NCAA tournament selection committee rewards Nevada, punishes Oklahoma State

(Illustration by Artur Galocha/The Washington Post)
7 min

It’s not often an NCAA basketball committee chairman gets on TV and says something genuinely reassuring — intentional or not — to people watching his explanation during the annual tournament selection show.

But darned if Bradley Athletic Director Chris Reynolds didn’t pull it off Sunday.

When offered the opportunity to explain why Nevada was the final team included the field at the expense of Oklahoma State, he acknowledged the Big 12’s Cowboys owned six Quadrant 1 victories, the top tier of triumphs available for any team during the season.

Then he pivoted to point out they also had 12 losses and that Nevada went 4-5 in those games. The Wolf Pack didn’t have quantity on their side, but they did more to take advantage of their opportunities on a per capita basis.

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It’s the sort of argument fans of teams in leagues such as the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 have long made: Efficiency matters.

And while it was a bit unexpected to see Nevada pop up, few are going to shed tears for an 18-15 Big 12 team or a 19-14 Big Ten team (Rutgers) or an ACC team with only one high-end victory in 10 tries (North Carolina). They had chances, they didn’t take advantage, and now they’re off to the NIT. (Or not, in UNC’s case.)

Some takeaways from Sunday night’s bracket reveal:

SURPRISE: Nevada gets in.

The thing about the Wolf Pack (22-10) was it did such a great job avoiding silly pitfalls most of the season. Sure, Steve Alford’s team fell to a super-mercurial Loyola Marymount team, and it stumbled at rival UNLV. But it had a decent NCAA profile until late February.

Then it lost at Wyoming (a Quad 3 loss), fell at home to UNLV (another Quad 3 loss) and dropped its Mountain West quarterfinal to San José State, the latter two games in overtime. Nevada did not wind up with a picture-perfect profile, but the committee gave clemency to one team from outside the power conferences while setting up its play-in game dance card.

SNUB: Oklahoma State gets left out.

The Cowboys were the top team excluded from the field, and it wasn’t hard to envision them getting in. They were 8-10 in a loaded Big 12, including a home-and-home sweep of Iowa State. But look a little closer and it becomes clear Oklahoma State (18-15) went a combined 5-0 against Oklahoma and Texas Tech (including the league tournament) and 4-11 against everyone else in the Big 12. Not ideal.

One more good win probably would have done the job for the Cowboys. Considering they had 12 chances to get that extra triumph, there wasn’t a lack of opportunity.

2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket

SURPRISE: Providence escapes play-in territory.

The Friars (21-11) were a team that probably didn’t want you squinting too closely at its résumé. Providence went 3-8 in Quadrant 1 games, and all those victories (Connecticut, Marquette and Creighton) came at home. Like Nevada, it took its worst loss of the season late, a March 4 home thumping administered by Seton Hall.

The committee probably liked the 6-6 road record and the absence of too many inexplicable performances. But at the right angle, it wasn’t a résumé that guaranteed Providence a direct ticket into the round of 64. The Friars should be pretty happy with their fate.

SNUB: Mississippi State does not.

Mississippi State was part of a group of teams — Providence, Auburn, N.C. State and Illinois, all to at least some extent — that had “didn’t really mess up” as one of their selling points. And one of then was always likely headed to Dayton for a play-in game.

The Bulldogs (21-12) drew that short straw despite a neutral-court defeat of Marquette, a victory at Arkansas and triumphs over Missouri, TCU and Texas A&M at home. They were 4-8 in Quadrant 1 games (not great, not dreadful) and had only one questionable loss (a Jan. 11 setback at Georgia).

All six of Mississippi State’s team sheet metrics had them between 41st and 53rd, so it isn’t a miscarriage of justice for them to play an opening-round game. It just could have easily been somebody else with a similar profile.

SURPRISE: Howard avoids Dayton.

The Bison earned their first NCAA berth since 1992 thanks to a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament title. And with a NET ranking in the 200s, Howard looked as if it would be ticketed for a play-in game.

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Instead, Howard ends up with a date with defending national champion Kansas in Des Moines. Probably helpful were four Quadrant 3 victories (at Harvard, Norfolk State both on the road and a neutral court and Buffalo on a neutral floor). That usually doesn’t make a difference, but it differentiated the Bison from fellow No. 16 seed Texas A&M Corpus Christi, which earned only one of its 23 victories in the top three quadrants.

One other bonus here: It allowed at least one of the two leagues composed of HBCUs to skip Dayton. This has become a point of consternation during the 68-team era. Texas Southern, which won the SWAC with a 14-20 record, certainly was not a candidate to avoid Dayton.

SNUB: Texas A&M’s seeding.

Forget for now the Aggies reaching the SEC title game. Last year imparted the lesson that such a surge didn’t matter too much when Texas A&M was consigned to the NIT.

But the Aggies (25-9) rank in the top 20 of all six metrics on the team sheets. They went 7-6 in Quadrant 1 games. The biggest minus to their credit was a pair of Quad 4 losses (Murray State and Wofford) during nonconference play.

On paper, Texas A&M should have been a No. 5 seed. That the Aggies are a No. 7 and a game away from likely dealing with Big 12 champion Texas isn’t an equitable outcome for the season they stitched together. If the committee messed one thing up, this is it.

SURPRISE: There weren’t many other seeding issues.

Other than Texas A&M’s troubles, the only other team with a credible reason to feel underseeded was Penn State, which surged to the Big Ten final and landed on the No. 10 line for its trouble. But even then, the Nittany Lions don’t have to deal with a No. 1 seed if they make it to the second round. It isn’t the worst of fates.

(In fact, Penn State’s biggest gripe should be playing Thursday after a four-games-in-four-days run at the Big Ten).

Besides that, there aren’t many seeding curiosities that stand out. Creighton as a No. 6 seed seems a hair high based on its profile, but if the three games it lost without the 7-foot-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner in December were discounted, then the placement doesn’t look as unusual. On this front, the committee got much more right than wrong.

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SNUB: Rutgers stays home.

A lot of people expected to see the Scarlet Knights get in. But they had four Quadrant 3 losses (at home against Seton Hall and Nebraska, against Temple on a neutral floor and at Minnesota), owned the No. 314 nonconference strength of schedule and also had an injury issue, going 3-7 without forward Mawot Mag.

One differentiating factor is hard to overcome. The Scarlet Knights had three and very nearly navigated their way into the field, anyway. Instead, Rutgers was the second team on the outside of the field despite a 10-10 record against the top two quadrants. Last year, the flip of the Dayton coin landed in favor of Steve Pikiell’s team. No such luck this March.