March Madness 2014: Who Got Screwed in the NCAA Bracket?
Before the 2014 NCAA tournament field was even finished being announced, we were already knee-deep in the (completely calm, cool and collected) discussion about who got screwed by the selection committee.
Which deserving teams were left out?
Which teams did the committee give horribly unjustified seeds?
Who got the most impossible road to the Final Four?
There's no shortage of outrage or debate, but here is our assessment of the teams and conferences that got the rawest deal on Selection Sunday.
Beating a No. 1 seed during the season does not guarantee you a spot in the NCAA tournament—just ask Maryland or California.
But it really felt like Green Bay had the body of work to make the tournament.
With all due respect to the Wolfpack, I think we can all agree that NC State was the last team into the field. Thus, let's compare Green Bay's resume against that one.
They were very similarly ranked by the computers. NC State was a few spots ahead in RPI, while Green Bay was a few spots ahead in both BPI and KenPom, but they were marginal enough differences that they can be disregarded. So let's look at the scheduling.
NC State went 1-7 vs. RPI top 25, 3-9 vs. RPI top 50 and 6-10 vs. RPI top 100. In road/neutral games against the RPI top 100, the Wolfpack were 3-6.
Green Bay didn't have nearly as many quality opportunities, but fared better in them. The Phoenix were 1-1 vs. RPI top 25 (a 75-72 win over Virginia and a 69-66 loss to Wisconsin), 1-2 vs. RPI top 50 and 4-3 vs. RPI top 100. Away from home, they were 2-2 vs. RPI top 100.
Also of note, Green Bay only played four nonconference games against teams outside the RPI top 150 and played five nonconference games vs. RPI top 100. NC State played seven early games against teams outside the RPI top 150 and had four games against the RPI top 100—and Eastern Kentucky (RPI: 99) was a photo finish.
For years, the committee has shown favoritism to the little guys who scheduled well, won a lot of games and faltered in their conference tournaments. But not this year.
Honestly, Green Bay might have Southern Miss, Toledo and Louisiana Tech to blame. There were just too many quality mid-major teams under consideration.
Louisville and Michigan State
So, do major-conference tournaments actually matter or not?
On the one hand, you have Virginia playing its way into a No. 1 seed by winning the ACC tournament. Did the Cavaliers deserve it? I'll leave that up to you to decide. But they didn't win a single nonconference game against a team that made the tournament. Clearly, what they did over the final two months of the season was important.
On the other hand, Louisville has been destroying just about everyone it has played all season, with the exception of five losses by single digits to teams in the RPI top 35. The Cardinals stormed through the AAC tournament with ease, and somehow got a No. 4 seed.
The Spartans also were given a No. 4 seed for winning the conference tournament of what has been widely regarded as the best conference in the country for a few years. The Spartans also got screwed by being the most displaced team on the top four lines. UCLA goes to San Diego, Louisville goes to Orlando, San Diego State stays on the West Coast and Michigan State gets shipped out to Spokane.
Winning the B1G tournament wasn't good enough to catapult Michigan State past a No. 4—or presumably even past the No. 16 overall seed, considering the sub-region—but losing it was somehow "good" enough to drop Michigan to a No. 2, despite a 10-5 record vs. RPI top-50 teams?
Something doesn't compute.
The American Athletic Conference
We already covered Louisville on the previous slide, but it felt like the entire AAC got shafted.
Cincinnati finished in first place in the regular-season standings, and ended the season ranked No. 13 by the AP voters (not that the polls have ever mattered for the selection committee). It felt like the Bearcats should have been a No. 4 seed, but they ended up as a No. 5.
Connecticut had seven RPI top-50 wins—including that all-important win over No. 1 overall seed Florida—and only one particularly bad loss (at Houston). But the Huskies somehow ended up as a No. 7 seed alongside the likes of Texas and Oregon.
Memphis did just fine as a No. 8 seed, but a lot of people were surprised that SMU was left out. I ultimately determined on Sunday morning that the Mustangs didn't belong in the field, but there were a lot of hairs being split and torn out in making that decision. This is a very quality team (23-9 with a pair of wins over UConn, another over Cincinnati) that didn't quite schedule well enough. The three straight losses to end the season were likely the final death knell.
Add it all up, and it's pretty clear that the committee wasn't happy about there now being 32 automatic bids.
New Mexico and Gonzaga
Last year, Gonzaga and New Mexico were among the biggest disappointments of the entire tournament.
