Here's what the men's NCAA tournament selection committee got right and wrong
It's as time-honored a Selection Sunday tradition as Seth Davis picking three 14 seeds to advance to the second weekend of the NCAA men's tournament.
First the selection committee unveils its bracket. Then the nitpicking begins.
This year's committee did a solid job for the most part, but there were a couple of glaring seeding errors and one questionable bubble decision. Below is a look at what the committee got right and what it got wrong:
What the committee got wrong: Houston ahead of Kansas on the No. 1 seed line
It probably didn’t bother Kansas all that much to see Alabama receive the No. 1 overall seed. The bigger disappointment undoubtedly was Houston leapfrogging the Jayhawks on the top seed line as well.
Since Houston received the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, Kansas’ national title defense will not go through the geographically friendly Kansas City Regional. The Jayhawks instead will play Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games at the West Regional in Las Vegas if they advance that far.
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Kansas slipping behind Houston was a surprising decision considering the Jayhawks entered Selection Sunday with a national-best 17 Quadrant 1 victories, three more than any other team in the nation. The Jayhawks (27-7) toppled Duke, Indiana and Kentucky in non-league play and won the outright regular-season title in the nation’s toughest conference.
Houston (31-3), by contrast, had six Quadrant 1 wins this season, a pair against Memphis and then single victories over Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Oregon and Cincinnati. Kansas also has no losses outside the top quadrant, whereas Houston took an ugly Quadrant 3 home loss against middling Temple.
About the only area where Houston has an edge over Kansas is in the predictive metrics. The Cougars entered Sunday No. 1 in all of them, whereas Kansas was ninth in the NCAA’s NET rankings, No. 9 at KenPom and 12th in Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings.
The selection committee can’t even make the excuse that it was punishing Kansas for its blowout Big 12 title game loss to Texas on Saturday night. After all, Houston suffered its own one-sided conference tournament title game loss against Memphis the following day.
What the committee got right: The rest of the No. 1 and 2 seed lines
When UCLA lost a tense, fiercely contested Pac-12 title game to Arizona late Saturday night, it made the selection committee’s choice for the final No. 1 seed much clearer. The committee made the obvious choice and slotted Purdue (29-5) alongside Alabama, Houston and Kansas.
The Boilermakers opened the door for another No. 1 seed contender to overtake them with a four-loss February before rebounding to win both the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. They had a more impressive collection of marquee wins than UCLA and three fewer losses than eight-loss Texas.
The committee also got it right awarding UCLA the prized No. 2 seed in the West and jettisoning Arizona to the South Region. While the Wildcats (28-6) beat the Bruins two out of three times they played and had more impressive non-league wins, UCLA (29-5) had the better season-long résumé. The Bruins won the Pac-12 by four full games and had zero losses outside 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 on the No. 2 seed line. Rewarding Marquette (28-6) for impressively sweeping the Big East regular-season and tournament titles was appropriate. Gonzaga and Baylor were the other two realistic candidates.
What the committee got wrong: Texas A&M as a No. 7 seed
Maybe the committee hadn’t forgotten about Buzz Williams’ angry soliloquy after Texas A&M was left out of the NCAA tournament last March. Maybe the committee wanted to send a message to the Aggies to improve their pathetic non-conference schedule.
Whatever the reason, the committee royally screwed Texas A&M by giving it a No. 7 seed when the Aggies should have been at worst a No. 5.
After staggering through a non-league schedule in which it lost to any team with a pulse and to two teams without one, Texas A&M has been a juggernaut. The Aggies stormed to a 15-3 SEC record, one game behind first-place Alabama. They’ve beaten Alabama, Tennessee and Arkansas at home. They’ve won at Auburn and Missouri. They’ve performed like the No. 6 team in the nation since Jan. 1, according to Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings.
You can’t ignore the full body of work. Texas A&M has to answer for its losses to Murray State, Wofford and Colorado in non-league play. But this is a team with an elite point guard, a proven head coach and a formidable defense. Nobody wanted to draw the Aggies as a No. 5 seed, let alone a 7. To give them a 7 seed is not only a disservice to them. It’s also unfair to Penn State, their first-round opponent, and to Texas, who could see them in the round of 32.
What the committee got wrong: A lack of regional balance
Here are the top four seeds in the West Region (and where they ranked on the committee’s seed list):
1. Kansas (3)
2. UCLA (5)
3. Gonzaga (10)
4. UConn (13)
Here’s the top four seeds in the East Region:
1. Purdue (4)
2. Marquette (8)
3. Kansas State (11)
4. Tennessee (14)
The West Region features a Kansas team that until Saturday many thought would be the No. 1 overall seed, a UCLA team that nearly played its way onto the top seed line, and Gonzaga and UConn teams that are top 10 in virtually every metric. The East Region features a Purdue team that was the committee’s lowest-ranked No. 1, a Marquette team that was the committee’s lowest-ranked No. 2, a Kansas State team that peaked in January and a Tennessee team that isn’t the same without its starting point guard.
How did the committee look at these two regions and come away thinking they were remotely comparable?
It does help a little bit that Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State, Memphis and Florida Atlantic are all dangerous lower-seeded teams in the East, but the West has some scary sleepers too. Anyone want to face an eighth-seeded Arkansas team with two NBA lottery picks in its backcourt? What about a postseason-tested TCU team that played better than its No. 6 seed when star guard Mike Miles Jr. was healthy?
What the committee got right: Pittsburgh to the First Four
While Pittsburgh was projected to avoid the First Four in many mock brackets, the committee sending the Panthers to Dayton isn’t the miscarriage of justice some will claim it is. Pittsburgh’s résumé was always flimsier than its 14-6 ACC record suggested.
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 bad losses at home to Florida State and at Notre Dame.
That still might have been enough to keep Pittsburgh out of the First Four had it merely lost to Duke in the ACC quarterfinals rather than getting annihilated. A 27-point loss dropped the Panthers outside the top 60 in the NET, outside the top 70 in KenPom and outside the top 80 in Bart Torvik’s T-rankings.
A first-four matchup with Mississippi State gives Pittsburgh a chance to prove that the metrics are wrong, that it’s an NCAA tournament-caliber team. It’s not where the Panthers wanted to be, but it beats not hearing their name called.
What the committee got wrong: Nevada in the field
Only two weeks ago, Nevada was in decent position to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the Eric Musselman era. Then the Wolf Pack lost at struggling Wyoming … and at home to rival UNLV … and to San Jose State in the Mountain West quarterfinals.
Those three losses should have doomed Nevada (22-10) to the NIT. The Wolf Pack’s season-long body of work wasn’t strong enough to overcome such a poor finish.
Outside of taking Kansas State to overtime, Nevada did nothing of note in non-conference play. Its best non-league win was … Akron? Sam Houston State?
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. Their best win away from Reno came at fading New Mexico in early February.
Between Nevada’s mediocre résumé and the Mountain West’s atrocious recent NCAA tournament history, the Wolf Pack shouldn’t have gotten the benefit of the doubt as the last team in the field. It’s a spot that easily could have gone to Rutgers, to Vanderbilt or even to a small-conference team in need of an opportunity like 26-win North Texas.