault of their own.

They were rewarded when La Salle made the Sweet 16 in 2013 and VCU made the Final Four in 2011. Yet given the chance to reprise a similar scenario this year with a team like Colorado State or Murray State, the committee decided instead to reward virtually guaranteed mediocrity.

Look, before the first person points to Murray State’s one top 100 win…anyone with eyes understands that, by the numbers, Murray State’s resume was lacking. At the same time, if the term “eye test” is going to be applied as much as it was tonight (more on that in a second), anyone with eyes that actually watched them play also could’ve seen that, since December 1, the Racers were certainly playing like a team worthy of an at-large bid.

Twenty-five straight wins counts for something. So does an undefeated record in that time against teams ranked below 100, something that no bubble candidate besides Texas could claim (most teams on the fence had at least two of them or more…those games do count). And it’s nonsense to penalize a team for its conference schedule, as well as because it is avoided in scheduling, which is the known truth for teams like the Racers. Teams like Murray State-and Iona and Middle Tennessee State in recent years-are complex cases that cannot be measured solely in numbers, and that’s not an unreasonable request since the exact same happens with teams in the top of the bracket all the time when it comes to seeding.

Instead of giving it some deep thought, though, this year’s committee went out of its way to take the lazy route. Clearly it was sending a message by not even including Murray State among its first four out, stating to the Racers and schools like them that, for the time being, the days of an Iona or Middle Tennessee State getting in the tournament are over. TV networks don’t want you in their preseason tourneys? Too bad, so sad.

The horrendous seeding of a team like Dayton and the exclusion of Colorado State also suggests the committee doesn’t want to see any more La Salles or VCUs, either. And this tournament is considerably more soulless because of it.

The committee told us that a team’s number of top 50 wins matters more than its record against those teams. (“Lose 80% of the time against top 50 teams like Texas or UCLA? Sure, come on in!”) If TV likes you enough to get you a bunch of made-for-TV non-conference games, that helps. Conference affiliation clearly helped certain teams. Most of all, how you “look”, matters. You might’ve thought the selections were done by some ESPN heads themselves, with how much the term “eye test” was thrown around.

Ah, the ol’ “eye test.” You heard committee chair Scott Barnes mention it a number of times in his interview with CBS immediately after the revealing of the bracket.

It was mentioned way, way too much. Basically, the eye test is this: a team is on TV a lot and it has really tall, athletic-looking players, so it must be good. Never mind inconvenient statistics like wins and losses-they “look” like a really good team, therefore they must be a really good team.

The eye test ALWAYS favors teams that are on TV the most. And that is why it should have next to ZERO place in the discussion of teams-because it cannot be applied fairly or equally. There are ways to intelligently apply the eye test subtly, but it has no place as a major metric when teams are proving the results contradict the eyes.

History has shown the eye test lies far more than it tells the truth when it comes to BCS schools getting the final at-large bids. No team from one of those conferences has reached the Final Four with a seed ninth or lower since 1986. Just one other has gotten as far as the Elite Eight.

This is no small sample size-we’re talking nearly 30 years here and roughly a couple hundred instances. Teams that receive plenty of chances and lose two-thirds of their games or more against the top 50 have already proven they are unable to beat NCAA Tournament-level teams on a consistent basis during a season, and history has proven without a doubt that these teams are not going deep in the tournament. Why continue to reward them?

Not that this came as much of a surprise. Watching ESPN’s Bubble Watch show a couple hours before the selection, personally didn’t like comments by former NCAA Tournament executive V.P. Greg Shaheen. In a discussion with ESPN analysts of Murray State, the affable Shaheen seemed to pooh-pooh the importance of the Racers’ 25-game winning streak, saying it “is nice for a side statistic” but “not of relevance to the committee.”

Shaheen is a veteran of being in the selection room and is assumed to be as in tune with what happens in there as anybody. If the selection committee isn’t really putting importance on winning games, then what is it looking for? If you want to pick the teams with the best losses, then there’s really no reason to have a selection committee-just take the top 36 strength of schedules, and the NCAA can save five days’ worth of hotel and room service costs.

It makes zero sense. Of course strength of schedule is important, but at some point winning games has to matter. Teams that lose 80% of the time against top 50 teams are not getting the job done.

One would expect the selection committee to be nuanced enough to know this. Instead, the committee this year preferred not to get in too deep. Look at a few convenient metrics that don’t tell the full story. Don’t try to think through things. Rely on old stereotypes, the type you hear in the bar from the guy who watches maybe two games a season but “knows” the worst team in the Big Ten is better than the best team in any non-BCS football conference. And trust the “eye test.”

Judging by some of its inclusions in this year’s tournament, it’s clear too many members of the selection committee weren’t looking closely enough.

