One thing that is consistent throughout the years is that no matter who does or doesn’t make it into the NCAA tournament, it’s always exciting. Another thing that is consistent is the selection committee’s inconsistency, as shown by their sudden switch from using a variety of metrics to seemingly only judging teams by their quad 1 wins.
As per usual I believe there was plenty the committee got wrong in this year’s bracket. I find myself agreeing with TV pundits who say the committee has lost sight of the goal of putting the best teams into the tournament. It does appear that they are just trying to send messages to the teams, this year the message being that they need to schedule more difficult games in the non-conference.
I want to look at some of the bubble teams that made it into the tournament in an effort to find where the committee was maybe the most wrong, and I want to look at two things in particular: the difficulty of their non-conference schedule, and their record against teams that actually made the tournament.
Non-conference schedule because the committee has shown that non-conference schedule matters a lot in leaving out Oklahoma State, a team with an exceptional resume but a weak non-conference. And record against teams in the field of 68 because although I think the quad system isn’t necessarily invalid, to me a team in the tournament must be able to show that it can win against tournament teams.
I was surprised to hear the way commentators and pundits talked about this team. They talked about them making the tournament so matter-of-factly. Their at-large bid seemed like a certainty all through championship week, which surprised me because they don’t fit the typical description of an at-large bid.
They did not have the strongest non-conference schedule which the committee has shown is maybe the most important thing. Their best non-conference win by far was a three point win at Syracuse, another 11 seed in the tournament.
This season they had a 14-4 record in the A 10 conference and 3-3 record against tournament teams. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination. To me they are not the least deserving at-large by a long shot, but it was just surprising to me how assured their bid seemed. One thing the committee actually has been consistent about is favoring mediocre teams in tougher conferences over teams thriving in more inferior ones, but here they are.
The sun devils are an interesting case. They started the season with relatively low expectations, became one of the best teams in the country after some impressive wins, and then lost five of their last six games of the season.
I believe how you finish the season matters, but I can see how their overall record got them in. They finished 9th in a very sub-par Pac-12, but amassed a 5-2 record against teams that ended up making the tournament, including wins against 1-seeds Xavier and Kansas.
In hindsight it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that they made it considering their extremely difficult non-conference schedule. In a way they are extremely typical of a NCAA at-large. They had a 8-10 record in a power conference, but scheduled tough teams, so they’re in.
I do think their quality wins slightly outweigh their bad losses, and for that reason they are not the least deserving team in the field.
This was definitely the bubble team with the most intrigue. National player of the year candidate Trae Young led them into the national spotlight before one of the worst finishes by a tournament team in recent memory. The Sooners were 4-11 in their last 15 and earned the 9-seed in the Big 12 tournament (out of 10).
Their non-conference was relatively challenging, playing Arkansas and at Wichita State and they were 6-9 against the field. The committee has stated that they look at total body of work, and I can understand how Oklahoma’s total body of work is impressive.
I frankly do not think they belong in the tournament. Their total body of work is offset by their terrible finish. It is clear that they are not the same team that they were in the first half of the season, and I don’t think the committee should act like they are.
They are still however, not the least deserving.
I’m getting a little tired of Syracuse. It feels like this happens every year. They are the embodiment of all the knocks against the other bubble teams.
The Orange did not have a tough non-conference. They did schedule Kansas, but I don’t think that should mean anything considering they lost by 16 and didn’t beat anyone else.
They were 3-9 against tournament teams. Three wins I admit is pretty good, but nowhere near enough considering their ample opportunities. They also finished the season poorly, going 1-3 in their last 4 regular season games. The committee consistently shows in the case of Syracuse that all you have to do to make the NCAA tournament is be in the ACC.
On top of all the statistics that suggest they are not a tournament team, they just don’t pass the eye test for me. I believe that there are about 10 teams on the outside looking in that when you watch play, you can tell are better than Syracuse.
Earlier I said that the committee favors mediocre teams in major conferences over good teams in more inferior ones, and Syracuse is the best at being mediocre.
But who knows, maybe they’ll prove me wrong. I didn’t think they should’ve gotten in two years ago and they ended up going to the final four. Until that happens though, they have shown that they are the least deserving tournament team.