March Madness 2016: Who Got Screwed in the NCAA Bracket?
The 2016 NCAA tournament bracket has been revealed, and it didn't take long at all to start arguing over which teams were royally screwed by the selection committee.
Let's acknowledge one thing right away: This year was impossible. No matter what the committee did, half a dozen teams were going to feel unjustly left out and just about every No. 5 and No. 6 seed was going to get a brutal draw.
The selection committee could have done much better, though—particularly with the little guys, which we'll get into shortly.
But even if there were 100 committee members deliberating for 100 days over 100 teams, we would still find a way to argue that team No. 101 deserved to get in, that team No. 5 should have been a No. 1 seed and that certain matchups simply aren't fair.
It's both the beauty and the frustration of a bracket built by people, trying to combine computer numbers with what their eyes tell them. Those athletic directors and commissioners on the selection committee did the best they could.
We were going to complain regardless.
These are the teams and conferences we feel have the biggest gripe with the committee, due to low seedings, tough first opponents or not making the 68-team field at all.
All around the country, there are small schools screaming at the selection committee: "What more do you want from us?!"
But no team is screaming louder or more justifiably than Monmouth.
The Hawks played 17 true road games and a total of 23 games away from home, going 13-4 and 17-6, respectively. And they didn't do it against the little sisters of the poor. They beat USC and Notre Dame on neutral courts. They won at UCLA, Georgetown and Rutgers.
They did exactly what the selection committee has been telling small schools to do for years—doing what Murray State failed to do last year—and they even did it in a season where two sure-fire tournament-worthy teams (SMU and Louisville) were ineligible for the tournament.
How can Monmouth possibly not be one of the 38 (36 plus the ineligibles) best at-large teams in the country? How can the selection committee claim to watch thousands of hours of games in venues all over the country and decide that this team didn't deserve to get in?
Too many things were out of Monmouth's control, the first of which was all five of those quality wins losing value as the season progressed. The Hawks were No. 17 in RPI and SOS on Dec. 31 and finished the season at 52 and 166, respectively—partially because playing 20 games in the MAAC will do that to a computer resume, but largely because Georgetown and UCLA ended up being much worse than we could have possibly imagined.
Is that Monmouth's fault?
Or is it Monmouth's fault that Wichita State, San Diego State, Valparaiso, Saint Mary's, Akron and Hofstra all lost in their respective minor-conference tournaments, making it extremely difficult to decide which small schools were most worthy of an at-large bid?
The whole thing just sends a horrendous message to the little guys around the country.
Syracuse went 3-8 away from home, got hot from three-point range for three days in the Bahamas, had the luxury of facing Duke when the Blue Devils were exhausted and playing their worst basketball of the season, lost to St. Freaking John's, and yet apparently, those short bursts of success meant more than Monmouth playing great basketball for four months.
It's disgusting, but, really, Monmouth's beef should be with the MAAC, rather than the selection committee.
There's no rule stating that conferences are required to send their tournament winner to the NCAA tournament. That's just the way everyone does things. Each conference has the right to award the automatic bid however it sees fit, and based on how chaotic the minor-conference tournaments were this season, it's time for some of them to explore those alternative avenues to be best represented in the Big Dance.
St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Speaking of little guys who got screwed, in what world is St. Bonaventure not worthy of a bid?
The Bonnies were No. 30 in RPI, which is usually a stone-cold lock, throw-away-the-key at-large bid range. They won three games against the RPI Top 50, including a road game against No. 7 seed Dayton and a season sweep of No. 8 seed Saint Joseph's.
They didn't exactly schedule a gauntlet in nonconference play, but St. Bonaventure scheduled about as well as it probably could in facing Hofstra, Ohio, Buffalo, Siena and Syracuse. After all, what major-conference school wants to agree to a game against the Bonnies that is, in most years, a potential RPI landmine?
But forget about the computer numbers, because these guys simply pass the eye test with flying colors.
Marcus Posley (19.7 PPG), Jaylen Adams (17.7 PPG) and Dion Wright (16.9 PPG) might be the most dangerous offensive trio in the entire country. This is a team so explosive that it legitimately could have made a run to the Elite Eight, but we'll never know.