The selection committee put its faith in the non-powerhouses from out West, giving Gonzaga a No. 1 seed and New Mexico a No. 3 seed. Gonzaga lost to Wichita State in the second round and New Mexico failed to get past Harvard in its first game of the tournament.
Elephants and selection committees never forget.
New Mexico got screwed in terms of seeding. The Lobos were tied with Kentucky for 15th in RPI and won the Mountain West conference tournament. It was their second win of the season over the Aztecs—they got a No. 4 seed—and it gave them a 27-6 record against a top-50 strength of schedule.
For their troubles, the Lobos got a No. 7 seed and would draw Kansas in the Round of 32.
Gonzaga's seed line was very fair. But in order to survive to see the third round of the tournament, the Bulldogs will have to go through Oklahoma State and Arizona. Sure, no problem.
Dear Wichita State,
Congratulations on becoming the first team in more than two decades to enter the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record. Very impressive!
Sadly, we'd like to make sure you're actually worthy of that honor.
Please enjoy your warm-up game against either Cal Poly or Texas Southern. After that, you will be required to play either the Kentucky team that was supposed to enter the tournament 34-0, or an in-state rival in the form of Kansas State.
Should you somehow survive the first weekend, you get to go through Louisville and Michigan—you know, the two teams who squared off in last year's championship game—just to make it to the Final Four.
But really, good work on the undefeated season.
The Selection Committee
First of all, Tulsa will not be a walk in the park.
The Golden Hurricane have won 17 of their last 20 games and are among the nation's leaders in two-point field-goal defense. Meanwhile, the Bruins rely pretty heavily on two-point shots, only taking 27.5 percent of their field-goals from behind the arc—which ranks 301st in the nation according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
Provided they win that first game, though, their second game will be against either VCU or Stephen F. Austin. Both the Rams and the Lumberjacks rank in the top three in the country in forcing turnovers, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).
Granted, Stephen F. Austin's games have come against considerably substandard opponents, but it's still pretty ridiculous that both teams rank that high. UCLA isn't exactly a turnover-prone team, but it'll have to be extra careful in the second round just to presumably make it to a Sweet 16 game against the No. 1 overall seed.
The SEC didn't get screwed quite as badly as the AAC—because it's hard to get too screwed when you have the No. 1 overall seed—but it certainly wasn't shown much favoritism.
Kentucky as a No. 8 seed is pretty crazy. Had the Wildcats beaten Florida, I was prepared to project them as a No. 5 seed. They entered play on Sunday with the 15th-best RPI in the country, but were given a seed in the tournament reserved for the 29th- through 32nd-best teams.
They certainly fell on some tough times throughout the season and didn't have a plethora of quality wins, but that seems way too low for Big Blue Nation.
The only other SEC team to make the tournament was Tennessee, and the Volunteers were sent to a play-in game. They will have to go through Iowa, Massachusetts and Duke (in Raleigh) just to presumably face Michigan in the Sweet 16.
After the way they played in the first half against Florida on Saturday, a lot of people were excited about picking the Volunteers to pull off a few upsets in the tournament. I have to imagine that excitement has been substantially subdued.
Going into their season finale against Duke, it was at least within the realm of possibility that the Tar Heels could get a No. 1 seed by not losing the rest of the way.
Of course, they lost to Duke and lost their first game of the ACC tournament to Pittsburgh, but it still felt like they were hovering somewhere between a No. 4 and No. 5 seed.
Instead, they're a No. 6 seed.
Their first opponent is a red-hot Providence team that somehow figured out how to slow down Creighton's offense in the Big East tourney final. If the Friars can keep Doug McDermott and company in check, it shouldn't be too difficult to shut down Marcus Paige.
Get through that first-round game, and the Tar Heels merely have to face a redder and hotter Iowa State team that won the Big 12 conference tournament.
If they're still alive after that, they would be playing either Villanova or Connecticut at Madison Square Garden—a building in which both of those teams are quite accustomed to playing postseason games.
I did not think that California (19-13) belonged in the tournament field, but it was a close call.
Moreover, it was a call that got even closer when it was revealed that Oregon is a No. 7 seed and Colorado is a No. 8 seed.
Cal won its only game against Oregon and split a pair of close back-to-back games against Colorado at the end of the season. Head-to-head results are of minimal consideration, but with those two teams so comfortably in the field, one could argue that California should have been a few lines behind them.
Every other Pac-12 team was treated pretty well in terms of the seed number given, but it looks like California will have to settle for a deep run in the NIT.