There is plenty of evidence to suggest the Monmouth Hawks will face a dissatisfying Selection Sunday.
The team resume that sits before the NCAA tournament selection committee features a trio of terrible losses to Army, Manhattan and Canisius. The advanced metrics of Ken Pomeroy — factors that helped some bubble teams in 2015 — rank the Hawks just 67th. The The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference doesn’t have the sort of profile that usually warrants multiple NCAA tournament bids.
But here’s the big reason all of that might not matter today: Hypocrisy. Specifically, the hypocrisy of the selection committee should the shut out Monmouth from the 2016 tournament.
For years the committee has preached the importance of playing a tough schedule and performing well against that schedule. That’s precisely what the Monmouth Hawks did this season. They traveled to face UCLA and USC. They took on the Trojans again, along with Notre Dame and Dayton, on a neutral floor in the Old Spice Classic in November. They came down to Washington, D.C. and absolutely smacked down the Georgetown Hoyas on their home court.
In all, the Hawks went 8-3 in their non-conference schedule and 13-4 on the road.
The Hawks have done exactly what the committee has asked teams to do. And they were largely successful in doing so. That should be enough to grant Monmouth an at-large bid. If it’s not, it would completely undermine the offered logic for why some teams are admitted ahead of others. It would also torpedo the belief the committee views all teams evenly and not through a “major” or “mid-major” lens.
For the majority of teams in conferences outside the traditional top eight conferences — ACC, Atlantic 10, American, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — it’s almost impossible to put together a schedule that will produce a strength rating that will impress on Selection Sunday. There are just too many RPI anchors at the bottom of those smaller conferences that drastically hamper the schedule rankings. Meanwhile, major conference teams get boosts simply by playing the likes of top-ranked squads such as North Carolina or Oregon or Kansas. That dynamic is compounded by conference tournaments. Bubble teams in big conferences can get shots at top-RPI teams — Michigan against Indiana, for example. But there is no game in the MAAC that could have helped Monmouth.
That’s an inherent problem in any league with over 350 teams, and it’s not something the Hawks can control. What they — and any other team under tournament consideration — can control is who they play in the non-conference schedule. The committee has told us, time and again, that matters. And now they have to back it up.
The contrast this Sunday is made so stark by similarities. Take the following teams under at-large consideration:
Team A has a record of 23-8, an RPI of 65, a 1-1 record against the RPI Top 50, a strength of schedule of 169 and a non-conference strength of schedule of 295.
Team B has a record of 27-7, and RPI of 53, a 1-1 record against the RPI Top 50, a strength of schedule of 176 and a non-conference strength of schedule of 128.
Most people think Team A is in the field. And traditionally, major conference teams with eight losses have nothing to fear on Selection Sunday. But if the committee were to admit South Carolina (AKA, Team A) and exclude Monmouth (Team B) it would undermine one of its most often-preached principles for filling out the bracket and prove, once and for all, that teams in major conferences get preferred status.
There will always be reasons to exclude a team like Monmouth. Three bad losses and advanced metrics that don’t distinguish the Hawks against other bubble teams certainly accomplish that. But if the NCAA wants anyone to take its words seriously when it says teams need to challenge themselves during their non-conference schedules, the committee simply has to put the Hawks into the field.