With hearts to be broken, dreams to be made and dance tickets to be punched, either one of two major calendar events is currently happening—senior prom or Selection Sunday.
Though you may prefer talking about corsages and stretch Hummer limousines, you’re reading a sports website. Of course it’s Selection Sunday. And with so many teams sitting on the bubble this season, there may actually be more hearts broken this year than the most embarrassing moment of your adolescent life, anyway.
Who will those heartbroken teams be? That remains to be seen. The selection committee has surprises up its sleeve every season, and after solid runs by Maryland and Ole Miss in their respective conference tournaments, the field is more jumbled than ever.
Nevertheless, there are at least a few teams that were sitting on the bubble we can pretty much rule out at this point. Whether they were depleted by injuries or simply could not get over the hump, here is a complete breakdown of a few teams that will miss the cut on Selection Sunday.
Kentucky Wildcats (21-11, RPI: 56)
The Wildcats weren't on a path to repeat as national champions with Nerlens Noel on the floor, but his season-ending injury will ultimately be the root cause of John Calipari's first NIT berth since 2004-05. Kentucky is 4-4 since the star center suffered a torn ACL at Florida on Feb. 12, including a soul-crushing loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament on Friday.
Heading into the SEC tournament, Kentucky was in a precarious position on the bubble but still a strong possibility to make the Big Dance. The Wildcats were coming off a resume-solidifying victory over Florida, their second victory over an RPI Top 50 team without Noel. The team’s defensive presence in the middle wasn’t as dominant, but Willie Cauley-Stein did a solid enough Noel impersonation to make Kentucky look like a tournament team.
That changed awfully quickly once the Wildcats made their trip to Nashville. Vanderbilt, which was 15-16 heading into the contest, stormed out to a 37-23 lead by the end of the first half. Bereft in the scoring department, Kentucky could not recover. Archie Goodwin and Kyle Wiltjer were the team’s only two double-digit scorers, and Ryan Harrow was the leader of the bad-shot brigade, making just two of a team-high 15 shots.
With their RPI falling back to 56 and a mediocre (at best) 7-9 record against teams inside the RPI Top 150, the Wildcats’ resume just does not hold up against other bubble teams. Perhaps they will get some special consideration because of the name on their chest, but it’s hard to see them making it over bubble squads that impressed this weekend like Maryland.
It’s ultimately irrelevant to their resume, but this season should end a pretty amazing streak for Calipari. He had made the Elite Eight in each of his three seasons in Lexington and six times in the past seven years as a head coach. The outlier? A Sweet 16 berth in his last season at Memphis.
Alabama Crimson Tide (21-11, RPI: 60)
It’s the central hub of the bubble, so why not burst another SEC school’s dreams? Assuming the Crimson Tide don’t make the tournament, they can send a big thank you letter to themselves for being unable to finish down the stretch against Florida.
After defeating fellow bubble squad Tennessee, which still has a better shot of getting in than its SEC counterparts, Alabama had the No. 13 Gators against the ropes in their semifinal matchup. Ahead at halftime and by as many as 10 points in the second half, Florida finished the game’s final 16 minutes on a 34-14 run to come away victorious. After clamping down on the Gators’ shooters in the first half, the Tide allowed Kenny Boynton to almost single-handedly bring Florida into the game before closing it out down the stretch.
If that sequence sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Alabama had an eight-point lead midway in the second half of its matchup against Florida in Gainesville on March 2 before a late Gators run gave them a 12-point lead.
Two different chances at a signature win. Two losses. And now the Tide head into Selection Sunday with an utterly fangless resume. They have a 0-5 record against teams inside the RPI Top 50, though that record improves to a Kentucky-like 8-7 inside the Top 100. What could really be Alabama’s nail-in-the-coffin moment is its losses against sub-150 teams Auburn and Tulane.
Anthony Grant has done a brilliant job rebuilding the Alabama program in his four years as head coach, but he’ll be making his second NIT appearance rather than back-to-back Big Dances this season.
Virginia Cavaliers (21-11, RPI: 74)
Virginia has its nationally televised victory over Duke to fall back on. Other than that, the Cavaliers’ resume looks wafer-thin. They have a victory at Wisconsin, which continues to look better as the Badgers ascend through the Big Ten tournament, but that happened all the way back in November—a long way from the team’s recent swoon.
Even if you want to give them a ton of credit for beating Wisconsin, Virginia has just as many (if not more) horrible losses to even out the scales. The Cavaliers have lost to Wake Forest, Old Dominion, Wake Forest and George Mason—all of teams that rank outside the RPI Top 150.
Following their triumph over the Blue Devils, Virginia again succumbed to lesser-talented teams. Road losses to Boston College and Florida State aren’t helping any team—much less when said team’s last 12 games include a loss to Georgia Tech and an evisceration by N.C. State.
Superficially speaking, guard Joe Harris provides star power. His performance against Duke—36 points and seven rebounds before a national audience—was enough to make the Cavaliers look like a lock on March 1.
However, it isn’t like the selection committee is going to gravitate to Virginia based on style points as a whole. Tony Bennett runs his offense with a Craftsman wrench in Charlottesville, with the Cavaliers running an even slower version of Bo Ryan’s swing offense. Ken Pomeroy’s (subscription required) adjusted tempo metric measures Virginia at just 60.5 possessions per game, which ranks 338th out of 347 Division I schools.
How fast a team plays isn’t part of the selection committee’s criteria, but generating excitement and conversation within the room can’t be a bad thing, either. Virginia doesn’t do that, and its resume is simply filled with too many holes to justify a dance ticket.