NCAA Tournament 2012 Bracket: Why Washington Deserved an At-Large Bid

Max RogersCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 08:  Darnell Gant #44 of the Washington Huskies covers his face as he walks off the court after the Oregon State Beavers defeat the Huskies 86-84 during the quarterfinals of the 2012 Pacific Life Pac-12 basketball tournament at Staples Center on March 8, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

March Madness 2012 is underway, with the 68 teams competing in the tournament selected on Sunday. Once the second-round games of the NCAA tournament start and the NIT tournament is underway, most people will forget about the 2012 NCAA tournament snubs.

The selection committee chair, Jeff Hathaway, claimed Oral Roberts (27-5, 17-1; RPI: 46) was the first out. Had the Golden Eagles made the NCAA tournament, Washington’s snub would have stung a little less.

The Eagles finished first in the Summit Conference regular season. They also beat then-No. 8 Xavier 64-42 earlier in the season.

While the RPI system and conference tournament automatic bids are full of flaws, that’s the way the game is played, and every team knows it.

South Dakota State won the Summit’s automatic bid and their first appearance in the NCAA tournament. South Dakota State notably beat Washington in a road game earlier in the season.

It was not the Eagles to be the last into the NCAA tournament, or even Drexel. Drexel (27-6, 16-2; RPI: 71) won the CAA regular-season title. The VCU Rams won the CAA Conference title and the automatic bid.

Washington (21-10, 14-4; RPI: 69) finished the regular season first in the Pac-12. The Huskies lost in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament to Oregon State. Colorado, a team that finished the regular season tied for fifth in the Pac-12, won the tournament and the Pac-12’s automatic bid.

Photo Steve Helber/AP
Photo Steve Helber/AP

Washington’s snub was the first time in the modern era of the NCAA tournament that a power-conference regular-season champion has not received an at-large bid.

What all these snubs have in common is that essentially they suggest the regular season does not matter all that much, especially in conferences that lack AP Top 25 teams, or many RPI Top 50 teams.

The way the system is set up outweighs the conference tournament over the regular season. If the NCAA tournament is supposed to represent the best teams in Division I men’s basketball, shouldn’t the best teams be the ones to represent their conference?

While there are several teams in the NCAA tournament whose presence can be questioned, there is none more so than Iona.  For those of you who have never heard of Iona before, it is a college in New Rochelle, New York. The Iona Gaels finished the regular season first in the MAAC, but were eliminated by Fairfield in the MAAC tournament.

This is truly a case where you should hate the game, and not the player. While it is easy to identify Iona as the problem, it is the NCAA and the way the tournament is run that should be scrutinized more. 

Sure, the Washington Huskies did not beat any AP Top 25 teams this season. However, this season the Huskies lost to the No. 3 seed, Marquette, in the West region of the NCAA tournament by only one possession, 79-77.

This season, Washington also lost to the No. 2 seed in the South region, Duke, by only two possessions, 86-80.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: Seth Curry #30 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots past C.J. Wilcox #23 of the Washington Huskies at Madison Square Garden on December 10, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Those were the only two games the Huskies had against AP Top 25 teams this season.

It is hard to swallow that a team that finishes first in a power-conference and was able to keep within one to two possessions of the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the NCAA tournament, did not get invited.

The selection committee barely even had Washington on their radar. Jeff Hathaway named the last six out as: Oral Roberts, Miami, Nevada, Drexel, Mississippi State, and Seton Hall.

In that sense, it was not even the Bonnies, who unexpectedly won an automatic bid, that kept the Huskies out of the NCAA tournament.

There was a clear lack of any respect for Pac-12 men’s basketball this year. It was far from the Pac-12’s best year, however, almost half of the Pac-12’s 12 losses to AP Top 25 teams were by two possessions or less. These were opponents like Syracuse, Duke and Florida.  The Pac-12 was not the bottom feeders they have been made out to be. 

In the end, Washington, Drexel, and Oral Roberts were left out of the NCAA tournament.

That is the nature of the game though. I wish I could say that in some years the system benefits teams and some it doesn’t. But since this is the first time in the modern configuration of the NCAA tournament for something like this to happen to a power-conference champion, that is not the case.

It would be nice for snubs to drive discussion on possible change to the NCAA tournament. Most notably, re-examining the RPI system.

Washington received a No. 1 seed in the NIT, Drexel received a No. 3 seed and Oral Roberts a No. 4 seed. These teams now have a chance to demonstrate if the selection committee was wrong in their decision to snub them.

While Washington will have plenty of chances in the future to improve and get wins over ranked opponents outside of the Pac-12 conference, the same cannot be said for mid-majors. 

If the system is never changed, regular-season champion mid-majors will likely encounter a similar experience every year.

The Pac-12, however, needs to take note of this season and get the non-conference wins the selection committee values so much. Either that, or teams can just win the conference tournament, because it doesn’t matter if a team loses every game in the regular season—they can still get in that way.

Great system.