There were a lot of teams that did not make the bracket that were on the bubble and there are some teams that got the raw end of the deal. I’m going to break down what the committee got right, what they got wrong and some of my favorite underdog teams in the tournament. (Also this is my 69th post on here).
What the committee got right
No Notre Dame in the tournament
Notre Dame did not deserve to be in the tournament and I’m glad the committee saw that. They lost to Indiana and Ball State when Bonzie Colson was healthy early on in the season and still did not play that well when he came back after missing most of ACC play. Notre Dame was expected to be much better at the beginning of the season and ended up having one of the more disappointing seasons in college basketball. I’m kind of shocked that it took a Davidson win to knock Notre Dame out of the tournament, because there were some other teams that deserved to be ahead of Notre Dame and actually should be in the tournament; Saint Mary’s, USC, and Oklahoma State. Nonetheless, Notre Dame is not in the tournament and while I’m not happy about it, it was the right thing to do.
Kentucky as a 5 seed
I really thought they would over seed Kentucky and put them on the 4 or 3 line. This is a good spot for Kentucky. They have a tough matchup with Davidson in the first round and then will likely play Arizona in the second round. Deandre Ayton is one of the best, most dominant big men in the country and may prove to be a matchup issue for Kentucky if Jarred Vanderbilt is unable to play. If they are the real deal like John Calipari says they are, this is their time to prove it. They played very well in the SEC tournament and seem to be clicking at the right time. If they aren’t as good as they look, it’ll surely show in their first and second round matchup.
New Mexico State as a 12 seed
I think any higher or any lower would have set them up for failure in their first round matchup, but they have a decent one here with Clemson. The two teams matchup pretty well and this game should be a lot closer than most people expect. It could even be the lone 12 seed over 5 seed upset of the tournament this year. If they do pull the upset they are in a spot to potentially succeed in the second round as well against either Auburn or College of Charleston and make a sweet 16 appearance.
Texas and Providence as 10 seeds
I just really like the matchups for both of these teams. Both of the teams they are playing are good, but performed poorly in their conference tournaments. Nevada has the ability to run up the score, but they also struggle on defense. Mo Bamba could do some serious scoring on the Nevada defense and should be able to dominate the other side of the ball as well. Providence has the ability to play to elite levels as they showed in their game against Villanova in the Big East tournament, but they also can play some pretty bad basketball against inferior opponents. Ed Cooley is a pretty good coach and knows his personnel pretty well, so I think they’ll be able to advance to the second round.
Setting up Florida to fail
I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it’s exactly what they accomplish so I’m going to say they got this right. I personally think that St. Bonaventure or UCLA could beat this Florida team. They have been very inconsistent this season and lost to Loyola – IL at home this season. This doesn’t mean they are absolutely going to lose, but they have the toughest challenge for a 6 seed in the first round and they definitely are not the strongest 6 seed in the tournament field. Suppose they do make it out of the first round, they face the winner of Texas Tech and Stephen F Austin, the best 3-14 matchup in the tournament so it really doesn’t get any better for them in the second round.
What the committee got wrong
Oklahoma in the tournament
Oklahoma should not be in this tournament. They played absolutely terrible down the stretch and Trae Young just proved to everyone that the hype around him is not deserved at all. Oklahoma finished 2-8 down the stretch and 18-13 overall, not exactly the formula for a team that is built to succeed in the tournament. Ever since Trae Young complained that he was being guarded differently from everyone else, he has played poorly and has had to shoot a high percentage of Oklahoma’s shots in order to get to his 20 points. There was one game in his last 5 that he shot over 35% from the field. Shooter’s shoot, but if this team is going to succeed, Trae Young needs to be more efficient from the field. This isn’t all on Trae, the Oklahoma defense has played very poorly down the stretch, but with all the hype he’s been getting, you’d think he’d be able to lead a team to higher than a 10 seed that many people think did not deserve to be in the tournament.
Penn State and Nebraska both not in the tournament
I really don’t know how this happened. I kinda understand it for Nebraska after they lost to Illinois, but Penn State should definitely be in the tournament. They beat Ohio State three times this season. Ohio State is a 5 seed in the tournament and it was not even a debate that they were going to be in the field despite their three losses to a team not in the field. Penn State or Nebraska would definitely be able to give a team a tough first round matchup and both teams have the ability to pull an upset if they play their best basketball. They played in one of the better conferences this season and Nebraska even finished towards the top (fourth). I don’t know how the committee didn’t include either one of these teams, but I think they both have a chance to make a championship run in the NIT.
Pennsylvania as a 16 seed
I’ve only seen Penn play a couple games, but they are a very good basketball team. They can really defend the three point line and can shoot some of them on their own. I think a 13 or 12 seed would have better suited Penn and put them in a position to succeed. I know it’s not about putting teams in a good spot, but it should definitely be about getting the best matchups to put the best quality of basketball out on the court for everyone to see night in and night out. Penn is at a huge disadvantage here playing against Kansas, but I think this will be the closest 1-16 matchup in the field this year.
Oklahoma State missing the cut
I don’t know if this one needs much explanation from me. I’m just going to lay out some impressive victories that Oklahoma State had this season, and you’ll see exactly why it doesn’t make any sense that they were not in the tournament. @ #4 Oklahoma 83-81, @ #7 Kansas 84-79, @ #19 West Virginia 88-85, #6 Texas Tech 79-71, @ Iowa State 80-71, #6 Kansas 82-64, and Oklahoma 71-60. That’s 4 top ten wins against teams that are almost certainly in what the committee refers to as Quadrant 1. This was a huge criteria for the selection committee this season and yet Oklahoma State isn’t going to the big dance. Kansas is a number 1 seed in the tournament, yet they lost to Oklahoma State twice this season.
