Why Auburn, Penn State Are "In" and Creighton, St. Mary's Are "Out"
As time has passed, the brackets out there on the professional websites, as well as those posted by analysts on Bleacher Report, tend to become much more similar. In fact, it's hard to find all but the most minute of disagreements at this point, usually centered around one or two bubble teams.
The field seems all but set for most people, but the Selection Committee always has a few surprises in store when the actual 65 teams get named.
Why should today be any different?
Since the surprises are a virtual certainty (I can't remember a year when it hasn't occurred), I scoured the bubble teams to see where a surprise might come from and have come up with a couple of possibilities.
I don't expect many to agree with them; otherwise they wouldn't be surprises!
Still, on a day that has often centered around the unexpected, I hope you'll enjoy a little prognostication of the possibilities, slim as they may be.
[First, note that conference affiliation, where a team finished in their conference, or anything involving the words "eye test" have absolutely NO impact on the Selection Committee's decisions, nor do the coaches' pleas to the press.]
From Mike Slive, chairman of the committee, these criteria include:
1. Wins and losses
2. Strength of schedule
3. Road victories
4. Records against the RPI Top 50
5. Injuries or controversies that may cost a team one or two wins
6. How a team finished the season (last 10-12 games, plus the Conference Tournament)
7. Notable wins over a team that is "better" and notable losses against a team that is "worse"
So here are your two "surprises":
1. Penn State (22-11, 10-8 Big Ten) is IN; Creighton (26-7, 14-4 MVC) is OUT
Nearly everyone rang the death knell for the Nittany Lions after a tournament loss to Purdue, but they likely lost to the Big Ten Tournament Champions.
Their road victories include Michigan State and Illinois, two of the top three Big Ten teams, the conference with the second-best RPI.
Georgia Tech is another nice road win for the Nittany Lions, despite the Jackets' final spot in the ACC. They are a team that knocked off Wake Forest, and yes, the committee looks at the "web" of who your opponents' opponents were.
Early season losses were to Temple (the A-10 Champion) and Rhode Island (a bubble team until the last two weeks of the season). Penn State's worst loss was at Iowa, but it was in-conference to a team that also beat NCAA Tournament teams Wisconsin, Northern Iowa and near-bubble teams Northwestern and Kansas State.
Compare this record to Creighton, who finished the season with a nip and tuck win over Wichita State and a humiliating blowout loss to Illinois State, who could not go on to win the MVC championship. This was not a very good last impression for the Bluejays.
Creighton's losses to Drake and Arkansas-Little Rock are worse than any loss Penn State posted, and a mid-season loss to Wichita State may be as well.
Creighton's home win over Dayton looks less and less impressive as the Flyers collapse. That's actually the best win Creighton has, which can't hold a candle to Penn State's marquee wins. The Bluejays' win over New Mexico? Same story (and it was at home).
Did Creighton have any road wins of note? Not a single one. The best is (drum roll, please) at St. Joseph's, a team that finished eighth in the Atlantic 10.
Creighton has an empty resume and virtually no shot at a bid on Sunday. The bracketologists who believe they are in the Big Dance must have hypnotized each other.
2. Auburn (22-11, 10-6 SEC) is IN; St. Mary's (26-6, 10-4 West Coast) is OUT
Teams that schedule for the NIT often end up in the NIT, and these two do not have impressive OOC schedules.
Auburn's best road wins are over Virginia and Mississippi State, though Virginia is a team that knocked off VMI, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland. The only other road win of significance for the Tigers is the neutral-court victory over Florida in the SEC tourney.
St. Mary's two best road wins are over San Diego State (better than either of Auburn's) and...uh-oh. Oregon? San Diego? Auburn gets the edge.
Furthermore, you can discount that post-WCC tourney game at Eastern Washington (12-18, 6-10 Big Sky) right now. Beating the sixth-place team in a one-bid conference will mean exactly jack squat to the Selection Committee. Patrick Mills was healthy for the WCC final, and Gonzaga crushed St. Mary's by 25.
The losses to Portland and Santa Clara will only partially be mitigated by Mills' injury because the Gaels were absolutely blown out by very weak teams. The losses to Gonzaga will not be mitigated by Mills' injury because they got destroyed when he was healthy.
Auburn finished the season 9-2, including victories over LSU, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi State (twice). At least two of those teams are headed for the NCAAs and two are (at least) headed to the NIT, as MSU plays Tournament lock UT for the SEC title.
It will also be considered that three straight Auburn losses (to Dayton, Northern Iowa, and Xavier, all NCAA Tournament teams) were in single digits (one point, six points, and seven points, respectively).
I love the Gaels; they're one of my favorite teams in the nation. But they don't deserve to be dancing. They have the higher RPI (47 to Auburn's 57), but it's not enough to overcome the other factors.
So don't look so glum there, Tigers. At least one person says you'll be just fine tomorrow night.
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