March Madness 2017: Who Got Screwed in the NCAA Bracket?
As a college basketball nation, the only thing we love more than Selection Sunday is immediately getting outraged about Selection Sunday.
Every year, there are a bunch of teams that get royally screwed by the selection committee. There weren't as many snubs this year as there usually are, but teams like Illinois State and Syracuse have grievances worth airing.
The major issues came in the form of brutal seeding, though.
Michigan State lost 14 games and got a No. 9 seed, a team No. 1 Kansas is just thrilled to potentially have to deal with to reach the Sweet 16. Likewise, Vanderbilt was the first team to ever get an at-large bid with at least 15 losses, yet it also received a No. 9 seed. Meanwhile, Wichita State destroyed everything it touched for most of the season, finished 30-4 and got a No. 10 seed?
Are you kidding me?
Don't feel bad for Wichita State, though. The Shockers are used to being underappreciated by the selection committee. Feel bad for the No. 7 seed (Dayton) that thought it was getting rewarded for a job well done, only to find out it was on the wrong end of a raw deal.
Also, if someone could ask the selection committee why the major conferences even bother to play conference tournaments, that would be swell. Save for Villanova, every team that won a major-conference tournament didn't appear to get rewarded for it at all.
Buckle up, friends, because it's about to get incensed in here.
Illinois State Redbirds
If there's one annual staple of the CBS Selection Show outside of Seth Davis announcing that he likes Duke's chances of reaching the Final Four, it's that there will always be a mid-major or minor-conference team that got unfairly snubbed.
Illinois State went 27-6 overall and destroyed pretty much everyone it faced in the Missouri Valley aside from Wichita State. By KenPom.com's metrics, the RedBirds were one of the better defensive teams in the country.
They finished the year at No. 33 in RPI. Granted, there are other (better) metrics out there, but RPI is still the backbone of the selection and seeding process. If it was the only ranking criteria, Illinois State would have been the top No. 9 seed.
Instead, the Redbirds are the only team with an RPI of 44 or better that will be playing in the NIT.
Look, I get it. Illinois State did not play a single RPI Top 50 team other than three games against Wichita State. It went 1-2 in those contests and got obliterated in the latter two. The Redbirds only had one other RPI Top 130 win, and that was a home game against a New Mexico team that went 17-14. There wasn't enough meat on their schedule to withstand bad early losses to Murray State and Tulsa.
But every single year we hammer the selection committee about discriminating against the smaller schools. With so little separating Illinois State from the likes of Kansas State, Wake Forest and USC, the committee could have thrown a smaller school a bone for a change.
Instead, the only at-large teams from schools outside the six major conferences are Cincinnati (AAC), Dayton and VCU (A-10) and Saint Mary's (WCC). That's it. And those teams hardly even qualify as mid-majors.
It's getting to the point where we may as well not even bother paying attention to schools from outside the cash-cow conferences, because it sure as heck seems like that's what the selection committee does.
Teams That Won Major-Conference Tournaments
We won't make this an entire slide about Duke getting screwed, because there are only so many world's tiniest violins to break out for the plight of the Blue Devils. But let's at least start there, because in winning the ACC tournament, they did more than enough to earn a No. 1 seed.
After consecutive wins over Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame, Duke finished the season with eight RPI Top 25 wins. No other team had more than six. The Blue Devils also got to 13 RPI Top 50 wins, where Villanova (12) was the only other team with more than 11. They suffered some losses due to a litany of injuries and one suspension, but they are healthy now and have won 12 of their last 15 games against the nation's best conference.
It's just plain silly to not put that team on the top line—particularly considering Kansas decided to take the week off by losing to TCU in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
But from perusing the major-conference tournament winners, it seems like everyone other than Villanova got screwed to some degree.
Big Ten champ Michigan had the best story and most incredible run in recent memory, knocking off Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin after its plane skidded off a runway. But the Wolverines—who didn't suffer a single bad loss and ended up with seven RPI Top 50 and 13 RPI Top 100 wins—only got a No. 7 seed for their troubles.
Pac-12 champ Arizona started the week as a projected No. 2 seed in the eyes of a lot of people before winning games against UCLA and Oregon to improve to 30-4 without a single loss to a team outside the RPI Top 16. Didn't matter. The Wildcats still ended up on the No. 2 line.
