Selection Sunday has come and gone, and as usual, there is much to talk about. As much as ever, though, bubble teams are the center of the conversation, and understandably so.
By 7 p.m. Eastern time every year on this day, there are programs that are excited and ones that are sad, upset, even angry. Nowadays, where the bubble always seems more even and perhaps weaker than in the past, you get the feeling that there are more teams in the latter category. And one thing that is true more than ever is that any team that doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large certainly had their chances to play their way in, and not just by winning their conference tournament.
To wit: let’s take Temple, a team some felt should be in. The Owls had chances for quality wins that they couldn’t capitalize on. They played Duke early on in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, at Villanova, and lost three times to conference champion SMU. Win perhaps one of those games and the Owls might be dancing. The Owls, much like Tulsa, also weren’t helped by the fact that The American had a bad non-conference slate, which made quality wins in conference play harder to come by.
Let’s take Old Dominion, another team some felt should be in. There’s not much to take issue with, as the Monarchs lost just seven games all year, but they did lose to Illinois State in the Paradise Jam, where they had an opportunity to advance and play Seton Hall, a better RPI team than Gardner-Webb, who they subsequently played (and beat) instead. They also lost to UT San Antonio and twice to Middle Tennessee, including in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament.
Let’s take Miami, a team that wasn’t talked about much but was on the bubble. Miami had numerous chances for quality wins in the ACC that they didn’t capitalize on as they had seven top 50 losses. They were also blown out by Eastern Kentucky and lost to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the latter another blowout.
Then let’s take a trendy team for this in the past week, Murray State. The Racers played 30 games against teams whose RPI was in triple digits. They won 15 games against teams whose RPI was 200 or above. They have no top 50 wins, just one top 100 win, and beat just one NCAA Tournament team: Belmont, who beat them in a memorable Ohio Valley championship game last weekend. The Racers also have a very damaging home loss to Houston on their resume. A win over Xavier, Valparaiso (two top 50 teams who beat the Racers) or even Houston (to avoid having a sub-200 loss) might have made the Racers a more interesting case study on how the committee selects at-large teams. Even changing the Houston result to a win might have led to the committee rewarding them for winning just enough when they had chances and not having a bad loss. The flaw in citing their 25-game winning streak that featured a lot of bad teams as a reason to put the Racers in is that high-majors who beat up on such teams in non-conference get criticized heavily for doing so, and we shouldn’t hold Murray State to a lower standard.
Last, but not least, lets take Colorado State. The Rams were undefeated in non-conference, but the only NCAA Tournament teams they beat there were automatic qualifiers Georgia State and New Mexico State. They lost twice to Wyoming and twice to San Diego State (who they beat once), so they had opportunities for more quality wins.
None of this is to say that any team on the bubble that doesn’t make it has no legitimate beef with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. It’s only to say that things might have been different with one or two different results.
Conference Tournament Round-Up
Five conferences had championship games on Sunday before the selection show.
- First up was the SEC, and to no one’s surprise, Kentucky cruised to the title and a 34-0 mark by beating Arkansas 78-63. Kentucky did not cut the nets down, as they want to save that for later.
- The Atlantic 10 championship game was a dandy, and VCU completed a terrific run by holding off Dayton 71-65. Shaka Smart’s coaching chops are well-established by now, but winning the conference tournament after losing his point guard and team leader is big. It tells you how much better this team has gotten over the last month.
- The Sun Belt championship game was a slugfest between two Georgia teams, and it came right down to the end just like last year. Then, Georgia State lost a heart-breaker after Ryan Harrow played the game of his life with his father, who had suffered a stroke a couple of years earlier, in the stands. This time, Harrow was sidelined with a strained hamstring, but there was another significant family connection involved, as R.J. Hunter made two free throws with 21.6 seconds left to beat Georgia Southern 38-36. Neither team shot better than 33 percent in the lowest-scoring Sun Belt final in 37 years. After the game ended, head coach Ron Hunter injured his Achilles tendon in his left leg, fearing he may have ruptured it.
- Next was the American Athletic Conference championship game, one with a bid on the line for one team. UConn had made quite a run to get this far, but their magic ran out. SMU won the regular season title and then added the conference tournament to its resume with a 62-54 win over the Huskies despite 29 points from Rodney Purvis.
- Last, but certainly not least, was the best game of the day. Michigan State and Wisconsin had a classic Big Ten battle in Chicago. Regulation wasn’t enough to settle it, but five extra minutes did in decisive fashion as Wisconsin shut out the Spartans in overtime for an 80-69 win.
The four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament are Kentucky, Duke, Villanova and Wisconsin, while the No. 2 seeds are Kansas, Virginia, Arizona and Gonzaga. You can find a complete bracket at the NCAA’s official site.
The NIT is set, with the four top seeds being Temple, Old Dominion, Colorado State and Richmond. Murray State is a No. 3 seed, and defending national champion UConn is a No. 4 seed and just the sixth defending national champion not to make the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Also in the field is Alabama, who fired head coach Anthony Grant earlier in the day. (More on that in a minute.)
The CBI announced its 16-team field late Sunday night, including just one high-major school in Colorado. Among the teams in the field are three teams who lost in conference championship games: America East runner-up Stony Brook, MEAC runner-up Delaware State and WAC runner-up Seattle University.
The field for the CollegeInsider.com Tournament is complete, though teams have been announcing that they have accepted bids for much of the past week. The 32-team field, made up entirely of mid-majors, starts on Monday night with New Hampshire at NJIT, and features ten teams with at least 20 wins.
The CBI field did not include two Pac-12 teams, California and Oregon State, who were invited but declined. The Golden Bears had a promising start, but hit a wall in Pac-12 play. The Beavers were one of the pleasant surprises this season, going 17-14 after they had to have open tryouts to fill the roster. Hopes are high for next season, though, as the Beavers will have a good recruiting class coming to Corvallis. Both programs have head coaches who just completed their first year at the helm.
As noted earlier, Alabama fired head coach Anthony Grant after six seasons on Sunday. Grant was 117-85 at the school and brought them to the NCAA Tournament three years ago, a year after they lost in the NIT championship game. Grant had signed a contract extension to keep him in Tuscaloosa through 2019, with a buyout estimated to be around $4 million. The school will still compete in the NIT, though no interim head coach had been named as of late Sunday. (You can keep track of all this year’s coaching changes right here.)
Also announcing a coaching change was Charlotte, who parted ways with Alan Major. It’s not entirely surprising, and it is reported to be a mutual decision, as Major has twice taken a leave of absence for health reasons over the last year. Major went 61-63 in four-plus seasons at the helm, including an NIT appearance. Hopes were high after they reached the NIT with a relatively young team, but the 49ers plateaued after that. Associate head coach Ryan Odom guided them team for the latter half of this season.
St. John’s will need to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament if they are to have their entire squad together again this season. Big man Chris Obekpa was suspended by the team for two weeks for a violation of team rules. Give them credit for one thing: the school could have waited until after the NCAA Tournament Selection Show to announce it, but head coach Steve Lavin told ESPN that it would be unethical to do so. The junior is fifth in the nation in blocked shots with 3.1 per game. St. John’s is a No. 9 seed in the South Region and faces No. 8 San Diego State on Friday in Charlotte.
It’s the lightest slate in a long time, as we get going with just one game: in the CIT, New Hampshire visits NJIT at 7 p.m.