USC not in the tournament
USC finished second in the Pac 12 this season and there are two teams from the Pac 12 that finished lower than USC (UCLA and ASU) that are in the field of 68. I understand that USC had some bad losses this season, but they finished second in the conference during the regular season and second again in the conference tournament and still got no love from the committee. They’d rather see ASU and UCLA potentially not even win their play-in games Tuesday and Wednesday than give USC the chance that it earned to play in the tournament and have a secure spot on the 9 or 10 line.
Giving Virginia the toughest bracket
Again I know it’s not about giving teams favorable matchups, but the reward that the Cavaliers get for being the top seed is having one of the hardest roads to the Final Four. After the first round, they could either play Creighton or Kansas State, both teams capable of pulling an upset and then if they survive that, they get rewarded with either Kentucky or Arizona and both of those teams could pull an upset. I think it’ll be Arizona in that Sweet 16 matchup and they will ultimately knock the top overall seed out of the tournament. I could be wrong and Virginia could shock me and play that boring style of basketball and just rattle off 6 wins in a row to win a National Championship, but I really just don’t think that’s going to happen, especially with the teams that they have to play in order to reach the big game.
Duke, MSU, KU all in the same region
I guess they had to stick them somewhere, but these are three of the best teams in the country and they’re all going to be playing in the same region, which means only one of them has the potential to make it to the Final Four. Pretty unfortunate for basketball fans if you ask me. I think a Duke-MSU, Kansas-MSU or Duke-Kansas matchup in the Final Four would be fantastic for College basketball, but it’s likely that we’ll get two out of three of those matchups in the MidWest region anyway. I’m sure there are a lot of people that are going to pick one of these three teams to win the whole tournament anyway.
Mid-Majors getting screwed (@freekarl3)
There will always be controversy over which bubble teams deserve to be in the big dance, but with the new quadrant system that the committee uses, it is nearly impossible for mid majors to get an At-Large bid. What the committee told us yesterday was that all they care about is higher quadrant wins. It doesn’t matter if you have a ton of losses (Alabama-15, Texas-14), or finish the season colder than any other team being considered for a spot in the tournament (Oklahoma losing 8 of their last 10), as long as those quadrant-one wins are there, you will make the tournament. And if Nebraska (13-5 in the Big Ten) and USC (12-6 in the Pac 12) aren’t getting in because their lack of quality wins, all I gotta say is good luck to the future of what is known as the mid major.
To put it into a different perspective, Wichita State went into last year’s tournament as an automatic qualifier with a 30-4 record and as the Missouri Valley Conference champions. With that record and with the name that they’ve created for themselves, they received a ten seed from the committee. A year later, Wichita State switched to the American Athletic Conference, where they finished 25-7 overall and easily made the tournament with an At-Large bid as a four seed.
If top mid majors like Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s can learn anything from these scenarios, it’s get the automatic qualifier, or look somewhere else to play your conference games.
New Mexico State
Auburn has to travel over 2,000 miles for this game and I really don’t think they are as good as advertised. On the selection show when the Auburn team was shown it almost looked like the message they were trying to send was “shit we still have to play basketball for another week or two.” It was a very weird moment and it did not look like Auburn was excited at all to be in the tournament or to be playing New Mexico State. NMSU is a very experienced team and that has proven to be a big factor into success during March. They also hold one of the best defenses in the country as they are ranked 14th in defensive efficiency. This coupled with the fact that Auburn sometimes struggles to score the ball consistently has upset written all over it.
San Diego State
San Diego State is scorching hot coming into the tournament winning 9 games in a row including their conference championship. Many could argue that they peaked at the wrong time and the conference championship was as far as they could go, but I think they have a favorable matchup against Houston who is coming off a heartbreaking loss in their conference tournament. San Diego State has been very good in a lot of different areas this season, defense being their best, but they have not necessarily been great at anything and that could cost them their shot at an upset.
South Dakota State
SDSU has the lowest offensive turnover percentage in the country and can really light it up on offense. They are playing a good Ohio State team, but there is a lot of film from the Penn State games on how to beat OSU, being that the Nittany Lions beat them three times this season. SDSU will have their hands full with Keita Bates-Diop, but if they can start draining threes early in the game and find a way to limit the touches of Bates-Diop, they could be on the path to an upset. Ohio State also has to travel over 2,000 miles from their campus to play in the first round of the tournament so this could factor into their play as well.
Loyola – IL
Loyola went into Gainesville early in the year and beat Florida. This was probably supposed to be a tune-up game for Florida and they ended up getting beat by a very good Ramblers team. Miami is a little bit of a different opponent than Florida, but they can also struggle with scoring at times and Loyola plays some pretty good defense. Not only are they good on defense, but they have a very balanced offense where they can get 10 or more points per game from 5 different guys. There’s a reason this team is on the 11 line and not 13 or 14, they are the real deal and have the potential to beat Miami if Miami does not show up 100% ready to go in the first round.
Not to win. A 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. I think Penn could cover the spread though. They are absolutely going to get beat in this game, but it may not be by more than 15 points. Penn guards the three point line very well, but this will just open up the middle of the court for Kansas assuming Azubuike is back. Even if he is not playing in this game, Silvio De Sousa will probably tear up the inside of the defense. He adjusted to Big 12 gameplay halfway through the season and played very well in the conference tournament. Pennsylvania played very well on offense during their conference tournament and while the Ivy League defenses are not on the same level as Kansas, I think they have an opportunity to put up some points in this one.