If the Bonnies had been left out in favor of another small school like Monmouth or Valparaiso, we wouldn't be quite so up in arms. But how did Temple get a No. 10 seed if the Bonnies aren't even a tournament team? If St. Bonaventure's KenPom rank (79) was one of the determining factors in the omission, why wasn't Temple's KenPom (89) or RPI (60) rank an issue?
Temple went 21-11 against a strength of schedule that ranks No. 71. The Bonnies went 22-8 with a SOS rank of 110. Temple went 8-10 against the RPI Top 200. Saint Bonaventure went 15-7.
None of this adds up.
The only possible excuse is that the committee gave Temple the benefit of the doubt because the Owls were on the receiving end of the biggest screw job in last year's bracket.
Seton Hall Pirates
Among the teams that got into the tournament, no one got dealt a worse hand than Seton Hall, and it's not even close.
The venerable Joey Brackets had Seton Hall projected for a No. 7 seed heading into Championship Week, as did I. Home wins over Providence and Xavier to close out the month of February got the Pirates off the bubble and safely into the field.
They proceeded to beat Creighton, Xavier and Villanova to win the Big East tournament.
Say what you will about the strength of the new Big East, but that's doggone impressive. If Iowa State had gone through a Big 12 draw of Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Oklahoma, the Cyclones would have soared in projected brackets—and in terms of quality of opponent, that's about exactly the slate Seton Hall ran through.
For their hard work, the Pirates climbed all the way to...a No. 6 seed. To face Gonzaga in the first round. In Denver. For the right to face Utah to reach the Sweet 16. They would then have to go through Michigan State and Virginia just to reach the Final Four.
Considering I had Gonzaga projected for a No. 9 seed, Utah as a No. 2 seed and Michigan State as a No. 1 seed, that might be the most absurdly difficult draw for a No. 6 seed in bracket history.
In every way, shape and form, the Pirates deserved better. But it will just make the Isaiah Whitehead-fueled run to a national championship that much sweeter.
Teams That Play on Selection Sunday
Aside from the games like the Sun Belt championship and American championship that could have changed which teams actually got into the field, we might as well have not even paid any attention to the games played on Sunday.
The strangest outcome was in the SEC. Heading into the day, Kentucky and Texas A&M were almost inseparable on the seed list. They were close enough that you would think the Wildcats prevailing in the SEC title game would have been enough for them to jump ahead of the Aggies. And it's not like it's a switch that forces an entire rework of the bracket. Just flip them and call it a day.
Instead, Texas A&M gets a No. 3 seed and Kentucky—which earned a share of the SEC regular-season title before winning the conference tournament—gets a No. 4 that likely includes games against Indiana and North Carolina just to reach the Elite Eight.
Elsewhere, Michigan State was a No. 1 seed in the eyes of most bracketologists heading into the day, the Spartans beat a good Purdue team to win the B1G championship and were left on the No. 2 line—in favor of a Virginia team that suffered four bad losses and failed to win the ACC regular season or conference tournament titles.
Michigan State's No. 1 seed snub also flies completely in the face of the age-old theory that games lost at less than full strength are discounted by the committee. MSU went 4-4 in the eight games with Denzel Valentine either out of the lineup or still not quite at full strength, but the Spartans have otherwise been just about the most unbeatable team in the country all season long.
Saint Joseph's and Connecticut won their respective conference titles and received seeds that were one line worse than where I had them projected to start the day. If anything, it seems their resumes lost value by playing on Sunday.
Why do conferences even bother playing on Selection Sunday if the games clearly don't impact the bracket?
What happened to the bracketing principle that the highest seeded teams get placed as close to home as possible?
According to the overall seed chart, Villanova was No. 7 and Xavier was No. 8. We could certainly argue that Villanova deserves to be higher than No. 7 for suffering a total of five losses to teams that ended up seeded No. 1, No. 2, No. 2, No. 6 and No. 9 in the NCAA tournament, but the Wildcats earned their No. 2 seed by losing in the Big East championship game.
But, if Villanova was placed before Xavier, why is Xavier in the Philadelphia region while Villanova is in the Louisville region?
Actually, regardless of which team was placed first, why would the committee do that? Wouldn't Xavier also much rather be in Louisville than Philadelphia?
Maybe it wouldn't be fair to East Region No. 1 seed North Carolina if it had to play No. 2 seed Villanova in the Wildcats' backyard, but what's the point in protecting some higher seeds if you're going to send Miami and Baylor to Providence to face Buffalo and Yale, respectively, or Seton Hall to Denver to face Gonzaga?
