Biggest Takeaways from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's Top 16 Reveal

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 11, 2018

P.J. Thompson (11) and Cassius Winston (5)
P.J. Thompson (11) and Cassius Winston (5)Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

If the men's college basketball 2018 NCAA tournament began today, the No. 1 seeds would be Virginia, Villanova, Xavier and Purdue.

That's not just this writer's opinion. That's what selection committee chair Bruce Rasmussen announced on Sunday afternoon during the one and only in-season reveal of its top 16 teams.

As is always the case with college football's weekly Top 25 rankings show, the backlash on social media was swift and fierce.

"How is Michigan State not a No. 1 seed?"

"Why is Kansas seeded ahead of Texas Tech??"

"How the heck is Oklahoma a No. 4 seed???"

Let's try to make some sense of this February Fracas in advance of March Madness.

Takeaway No. 1: Michigan State's Seed Was Precisely What It Should Be

The Spartans' place in this top 16 was always going to be the most argued point, and the one that bracketologists use the rest of the season to forecast what this year's selection committee actually values the most.

We've been arguing about the Spartans for more than a month. Following Saturday's home win over Purdue, their RPI rank (14) is finally lining up with their KenPom rank (6). But for most of January, it was more like No. 25 in RPI and No. 5 on KenPom. Factor in an AP ranking that never dropped below No. 9, and there were a lot of conflicting views on where this team should be seeded.

By seeding Michigan State at No. 11 overall, the committee is saying that RPI still matters, and so does a team's quantity of quality opponents.

By the eye test, Michigan State is clearly one of the favorites to win the national championship. But on paper, this team is 2-3 against the RPI top 50, has just three Group 1 wins and has a combined record of 8-3 against Groups 1 and 2. That simply isn't enough to be seeded as a top-10 team, and it's nice to finally have the selection committee's backing on that stance.

      

Takeaway No. 2: RPI Wasn't Enough for Rhode Island

Jessica Hill/Associated Press

Behind the Spartans, the Rams were the most noteworthy team to look for in the bracket reveal.

They are No. 5 in RPI, played a nonconference strength of schedule that ranks No. 3 in the nation and own a 20-3 record. But they are just 1-3 in Group 1 games, and the predictive analytics (KenPom, BPI and Sagarin) all have Rhode Island ranked No. 24 or worse.

Though the committee kind of split the difference between RPI and KenPom by putting Michigan State at No. 11, it leaned more toward KenPom than RPI with Rhode Island, leaving the Rams out of the top 16.

Maybe they were the first team out. Or maybe they weren't even close to receiving a spot on the top four seed lines. We'll never know. But what we do know is that the committee is clearly putting an increased emphasis on other metrics if this resume20-3, RPI: 5, SOS: 36, NCSOS: 3isn't good enough to rank in the top 16.

      

Takeaway No. 3: Group 1 Wins Are Golden

For most, the biggest surprise of the reveal was Oklahoma sneaking in at No. 16.

The Sooners have lost six of their last eight games and have dropped all the way to No. 21 in RPI and No. 30 on KenPom. Neither metric supports this team's ranking.

But here's the trump card: Oklahoma has six Group 1 wins, which is more than 10 of the other teams in the top 16. The home wins over Kansas and Texas Tech, the road and neutral-site wins over Wichita State and USC and the season sweep of TCU carried enough weight for the Sooners to get the last spot. The fact that they don't have a single Group 3 or Group 4 loss certainly didn't hurt.

Oklahoma isn't the only Big 12 team demonstrating the importance of Group 1 wins. Kansas—fresh off a home loss to Oklahoma State and road loss to Baylor in its last three games—ended up at No. 6 overall, predominantly because of its 9-4 record in Group 1 games.

This is great news for teams like Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Given the top-to-bottom strength of the Big 12, an 8-10 record in that league should be enough for a bid this season, considering almost every Big 12 win is of the Group 1 variety.

Oddly enough, though, Texas Tech only has four Group 1 wins, which is why Kansas is seeded ahead of the Red Raiders despite sitting behind them in the conference standings.

         

Takeaway No. 4: Road Wins Matter More Than Ever...Supposedly

Kyle Guy led Virginia to a big road win over Duke.
Kyle Guy led Virginia to a big road win over Duke.Ben McKeown/Associated Press

Rasmussen mentioned "road wins" four times within the first three minutes of this reveal show. His stated primary rationale for seeding Virginia No. 1 overall was its 10-1 record in road games.

That would be great if it were true. Virginia is actually 7-1 in road games and 9-1 with neutral-site games included.

It would also be great if it were better than Villanova's record in those environments. The Wildcats are also 7-1 in true road games and 13-1 including neutral-site games.

For the record, I'm 110 percent on board with road wins meaning more than in years past. Far too many times we've seen teams back into the tournament with a couple of quality home wins and nonconference schedules in which they only left town once for a neutral-site tournament. The switch to Groups/Quadrants was a clear sign that the committee is interested in putting more emphasis on where games are played.

But if Virginia is seeded ahead of Villanova, is the committee actually practicing what it preaches?

      

Takeaway No. 5: Quality Nonconference Wins Are Nice, But Not Mandatory

Keita Bates-Diop
Keita Bates-DiopJay LaPrete/Associated Press

As indirectly noted earlier with Rhode Island, nonconference SOS doesn't seem to be anywhere near as important as it used to be. We can argue over whether or not that's a good thing, but the committee doesn't seem to care whether your quality wins were in-conference or not.

Four of the top 16 teams prove this point.

Auburn (No. 5 overall), Cincinnati (No. 8), Texas Tech (No. 10) and Ohio State (No. 14) combined for three nonconference wins against the RPI top 50: Auburn beat Middle Tennessee (RPI: 28) in Alabama; Cincinnati beat Buffalo (RPI: 32) on a neutral court; and Texas Tech needed overtime to win a home game against Nevada (RPI: 15).

That's it. And not one of those teams will be projected as anything better than a No. 8 seed in my next bracket.

The full resume still matters, but the notion that you need to schedule aggressively in November and December and actually win some of those games is evaporating. Or, at the very least, it's shifting toward applying only to mid-major teams like Middle Tennessee, Buffalo and Nevada, who will get penalized for not capitalizing on the aforementioned opportunities to beat top-16 teams, since they don't get those chances in conference play.

                  

Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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