Iowa State beat West Virginia in the Big 12 championship game only to see the Mountaineers come in as a No. 4 seed to the Cyclones' No. 5.
Or how about SMU getting a No. 6 seed for winning the AAC tournament? That conference isn't the most rigorous in the country, but the Mustangs were a two-point bucket against Cincinnati away from going 27-0 since the end of November. That's only worth a No. 6 seed?
Even SEC champ Kentucky got screwed with its draw. To reach the Final Four, the Wildcats would likely need to go through Wichita State, UCLA and North Carolina. Best of luck with that one.
While conference tournaments mean literally everything to the smaller schools, you have to wonder why the major-conference teams would even bother wasting their energy when the results mean so little to the selection committee.
For about 10 seconds, I felt Dayton was one of the biggest winners of Selection Sunday. Between losing to George Washington in the regular-season finale and immediately losing to Davidson in the A-10 tournament, I had the Flyers pegged for a No. 9 seed. Instead, they ended up with a No. 7 seed.
That good feeling was gone in a hurry when Archie Miller and company found out they were matched up against No. 10 seed Wichita State in the first round.
We've been told countless times over the past couple of years that the selection committee is doing more to incorporate other metrics like KenPom, Sagarin, BPI, etc. But, clearly, they aren't doing enough.
Wichita State was No. 8 on KenPom, No. 11 on Sagarin, No. 15 in BPI and No. 32 in RPI. In literally none of those metrics should the Shockers have been seeded lower than a No. 8. If you take the average of all four, they should have been right on the cut line between a No. 4 and No. 5 seed.
No matter how you slice it, a No. 10 seed is ludicrous, and it's downright unfair that Dayton is probably going to be a significant underdog in this game.
This wasn't the only spot where the selection committee screwed over a team it appeared to be awarding with a nice seed, though.
Apparently, they wanted to see some No. 12 over No. 5 upsets, because UNC-Wilmington, Middle Tennessee and Nevada all had better resumes than most of the final at-large teams into the field. And the message those three schools were delivered by getting a No. 12 seed is that they would not have been invited to the NCAA tournament if they had failed to win their conference tournaments.
The NCAA tournament is all about the luck of the draw, and Dayton (and most of the No. 5 seeds) got extremely unlucky with theirs.
This is going to be a tough argument to make after I spent the past several weeks arguing that Syracuse had no business being in the field. However, the Orange were the most popular missed pick among bracketologists, including ESPN's Joe Lunardi, so I'll switch jerseys for a few minutes and go to bat for them.
Duke. Florida State. Virginia.
Syracuse beat three of the best teams the ACC has to offer in the process of finishing 10-8 in what was regarded by most as the best conference in the country. The Orange also won games against NCAA tournament teams Miami and Wake Forest and stomped Monmouth—a team that likely would have been a No. 12 seed if it had won the MAAC tournament.
Teams get left out all the time with a couple of quality wins, but a half-dozen wins against the RPI Top 50, three of which rank No. 18 or higher?
How is that team not worthy of dancing?
Sure, the Orange lost games to the likes of Connecticut, Georgetown, St. John's and Boston College early in the season, but they were still trying to find their rhythm then. Frank Howard was the starting point guard for each of those losses, and he was so inefficient that he barely touched the floor the rest of the season.
Rather, it was after those losses that Colorado State transfer John Gillon and freshman Tyus Battle finally became full-time starters, and the team was completely different with that duo (and Nebraska transfer Andrew White III) running the show. You may recall Gillon had 21 points and 11 assists in the win over Florida State, 43 in a thrilling win over NC State and 26 with the buzzer-beating game-winner against Duke. And it was Battle who had 23 points in becoming the MVP of the win over Virginia.
Jim Boeheim lost his backcourt from last season and it took him two months to figure out the right combination. This team was quite good once that happened, but the Orange were unduly penalized for those early growing pains.
Wisconsin Badgers and Michigan Wolverines
There was no rhyme or reason to how the selection committee seeded the Big Ten.
Heading into championship week, there was not much separating the top seven teams in the conference. At one point during the week, I had five consecutive Big Ten teams on my overall seed list, as the conference had something of a monopoly on the projected No. 7 and No. 8 lines.
But because they were so close, the Big Ten tournament should have been an important factor, right?
Purdue was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Michigan, which prompted near-unanimous agreement among bracketologists that no one from the Big Ten would end up with a No. 4 seed. Yet, that's exactly where the Boilermakers landed.
