Michigan vs. Tulsa (Wednesday in Dayton)
The Golden Hurricane was perhaps the most glaring at-large question mark of the entire field because of the following numbers: 58, 69, 66, 58, 72 and 59. Those would be Tulsa’s national rankings in, respectively, the RPI, LRMC, Sagarin, Ken Pomeroy, KPI and BPI ratings, metrics (advanced or, in the case of the RPI, otherwise) considered by the selection committee. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi called it the “biggest head-scratcher in all my years.” and “indefensible by every conceivable standard.” Tulsa went 4-5 against the RPI top 50, yes, but also went 6-6 against teams ranked between 51 and 200 in the RPI. It lost to 14-17 Oral Roberts at home. Michigan, which had similar analytic rankings, was much less of a questionable choice, with wins over Maryland, Purdue, Indiana and Texas and exactly zero bad losses.
The Orange not only limped into the bracket having gone 5-5 over its past 10 games, but also wasn’t even one of the last four teams in the tournament, earning a No. 10 seed. And then there’s this: According to CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm, Syracuse became the first team ever to receive an at-large bid even though its total losses equaled its RPI top 200 wins (the Orange went 13-12 against the RPI top 200 and also lost to St. John’s, which ended up ranked worse than 200). I repeat: Syracuse lost to 7-24 St. John’s and got into the tournament. It also lost — pretty badly — to Georgetown, another bad Big East team. The committee seems to have put a certain amount of weight behind the fact that Coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine games this season, with the Orange going 4-5. Committee Chairman Joe Castiglione also noted Syracuse’s five RPI top 50 wins.
Perhaps a sign of the RPI’s demise, the Bonnies (No. 30 RPI ranking) weren’t as beloved by the more advanced analytical rankings. They had three top 50 wins (twice against Atlantic 10 champ Saint Joseph’s, plus Dayton) and three sub-100 losses (Siena, Duquesne and La Salle) and lasted just one game as the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament, getting upset by Davidson. St. Bonaventure had one of the highest RPI rankings to ever miss the NCAA tournament and is the second RPI top 30 team to miss the tournament since 2011.
“Monmouth was right there in the final discussion,” Castiglione said on CBS after the bracket was revealed. But he also noted the Hawks’ losses to Army, Canisius and Manhattan. Teams that lose to Army, Canisius and Manhattan probably don’t deserve at-large bids, even if they have a few good wins (Notre Dame, USC) sprinkled in there. Good wins. Not great wins.
The Aztecs’ case rested with their respectable analytical rankings, but only one truly strong win (against Cal in a neutral-site game in late November) doomed them to the NIT. That, and a loss to San Diego, which won nine games and was ranked 302nd in the RPI. Woof.
The Gamecocks beat both Vanderbilt and Tulsa, two teams deemed more at-large worthy by the committee. “Only one top 50 win,” was how Castiglione explained South Carolina’s tournament absence. Heck, the Gamecocks only played two games against the RPI top 50. They were doomed by their schedule.
Another team with good advanced-stat numbers, the Crusaders played just two games against the RPI top 50, beating Oregon State on the road in November.
The Gaels beat Gonzaga twice in the regular season but lost to the Zags in the West Coast Conference title game, which had the bonus effect of making those wins RPI top 50 victories. But St. Mary’s only had one other RPI top 50 opponent on its schedule, a loss to Cal. The Gaels lost only five times this season. Two of them were to Pepperdine (RPI 129).
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