Just be consistent. That's all we ask. It's all we ever ask.
Vanderbilt was a surprise inclusion, so it wasn't all bad news for the SEC.
However, this bracket does not help the SEC one bit in the argument that it is the worst of the six major conferences.
Not only was the SEC the only major conference to send fewer than five teams to the tournament (Kentucky, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt), it was also the only one that failed to receive a No. 1 or No. 2 seed—and Texas A&M was the lowest-seeded No. 3, so the SEC almost didn't get anyone on the top three lines.
And how about South Carolina getting left out of the field with 24 wins?
Granted, only one of those wins (at Texas A&M) came against the RPI Top 50, but the Gamecocks did beat eight RPI Top 100 teams, including Florida, Hofstra, Vanderbilt and Tulsa—the very last team into the field.
Head-to-head results don't come into play anywhere near as often as fans want to believe, but this certainly feels like one instance where it should have mattered, especially since it came on a neutral court. Sure, it was nearly four full months ago, but when you're leaving out a 24-win team in favor of a bubbly AAC team that it beat, how do you ignore it?
Shouldn't the head-to-head win over play-in game participant Vanderbilt count for something, too? Especially since South Carolina finished ahead of Vanderbilt in the conference standings and suffered five fewer losses?
We've griped for the past few weeks about Indiana's strength of schedule—both in and out of conference—and it seems the selection committee took it upon itself to force the Hoosiers to prove they can beat quality teams.
None of the No. 5 seeds got a favorable draw, but Indiana definitely got the worst one, even though it was the only one to win a regular-season or conference tournament title.
For going 15-3 in Big Ten play, the Hoosiers get 29-win Chattanooga in the first round before presumably drawing Kentucky in the round of 32 and North Carolina in the Sweet 16—if they can even get out of the first round.
As is normally the case with No. 12 seeds, the Mocs are a brutal draw. They won road games against Georgia and Dayton and are well-balanced. Arkansas-Little Rock might be the slightest bit better, but Chattanooga was a sexy sleeper for the Sweet 16 long before the bracket was revealed.
And as was the case with Kansas and Wichita State last season, it seems the committee also saw fit to force a regional rivalry that the schools have refused to play, as Indiana vs. Kentucky would be the most heated round of 32 game by a country mile.
Congratulations on the Big Ten banner, Indiana, but don't expect to hang a Final Four one next to it.
Seton Hall got a much worse fate among the No. 6 seeds, but Arizona can't possibly be on cloud nine with its placement.
First off, the seed itself is a little suspect. Despite dealing with several injuries before and during the season, Arizona went 25-8 and did not lose a single game by a double-digit margin. The Wildcats were ranked in the AP Top 25 in every week of the season and clearly passed the eye test.
(And don't even bother trying to tell me about their pathetic nonconference SOS, because being No. 2 in the country in that category didn't do San Diego State any favors. The committee was clearly selective at best in caring about that metric.)
Then there's the brutal draw. Wichita State and Vanderbilt had resumes of bubble teams, but they were both in the top 30 of our team rankings tracker all week long. Now that they're in, they're dangerous, and the winner is going to have momentum heading into the round of 64.
And even though there are only a handful of West Coast teams that want to actually play in Spokane or Denver, Arizona is getting shipped as far away as possible to Providence, Rhode Island. Even if they make it to the Sweet 16, the Wildcats would play their next two games in Louisville, which is still quite the stone's throw away from Tucson.
It might seem bizarre to say that the Cavaliers got screwed as a No. 1 seed, but could the South Region possibly be set up any worse for them?
In the round of 32, they'll likely run into Butler, and—even though this isn't anywhere near the best Butler has been in the past decade—nobody ever wants to face Butler in the NCAA tournament.
Then, in the Sweet 16, whether they draw Iowa State or Purdue, the Wahoos will be at a serious geographical disadvantage in Chicago, Illinois. And that regional issue doesn't get any better in the Elite Eight when they would likely run into their arch-nemesis: Michigan State.
The Spartans have eliminated Virginia from the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years—in the 2014 Sweet 16 and in the round of 32 last year—so that is the last team on the face of the earth that Tony Bennett and company want to deal with before the national championship game.
So, yes, even some of the No. 1 seeds got screwed this year.
Thanks a lot, selection committee.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.