NCAA Snubs Auburn, SEC

Kevin StricklandCorrespondent IMarch 16, 2009

The Auburn Tigers got the news most expected on Sunday, but no one in orange and blue wanted to hear it.  The NCAA tournament selection committee snubbed the Tigers and showed complete disdain for the SEC when the NCAA tournament field of 65 was announced.

Not only was Auburn not among the teams selected for the tournament, but SEC tournament champion Mississippi State garnered a paltry 13 seed. SEC West title holder and regular season winner LSU was given an eight seed, and SEC East champ Tennessee rated a nine.

That’s blatant disrespect for the league’s body of work.

Auburn’s exclusion marked the first time since the SEC split into two divisions that a team with 10-plus league wins was denied a berth in the tournament.

Auburn fans watched the final two weeks of the season unfold with great interest. No team in the league was any hotter than the Tigers.

Auburn won nine of eleven down the stretch. The Tigers pounded LSU in the season finale, won on the road against archrival Alabama, and demolished eventual tournament champ MSU in the Dogs' house.

But while fans followed the rising Tiger momentum with enthusiasm, the run was met with a collective yawn from the national media.  Heading into the SEC tournament, most experts had Auburn looking at the so-called bubble from a distance.

Where Auburn fans saw a win over Florida in the first round of the SEC tournament as a virtual NCAA lock for the 22-10 Tigers, the selection committee was busy thinking about 20-13 Michigan, a team that had a 9-9 record in the weak Big Ten and a team that went 5-5 in its last ten games.

Where Auburn fans saw a team that was playing its best down the stretch, the selection committee was blinded by the beauty of a 19-12 Wisconsin team that lost three of its last five games.  Oh, but the Badgers had a higher RPI because they lost to better teams than Auburn beat.  What?

RPI, SchmarPI. 

The Auburn team that roared down the stretch and won games it had to win deserved a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

An opportunity to play in the NIT and be granted a No. 1 seed is a nice consolation prize.

Nice in the way getting to take cousin Erdie and her plaid cotton dress to the prom, when you’d been expecting to take Betty Jo Buttercrust and her silky satin gown is nice. 

Nice in the way you want a new car for Christmas and Santa brings you a box of tube socks. Yes, exactly like that.

In the end, whatever Auburn did short of winning the SEC tournament was not going to be enough to get the Tigers into the NCAA tourney. Based on inferences drawn from seeding alone, had Mississippi State not won the tournament, the SEC would only have two entries, Tennessee and LSU, in this year’s field. That’s absolutely ridiculous.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the SEC has never started the tournament with its highest-seeded team seeded as low as eighth. 

The three total tournament bids are the lowest since 1990 when LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas were the only invitees. Even then, Arkansas was a four seed, Alabama a seven, and LSU a five. 

It’s worth noting that Arkansas advanced to the Final Four of that tournament. Alabama fell in the Sweet 16, and LSU dropped a three-point game to eventual Final Four participant Georgia Tech in the second round. 

The league has placed at least five teams in the tournament in each of the past five years.

The national disdain for the SEC is unfathomable. The national adoration for the Big East is equally unfathomable. The Big East placed as many No. 1 seeds in the tournament as the SEC did teams.  On what basis?

If you’re going by historical performance, the perpetual infatuation with teams from the Big East has little merit. 

In the last 20 years, an era flush with Big East entries in the tournament, only six Big East teams advanced as far as the Final Four.  Compare that to the ACC, where there have been 20 Final Four entries over the same span. Even the Big Ten had 15 teams make the Final Four in the last 20 years.

What about the SEC?  In the last fifteen years, the SEC has had 10 Final Four teams.
Every major league outperforms the Big East in the tournament.

Yet, the Big East has three No. 1 seeds in the 2009 tournament: Louisville, UConn, and Pittsburgh. In addition, the league has a three seed in Villanova, a three seed in Syracuse, a six seed in Marquette, and a six seed in West Virginia—seven teams, none lower than a six seed. That’s absurd and unwarranted.

To add insult to injury, the head of the NCAA tournament selection committee is SEC commissioner Mike Slive. With the SEC head at the helm, the league recorded its worst result in the bracket’s history.