Is there truly a snub in a 68-team at-large field that is already stretched thin with the absence of Louisville and Southern Methodist?
Is there truly a surprise when the bottom of the field looked so fluid to start?
Some of the surprises on the surface aren’t really all that stunning. Virginia’s profile was better than Michigan State’s from start to finish. The Cavaliers didn’t have a conference tournament title like the Spartans, but they were more accomplished. The committee opted not to be swayed by titles as much as in other years.
That also contributed to some of the snubs. A bunch of regular-season champions in non-power conferences with decent overall profiles found themselves shipped to the NIT.
There was also the case of South Carolina, which joins countless others in history’s dustbin of teams with dreadful nonconference strength of schedules that got excluded.
Here’s what stands out, though, as the closest things to snubs and surprises after Sunday night’s drawn-out bracket announcement.
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels (27-5) were the top seed in the West Coast Conference tournament, swept Gonzaga in the regular season, went 9-4 away from home and were 6-3 against the top 100 in the RPI. In this particular year, that looked like enough to get in.
So what went wrong? Well, the sweep of Gonzaga clearly wasn’t valued very much, and a nonconference schedule that featured only one top-50 opponent (California) didn’t help much, either. Out of all the exclusions, this is probably the most head-scratching since the only real blots were a pair of losses to Pepperdine in the regular season.
San Diego State: If the whole “playing outdoors” thing hadn’t run its course already, the Aztecs’ exclusion might just finish it off for good. San Diego State had probably the worst loss of any team under consideration, an early December setback against lowly San Diego (final RPI: 302) at Petco Park.
The Aztecs fell in Saturday’s Mountain West title game to Fresno State after winning the regular season by three games. Like Saint Mary’s, San Diego State is another regular season champion from outside a power conference consigned to the NIT. Owning only one top-50 victory (against California in Las Vegas over Thanksgiving) didn’t help.
St. Bonaventure: The poor Bonnies. They tied for the lead in the Atlantic 10’s regular season standings before flaming out in the quarterfinals against Davidson. But the startling element here is that St. Bonaventure had won at Dayton and Saint Joseph’s, the A-10’s two best teams, and owned a winning record on the road.
Might this be an advanced metrics casualty? St. Bonaventure was No. 79 in the KenPom rankings. Then again, that didn’t keep Temple (No. 86) out. Perhaps the Feb. 17 loss at La Salle did the Bonnies in. Either way, how much damage the back court of Jaylen Adams and Marcus Posley could have caused will remain a great unknown.
Michigan: The Wolverines lost 11 games by double figures and were 4-12 against the top 100. They also didn’t mess up (no losses outside the top 100), went 9-8 away from Ann Arbor and defeated Indiana and Texas on neutral courts (as well as Maryland and Purdue at home).
It’s not a great profile, but it seems the defeat of Indiana on Friday in the Big Ten quarterfinals put the Wolverines over the top. That makes them a big winner of selection week.
Syracuse: Don’t expect any shock here that the Orange made it. The committee’s long-standing penchant to reward teams with high-end victories away from home continued in this case, since Syracuse won at Duke and beat Texas A&M and Connecticut in the Bahamas.
Still, it’s not every day a team with an RPI of 72 gets an at-large, let alone avoids getting shipped to a play-in game. That is a genuinely puzzling aspect of Syracuse’s inclusion.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane has boasted a sneaky good profile for a few weeks now. It wasn’t great (4-5 against the top 50, 8-8 against the top 100, 8-8 away from home), but it wasn’t riddled with holes. Plus, Tulsa won at Southern Methodist, yet another high-end victory away from home for a team on the right side of the cut line.
This was a team that belonged in the conversation (the Post’s final bracket had Tulsa as the second team just outside the field), and frankly it warranted selection more than Michigan. Conveniently, the two teams will meet Wednesday.
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