The brackets are finished and have been announced, and the experts have begun breaking them down. March Madness has begun to spread all across America, and the loyal fans of 65 men's college basketball teams eagerly await the annual hysteria of a single-elimination, win-or-go-home frenzy of hardcourt drama.
As there are every year, there are also fans across the nation who will grumble for months over the unjust exclusion of their beloved schools. Here are five teams that made great cases to dance, but went uninvited.
Admittedly, the Bulldogs of MSU had two chances to knock off conference top dog Kentucky, the second coming in today's SEC Championship matchup, and both times, they came away empty. But both losses were heartbreakingly close, especially the second.
Meanwhile, the "eye test" that the selection committee insisted would be a bigger part of their decision-making process this season favors the Bulldogs. Forward Jarvis Varnado, who scored 18 points and blocked five Kentucky shots in Sunday's overtime loss, is the nation's best defensive big man, and as a team, Miss. State led the SEC in three-point percentage.
As an 11 or 12 seed, they would have posed a serious upset threat to many potential foes. Maybe the committee determined that they hadn't earned that right. For the Bulldogs, however, this is a bitter pill to swallow.
Unlike Miss. State, the Fighting Illini did win the big games this year, beating Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, and notching a pair of wins over eventual tourney fifth-seed Michigan State. They also had an impressive win over Vanderbilt in non-conference play.
Bruce Weber's club must have known they were in danger after losing in double overtime to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, though, especially when fellow bubble team Minnesota steamrolled Purdue to reach the title game. The Golden Gophers earned a No. 11 seed in the tournament.
Illinois' problem over the last few years has consistently been haphazard offense and bad execution, committing bad fouls on defense and missing too many free throws. Those problems led to bad losses, and ultimately, a bad end to a tumultuous season. This squad is young, however, and will be a bigger force next year.
Led by junior guard Malcolm Delaney, who scored over 20 points per game, the Hokies posted an impressive 23-8 record. Their downfall was their lack of a trademark win: the best were against Wake Forest and Clemson at home, although they did go on the road to beat eventual conference finalist Georgia Tech in their last regular-season game.
Close losses at home versus Maryland and on the road against Florida State were crucial missed opportunities, but an ACC tournament loss to Miami truly sealed Va. Tech's fate.
Dayton played a tough out-of-conference schedule, and played in what turned out to be a pretty good conference. Their 20-12 record includes wins over Georgia Tech and Xavier, and close losses to Kansas State, Villanova and New Mexico. Forward Chris Wright led the team with over 14 points and seven rebounds per game.
To have a legitimate chance, though, the Flyers needed to make a championship game appearance in the A-10 tournament, and a second-round loss to Xavier prevented them from doing that.
Junior guard Ty Abbott led the team in both points and rebounds per game, and led the Sun Devils to eight wins in their last 11 games. Early-season losses to Duke, Baylor and BYU were all missed chances. and each game was close.
The team did get some good wins down the stretch, beating Washington at home and ousting San Diego State. When their late-season surge came to an abrupt halt with a first-round loss in the Pac-10 tourney, though, ASU was done.