After knocking out Purdue, Michigan proceeded to beat Minnesota, yet the Golden Gophers still got a No. 5 seed. When Michigan manhandled Wisconsin in the championship game, it seemed likely the Wolverines would be headed for a No. 6 seed. Instead, they got a No. 7 and were paired up against the second-toughest No. 10 seed (Oklahoma State).
Expecting a No. 6 and getting a No. 7 isn't that big of a deal, but Wisconsin getting a No. 8 was flabbergasting.
The Badgers spent most of the season neck and neck with Purdue for the conference title and were constantly one of the conference's best representatives in the KenPom and RPI metrics. Though they struggled late by losing five of their final seven regular-season games, they appeared to have righted the ship with a comfortable win over Indiana and a blowout of Northwestern to reach the conference championship game.
For their troubles, the Badgers ended up on the same seed line as Northwestern and only one line ahead of 14-loss Michigan State and 15-loss Vanderbilt. They were somehow just the fifth-best team out of the Big Ten. Worse yet, if they beat Virginia Tech in the first round, No. 1 overall seed Villanova will be waiting for them in the second round.
On the whole, the Big Ten seeding was wildly unpredictable.
The Kansas Jayhawks are right where they wanted to be. Despite that loss to TCU in the Big 12 quarterfinal, they got the No. 1 in the Midwest and earned the No. 2 overall seed. When your 13th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title comes by a four-game margin, that's a well-earned reward.
But of all the No. 1 seeds, they were given the worst draw by a fairly wide margin.
North Carolina, for instance, gets either Arkansas or Seton Hall in the second round, neither of which has proved to be a huge threat to knock off a top team. In the Sweet 16, the Tar Heels are probably looking at Butler, which is arguably the weakest of the No. 4 seeds. And while they're likely to face either Kentucky or UCLA in the Elite Eight, that poor team is going to be exhausted from just having dealt with the other. Not a bad path by any means.
Kansas, on the other hand, gets either Miami—one of the slowest-paced, defensive-minded teams in the country—or Michigan State, which is an ever-present threat to hit its stride at any moment in March.
Survive to the second weekend and the Jayhawks are either getting a rubber match with an Iowa State team that already beat them at Allen Fieldhouse this season or a Purdue team that has the interior size and strength to give Kansas fits. And if Oregon can figure things out without Chris Boucher, Kansas would then face the most complete No. 3 seed in the field.
At first glance, it didn't appear the selection committee penalized Kansas for losing to TCU, but perhaps it subtly did so by forcing the Jayhawks along the toughest road to the Final Four.
The selection committee clearly established that number of losses didn't matter. (See: Vanderbilt, Michigan State.)
So, why was Virginia all the way down on the No. 5 line after an impressive 22-10 season?
The Cavaliers scheduled aggressively. They hosted West Virginia and traveled to California. They played neutral-court games against Iowa and Providence. And, most difficult of all, they scheduled a road game against Villanova in the middle of ACC play. As a result, they had an unholy nine-game stretch of: at Notre Dame, at Villanova, vs. Virginia Tech, at Syracuse, vs. Louisville, at Virginia Tech, vs. Duke, at North Carolina, vs. Miami.
In one month, they faced more quality opponents than many teams faced in the entire season. Of course they ended up with 10 losses! But they still managed to go 11-7 in ACC play despite drawing one of the toughest unbalanced ACC schedules, playing North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh twice each.
Virginia ended up with four RPI Top 25, six RPI Top 50 and 14 RPI Top 100 wins. The Cavaliers played well away from home and didn't take a single bad loss. They were No. 7 overall on KenPom, yet ended up with a No. 5 seed.
Meanwhile, West Virginia had one of the worst nonconference schedules among major-conference teams, suffered three bad losses and got a No. 4 seed. Was the Mountaineers' head-to-head win over Virginia that much of a tiebreaker?
Because the Wahoos ended up on the wrong end of that decision, they have to face arguably the most dangerous No. 12 seed in the tournament in UNC-Wilmington. If they have any dreams of reaching the Final Four, they likely need to beat Florida in Orlando, and then beat both Villanova and Duke in Madison Square Garden.
Before the field was announced, I liked Virginia as a sleeper to reach the national semifinals. But the Cavaliers have no chance of doing that with the brutal draw they got.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.