More thoughts on the unveiling of the field

  • Murray State is the most unique snub for reasons we’ve rehashed multiple times now, but Colorado State is the team that got screwed the worst. The Rams went 27-6, 2-3 against the top 50, 5-5 against the top 100 and had just one bad loss-at New Mexico, before the Lobos’ season imploded. Exactly how much more are the Rams supposed to do? Would 28-5 have done it? 29-4? Worse, CSU star J.J. Avila was injured and did not play in the Mountain West Tournament, including missing their semifinal loss to San Diego State. Once again, we have another example of why the “injury consideration” by the selection committee needs to be gone, because it is routinely applied inconsistently, and usually only favors teams that-again-are on TV the most.
  • Seeded too high: Georgetown, Iowa, North Carolina State, Xavier.
    This group does not include the teams that shouldn’t have been seeded at all. The Hoyas played a very strong non-conference schedule but are 4-10 against the top 50. That warrants a 4 seed? Iowa is 4-6 against the top 50 and has two sub-100 losses. The Hawkeyes should’ve at least swapped seeds with Oregon, though admittedly almost the entire group of teams seeded 8 through 10 has quite flawed resumes. N.C. State is another team that has received too much benefit of the doubt from the eye test. This is the same team that is 4-8 against the top 50, has three sub-100 losses and needed a buzzer-beater prayer to beat Georgia Tech. As for Xavier: four sub-100 losses gets you a six seed?
  • Seeded too low: Belmont, Boise State, Dayton, Northern Iowa, Wichita State, Oregon.
    As if to reinforce what the committee thought of the Ohio Valley Conference, it seeded Belmont (RPI of 105) below UAB (RPI of 129), which also makes very little sense. Dayton’s seed is a joke. It’s almost as if the committee was looking to penalize the Flyers for making the Elite Eight last year, that’s how bad their seeding is. It is inexcusable how poorly they were seeded, and the fact that the committee thought they belong in a play-in game (and Indiana, Texas and UCLA didn’t) shows a certain level of cluelessness. Boise State did not receive enough credit for a regular season conference championship. This is the same team that beat San Diego State twice, played a tough non-conference schedule, and also had injury issues early in the season. Northern Iowa deserved to be seeded higher than Georgetown or Louisville (3-7 vs. the top 50); instead, it gets stuck with a very tough first round game against Wyoming. Apparently screwing Wichita State with a bad draw last year wasn’t enough. The Shockers’ seed was not entirely unexpected but, again, is an inaccurate representation of a team based solely on numbers, not on the actual quality of the team. No way Xavier deserved to be seeded ahead of the Shockers. If the committee thought so much of the Pac-12 to include an unworthy UCLA team, one would think it would’ve also seeded higher an Oregon team that was likely the second-best team in the league by the end of the season.
  • The pod system still stinks. It has stunk from the time it was instituted, and it still stinks today. For one, it makes for incredibly confusing brackets (South Regional games in Seattle? West Regional games in Jacksonville?). For another, it is impossible to reward teams consistently, and grants privileges solely based on what cities the NCAA decided years earlier to award first- and second-round sites to. Two 3 seeds (Baylor and Iowa State) have to go halfway across the country, while a 4 seed (Maryland) gets to play 700-800 miles closer and in the arena of one of its conference mates. The committee will never be able to reward top 4 seeds in regions equally, so, with the possible exception of 1 seeds, they shouldn’t be in the business of rewarding them at all.
  • What the committee got right:
    Top four seeds. No arguments here. Wisconsin earned the fourth No. 1 seed, and being bracketed with Arizona is fair as well, as the Wildcats were probably the top 2 seed.
    Most of the seedings. Overall, we have far less beefs with seeding than some of the selections. Most teams seeded 7 or better are about right, save for a few exceptions noted above. And the quality of the field drops way off after the 7 line, so there aren’t a lot of complaints there.
    Not overreacting to Michigan State’s Big Ten Tournament run. Even with nearly winning the league title, the Spartans are still just 4-7 against the top 50 and have two sub-100 losses. A 7 seed sounds about right.
    Getting Mississippi in. The Rebels stumbled to the finish line, but overall we’re fine with their selection because of a good non-conference schedule and good road/neutral record.

Best first round matchups: The NCAA wants us to call them ‘second round’ games yet this year, but we’re going to call them what they really are:

  • West Virginia-Buffalo. On paper, this is the best first round matchup, and it’s almost not even close.
  • Iowa-Davidson. Two teams that really move well on offense. Will be entertaining because the Wildcats always are entertaining.
  • Providence-Dayton or Boise State. The Flyers and Broncos will match two teams that love to shoot the three, and both will match up well with the Friars as well.
  • Oklahoma-Albany. The Great Danes fear no one in March.
  • N.C. State-LSU. The Wolfpack is a chic pick, but the Tigers have the talent to go a long way.
  • Georgetown-Eastern Washington. If the Eagles are hot from three-point land, they could pull this off in their home state.
  • Notre Dame-Northeastern. The Irish are really good, but the Huskies won’t be afraid, having already won at Florida State this year.
  • Virginia-Belmont. The Cavaliers will hang on the Bruin shooters as much as they are allowed, but Belmont will be dangerous if it can make shots.

Currently there is "1 comment" on this Article:

  1. Paul Borden says:

    Great observations. This year’s committee was a joke.

Comment on this Article:

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