Early on Selection Sunday afternoon, the Davidson Wildcats defeated the Rhode Island Rams in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game, ending the hopes of one at-large candidate. A few hours later, the Selection Committee relegated several bubble teams to the NIT. Here are my thoughts on the top nine teams left out, starting with the first four out as announced during the Selection Show. My lone miss, the USC Trojans, was the fourth team out, with their Pac-12 rivals, the Arizona State Sun Devils, selected in their place.
Like Oklahoma State (and so many other teams on this list), predictive metrics like KenPom loved the Bears more than the RPI and other results-based metrics did. But Baylor didn’t beat enough of the Big 12’s middle class to stick around. Sure, Scott Drew’s team swept Texas and Oklahoma State, but they went just 1-5 against Oklahoma, Kansas State and TCU. Plus, they only managed a split with 10th-place Iowa State. Those struggles diminished the value of Baylor’s home wins over Kansas and Texas Tech and have the Bears planning for an NIT game.
Bonzie Colson’s availability was a topic of conversation all weekend, so let me again break down the Fighting Irish’s performance throughout the season based on his availability.
- Pre-injury: Notre Dame went 11-3, beating Wichita State to claim the Maui Jim Maui Invitational title. Once back on the Mainland, however, things didn’t go so well. The Irish lost at Michigan State by 18 in the Big Ten/ACC challenge and, more damagingly, picked up Group 3 losses to Ball State at home and Indiana (after OT in Indianapolis). For the record, Colson played a total of 81 minutes in those two games, averaging 27 points.
- With Colson out: The Irish struggled, going just 6-9. They most notably won at Syracuse and topped N.C. State and Florida State in South Bend. However, they lost at Georgia Tech and failed to close out Louisville in South Bend, falling in double OT.
- Upon Colson’s return: Yes, Notre Dame has won three of five, but only Wednesday’s ACC Tournament win over Virginia Tech came against a team not named “Pitt.”
Those final games were clearly not enough to push the Irish over the finish line.
As I wrote on Saturday evening, the collapse of the mid-major at-large bid market was the biggest single factor working against the Gaels. Saint Mary’s single win at Gonzaga wasn’t enough for them, especially since 24 of their 28 victories came against teams from outside of the RPI top 100.
Had the Trojans defeated Arizona on Saturday night, they would have only have to worry about their seeding. But Andy Enfield’s club is left sweating yet another Selection Sunday out. And that’s thanks to a profile that’s not quite as awesome as the numbers would indicate. While USC’s 4-5 record against Group 1 is better than UCLA’s 3-7 mark, the Bruins have a pair of top 20 wins, while the Trojans best victories came over Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State during Christmas week in Hawaii. USC went 10-10 against Groups 1 and 2 combined but those two Diamond Head Classic wins are their only top 50 victories! Plus, there was an unsightly home loss to Princeton before the trip to Honolulu.
While the Trojans’ computer numbers were good and their road (6-5) and neutral-court (5-2) records decent for a bubble team, clearly the Committee didn’t think their wins were of high enough quality.
Five Others Left Out
The Blue Raiders probably want their neutral-site losses to Auburn, Miami and USC back. Even though Middle has a road win 47th-ranked OVC champ Murray State and a sweep of No. 39 Western Kentucky, those victories didn’t resonate with the Committee.
For the longest time, the best thing about the Cardinals’ profile was a lack of bad losses, as their worst defeat by RPI came at N.C. State, ranked 64th. But that wasn’t enough for David Padgett’s squad despite a top 40 RPI. Louisville’s 3-10 record in Group 1 games and 5-13 combined mark against Groups 1 and 2 are the indicators of a team that got plenty of chances to play its way in and failed. A lack of top 50 wins only reinforced this.
The Golden Eagles had a similar issue to the Cardinals, even with five top 50 wins. Season sweeps of Seton Hall and Creighton weren’t enough, especially with no non-conference wins of note. Sure, Marquette put up an decent record of 8-11 against Groups 1 and 2, but just three of those eight victories counted under the top quadrant. On the other hand, Marquette managed to break even on the road, even beating three likely Big East NCAA qualifiers on the way. That’s more than Creighton managed. But the Bluejays also didn’t lose to DePaul.
History was the biggest factor working against the Cowboys, whose RPI was 20 places worse than 2016 Syracuse, which is the highest RPI number ever selected. And that’s too bad because a team that’s defeated Kansas twice, won at West Virginia and toppled Florida State in Sunrise, Fla. was certainly capable of winning a game or two in the NCAAs. However, inconsistency — evident in sweeps by Baylor, Kansas State and TCU — undercut the Cowboys’ case. Four non-conference games played against Division I’s bottom 50 also deflated Oklahoma State’s results-based metrics.
And we close this post with a look at the team most damaged by the Big Ten’s overall struggles. The conference’s unbalanced schedule did the Cornhuskers no favors, as they played the league’s four NCAA squads just once each. Making matters worse, only one of those games — the one they happened to win, over Michigan — was scheduled for Lincoln. Yes, Tim Miles’ squad won 22 games, but only four of those victories came against teams from the top 100, and that total included 10 of Nebraska’s 13 Big Ten victories.