What the NCAA Men’s Tournament Selection Committee did right and wrong
It’s as time-honored a Sunday picking tradition as Seth Davis picking three 14-seeded players to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA men’s tournament.
First, the selection committee reveals their bracket. Then the subtlety begins.
This year’s committee did a solid job for the most part, but there were a few glaring betting errors and a questionable bubble decision. Below is a look at what the committee got right and wrong:
What the committee did wrong: Houston before Kansas on seed line #1
It probably didn’t bother Kansas too much to see Alabama earn the No. 1 overall seed. Undoubtedly the bigger disappointment was that Houston passed the Jayhawks on the top seed line as well.
With Houston seeded No. 1 in the Midwest, Kansas’ national title defense will not go via the geographically friendly Kansas City Regional. The Jayhawks will instead play Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games at the West Regional in Las Vegas if they progress that far.
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That Kansas fell behind Houston was a surprising decision considering the Jayhawks went into selection Sunday with the national best 17 Quadrant 1 wins, three more than any other team in the nation. The Jayhawks (27-7) defeated Duke, Indiana and Kentucky in non-league games to win the regular-season overall title in the toughest conference in the country.
In contrast, Houston (31-3) had six wins in the first quadrant this season, a pair against Memphis and then singles wins against Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Oregon and Cincinnati. Kansas also has no losses outside the top quadrant, while Houston suffered an ugly home loss in the third quadrant to the mediocre Temple.
The only area where Houston has an edge over Kansas is in prediction metrics. The Cougars ranked No. 1 in all on Sunday while Kansas was ninth in the NCAA’s NET rankings, No. 9 in KenPom and 12th in Bart Torvik’s T-ranking.
The selection committee can’t even apologize for penalizing Kansas for their Big 12 title game loss to Texas on Saturday night. After all, Houston suffered his own one-sided loss in the conference tournament title game the following day against Memphis.
What the committee got right: The rest of seed lines #1 and #2
When UCLA lost a tense, hard-fought Pac-12 title game to Arizona late Saturday night, it made the selection committee’s choice for the final No. 1 much clearer. The committee made the obvious choice, putting Purdue (29-5) alongside Alabama, Houston and Kansas.
The Boilermakers opened the door for another No. 1 contender to overtake them with a loss of four in February before bouncing back to win both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. They had a more impressive record of marquee wins than UCLA and three fewer losses than Texas, which lost eight.
The committee was also right, awarding UCLA the prized #2 seed in the west and throwing Arizona into the southern region. While the Wildcats (28-6) beat the Bruins in two of three games and had more impressive wins outside of the league, UCLA (29-5) had the better season record. The Bruins won the Pac-12 by four full games and had zero losses outside of quadrant 1 compared to three for the Wildcats.
The final decision the committee had to make was which team would join UCLA, Texas and Arizona in the No. 2 seed line. It was fitting to reward Marquette (28-6) for impressively winning the Big East regular-season and tournament title. Gonzaga and Baylor were the other two realistic candidates.
What the committee did wrong: Texas A&M as seed #7
Perhaps the committee hadn’t forgotten Buzz Williams’ angry monologue after Texas A&M was eliminated from the NCAA tournament last March. Perhaps the committee wanted to send a message to the Aggies to improve their pathetic non-conference schedule.
Whatever the reason, the committee royally screwed up Texas A&M by giving it a 7th place finish when the Aggies should have been 5th at worst.
After stumbling through an out-of-league schedule in which it lost to every team with a pulse and two teams without one, Texas A&M was a juggernaut. The Aggies stormed to a 15-3 SEC record, a game behind first-place Alabama. They beat Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas at home. They won in Auburn and Missouri. They performed as the No. 6 team in the nation since January 1, according to Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings.
You can’t ignore all the work. Texas A&M is posting losses to Murray State, Wofford and Colorado in non-league games. But this is a team with an elite point guard, a proven head coach, and an impressive defense. No one wanted to draw the Aggies as a #5 seed, let alone a 7. Giving them a 7 seed isn’t just a disservice to them. It’s also unfair to Penn State, their first-round opponent, and Texas, who could see them in the Round of 32.
What the committee got wrong: A lack of regional balance
Here are the four top seeds in the West Region (and where they are on the committee’s seeding list):
1. Kansas (3)
3. Gonzaga (10)
4. UConn (13)
Here are the top four seeds in the East region:
1. Puree (4)
2. Markette (8)
3. State of Kansas (11)
4. Tennessee (14)
In the West Region, there’s a Kansas team that many thought until Saturday would be the No. 1 overall seed, a UCLA team that’s almost played its way to the top seedline, and Gonzaga and UConn teams , which are in the top 10 in virtually every metric. The East Region boasts a Purdue team that was the committee’s lowest No. 1, a Marquette team that was the committee’s lowest No. 2, a Kansas State team that peaked in January, and a Tennessee team, which isn’t the same without their starting point keeper.
How did the committee view these two regions and consider them remotely comparable?
It helps a little that Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, Memphis and Florida Atlantic are all dangerous teams with lower ranks in the East, but the West has some creepy sleepers too. Anyone want to play against an 8th-seeded Arkansas team with two NBA lottery picks in the back? What about a postseason-tested TCU team that played better than their No. 6 when star guard Mike Miles Jr. was healthy?
What the Committee Got Right: Pittsburgh to the First Four
While Pittsburgh has been projected in many bogus brackets to avoid the First Four, the committee sending the Panthers to Dayton isn’t a miscarriage of justice, which some will argue is. Pittsburgh’s resume has always been more flimsy than his 14-6 ACC record would suggest.
Pittsburgh beat NCAA tournament-bound Miami, Virginia, NC State and Northwestern this season, but 15 of its 22 wins were Quadrant 3 or 4 games. The Panthers were 3-5 in Quadrant 2 games and suffered heavy losses at home to Florida State and at Notre Dame.
That would still have been enough to keep Pittsburgh out of the First Four if only they lost to Duke in the ACC quarterfinals instead of being annihilated. A 27-point loss dropped the Panthers from the top 60 in the NET, from the top 70 in KenPom, and from the top 80 in Bart Torvik’s T rankings.
A knockout round against Mississippi State gives Pittsburgh a chance to prove the metrics wrong, that they’re an NCAA tournament-caliber team. It’s not where the Panthers wanted to be, but it’s better not to hear their name.
What the committee got wrong: Nevada in the field
Just two weeks ago, Nevada was in good position to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Eric Musselman era. Then the Wolf Pack lost in struggling Wyoming… and at home to rival UNLV… and to San Jose State in the Mountain West quarterfinals.
Those three losses should have sent Nevada (22-10) to the NIT. The Wolf Pack’s work throughout the season wasn’t strong enough to overcome such a poor ending.
Aside from putting Kansas State into overtime, Nevada didn’t do anything special in the non-conference game. His best win outside of the league was… Akron? State of Sam Houston?
The Wolf Pack split with NCAA tournament-bound Mountain West teams San Diego State, Boise State and Utah State during the regular season, but those wins all came at home. Her best win outside of Reno came in early February in dwindling New Mexico.
Between Nevada’s mediocre resume and Mountain West’s atrocious recent NCAA tournament history, the last team in the field, the Wolf Pack shouldn’t have had the benefit of the doubt. It’s a spot that could easily have gone to Rutgers, Vanderbilt, or even a small conference team in need of an opportunity like 26 wins in North Texas.
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