Bracketology 2013: Analyzing Why Top Bubble Teams Were Left Out of the Big Dance

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 18, 2013

Mar 9, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts during the game against the Florida Gators in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Florida 61-57. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

While there were many bubble teams cracking the celebratory bubbly after being named to the field of 68 for the 2013 NCAA tournament, there were just as many (if not more) feeling dejected after the proceedings.

As always, there were plenty of folks up in arms about the at-large selections. With the overall subjectivity of the selection committee and relative secrecy about how those teams were picked (though transparency has improved dramatically in recent years), the entire process lends itself to criticism—whether fair or unfair.

Despite having possibly the biggest list of bubble teams in history this season, the committee did a stellar job. There are plenty of notable “snubs” that could have made the tournament, but none that especially stand out as egregious. Each team that was left out of the Big Dance had a very good reason for being spurned.

And what’s important when combing over this massive list of teams is not looking into who got left out. Anyone who knows how to Google can do that. What’s important is that we analyze why these notable snubs were left hanging on Selection Sunday.  

With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of a few of the most notable teams left out and the reasons for their snubbery.


Virginia Cavaliers (21-11, RPI: 74)

Reasons for Missing Big Dance: bad finish, lack of quality wins and bad losses

When most fans think of the 2012-13 Virginia Cavaliers season, they envision Joe Harris becoming a schadenfreudian hero as he slayed the goliath Duke Blue Devils. Harris scored a career-high 36 points in that contest, knocking down 12-of-20 shots in what seemed like a resume-solidifying win for the Cavaliers.

At that point, they were a very solid 20-8 and implanted in the NCAA tournament field as a No. 10 seed, according to Joe Lunardi of ESPN’s projections.

However, the wheels fell off Virginia’s Big Dance case almost immediately after that magical Thursday in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers lost their very next game to a Boston College team that finished 112th in the RPI and followed it up with another one-possession loss to Florida State. And after Virginia’s manhandling by N.C. State in the first round of the ACC tournament, the weakness of its overall body of work became apparent.

Tony Bennett’s squad finished the year with only four wins inside the RPI top 50, only one of which came in non-conference play. The Cavaliers matched those four wins against good teams with an equal amount of losses to the dregs of Division I basketball, falling to Old Dominion, Clemson, Wake Forest and George Mason—all sub-150 teams.

With the committee’s most recent memory of Virginia being their destruction at the hands of a No. 8 seed, there was little chance such an up-and-down resume would hold up.


Southern Miss Golden Eagles (25-9, RPI: 34)

Reasons for Missing Big Dance: bad conference and no notable wins

Following such a thrilling battle with Memphis in the Conference USA championship game, plenty of bias went into those touting Southern Miss for an NCAA tournament bid. Facing off against their bitter rival on national television—with Big Ten-sized eyeballs likely coming in late, no less—the Golden Eagles fought to a double-overtime loss.

The game was captivating, back-and-forth drama. And afterward, plenty of folks looked at Southern Miss’ sterling RPI and theorized they would be one of the last at-large teams added to the field of 68.

Just one thing: Playing good games does not equate to winning them—and Southern Miss won exactly zero “good” games in the 2012-13 season. The Eagles were 0-5 versus teams inside the RPI top 50 and just 3-7 against teams inside the top 100. Part of that isn’t their fault and the committee certainly accounted for that.

But when there’s such a limited opportunity, teams like Southern Miss have to take advantage—at least once. Going 0-3 against Memphis isn’t going to cut it, regardless of how thrilling the two sides were when they played one another, and neither is just missing against Arizona and Wichita State.

The Eagles are a stellar, efficient offensive club that plays a high-octane style of basketball so rarely seen in college basketball nowadays. They would have been a fun team to watch and likely could have given any number of teams strong runs for their money. But, in the end, basketball isn’t horseshoes and coming close will only get you an NIT berth.


Kentucky Wildcats (21-11, RPI: 56)

Reasons for Missing Big Dance: injuries, bad final stretch

The Wildcats weren’t repeating as national champions this season regardless of who was in the lineup. They were replacing their six leading scorers from last year’s juggernaut bunch, and while John Calipari recruited a strong stable of freshman, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist weren’t walking back through that door.

But even with that glass ceiling in place, Kentucky was still more than good enough to be a tournament team when healthy. Nerlens Noel was a dominant defensive force in the middle who could intimidate opposing guards from straying too far into the paint, and he had the athleticism to finish around the rim offensively.

His torn ACL suffered against Florida in February shifted the entire paradigm of the season for Kentucky. It was a team looking at a No. 9 seed before its best player went down with an injury; it was a team looking for a lifeboat once Noel’s prognosis was made official.

Willie Cauley-Stein did his best Noel impersonation and a fine job overall. The Wildcats started 3-1 after Noel’s injury, including one of their biggest wins of the season versus Missouri. And then the wear started to show. They suffered two embarrassing losses to Georgia and Arkansas before momentarily righting the ship against Florida and finishing with a drubbing by Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament.

When looking at Kentucky, the selection committee saw a team that had lost five of its last nine games, had just a 9-11 record versus the RPI top 150 and was without its only superstar.  All things considered, the only worthwhile reason to pick Kentucky would have been the name on the front of the jersey.

That’s not how these things work, so Kentucky was sent to compete for its second straight postseason championship—in the NIT.


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