March Madness 2018: Who Got Screwed in the NCAA Bracket?

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 12, 2018

March Madness 2018: Who Got Screwed in the NCAA Bracket?

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    Jordan McLaughlin and Allonzo Trier
    Jordan McLaughlin and Allonzo TrierEthan Miller/Getty Images

    The 2018 men's NCAA tournament bracket is here, and you know what that means: It's time to spend the next 24 hours griping about who the selection committee screwed.

    This year, there were more candidates than ever, simply because there were more viable options for the tournament.

    Baylor, Louisville, USC, Oklahoma State, Saint Mary's, Middle Tennessee, Nebraska, Marquette, Notre Dame and probably a few others were still in the discussion for an at-large bid right up until they didn't show up when the teams were revealed one-by-one in alphabetical order.

    Usually by Selection Sunday, we're talking about maybe five teams for two spots. At a certain point, we reach a consensus on the squads that shouldn't get in and focus on a few.

    But with the new quadrants on the team sheets, no one knew what the committee would do.

    Let's get started with what was the biggest screw job in the decade or so that I've been doing these projections.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Jeffrey Carroll
    Jeffrey CarrollBrody Schmidt/Associated Press

    Allow me to begin by stating I fully appreciate the absurdity of writing the biggest screw job in this year's bracket came when the ninth-best team in a 10-team league was left out of the field.

    That said, how in the world does Oklahoma State not get an invitation?

    The Cowboys swept Kansas during the regular season. That's a home win and a road win over a No. 1 seed. They won a home game against a No. 3 seed (Texas Tech). They won a road game against a No. 5 seed (West Virginia). They won a neutral-court game against a No. 9 seed (Florida State). And they won a total of three contests against No. 10 seeds (Texas and Oklahoma twice).

    Moreover, Oklahoma State's only losses to teams that didn't make the tournament were two games against Baylor, which was in the selection committee's first four out.

    In summation, eight wins over top-40 teams, including two victories over a top-four team and no awful losses.

    Meanwhile, Syracuse and Arizona State combined for just seven wins over opponents who earned a No. 10 seed or better and ended up with 12 lossesthree for Syracuse, nine for Arizona State—to teams who didn't even appear in the first four out.

    Arizona State and Syracuse got in. Oklahoma State didn't even make it into the first four out.

    It makes no sense.

    There are only two possible excuses.   

    The first is that Oklahoma State's RPI (88) and nonconference strength of schedule (295) were so bad that the Cowboys never even made it into the conversation in the committee's room, which means it failed at its job.

    And let's be sure to note it's a joke that Oklahoma State's NC SOS rank is that bad. The Cowboys played four games against at-large teamsWichita State, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Florida State. There is no possible way there are 294 teams who scheduled better than that. None. Period. But because they played four home games against awful teams outside the RPI top 300, the computers buried the Cowboys.

    The other possible excuse for why Oklahoma State was left out might be even worse....

Schools Implicated in the FBI Scandal

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    Deng Adel
    Deng AdelRobert Franklin/Associated Press

    Oklahoma State: Out.

    Louisville: Out.

    USC: Out.

    Arizona and Auburn: Both under-seeded by one line.

    What do all those teams have in common?

    They were explicitly linked to the FBI probe when the news first broke of college basketball's massive scandal back in the preseason.

    Were it just a couple of these teams, no one would bat an eye or give it a second thought. There are strong arguments that both Louisville and USC should be left out of the field, based on their lack of quality wins.

    But all of them ending up in worse a position than most bracketologists were expecting?

    That's a little weird, especially given the "strength" of some of the teams that did sneak into the field.

    I'm not saying there's a conspiracy that the selection committee was given a mandate to penalize those teams, but it doesn't take much of a leap of faith to make that connection.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    It wasn't much of a surprise that Middle Tennessee missed the tournament. By the time San Diego State and Davidson had stolen bids from the bubble, most of us had given up hope of seeing the Blue Raiders in the field.

    That doesn't mean they didn't get screwed, though.

    MTSU scheduled about as aggressively as any team in the country. It won road games against Murray State, Vanderbilt and Florida Gulf Coast. It also won a home game against Dunk City, as well as a home game against Ole Miss. MTSU played in the Diamond Head Classic and almost scored neutral-court wins over both USC and Miami. It also almost won a "neutral-court" contest against Auburn in Alabama.

    All told, aside from a season-opener against non-D-I Trevecca Nazarene, the Blue Raiders did not play a single nonconference game against a team outside the KenPom.com top 200, and six of those 11 games were against teams in the top 90.

    They did exactly what the selection committee has always implicitly told mid-major teams to do: Put together a tough nonconference schedule, play well against it and don't drop too many bad games in conference play.

    Despite a bad loss to Southern Miss in the Conference USA quarterfinals, there's no question the Blue Raiders checked off all of those boxes.

    And they weren't even on the list of the first four teams out of the field. 

    Again, this isn't surprising. It's just the way it is. This system is built to keep good mid-majors out of the field if they don't win their conference tournament. And it isn't fair.

Xavier Musketeers

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    Trevon Bluiett
    Trevon BluiettAaron Doster/Associated Press

    A No. 1 seed got screwed?

    How do you figure?

    Well, as far as opponents and locations are concerned, Xavier couldn't have been given a much worse draw.

    We'll gloss over the first-round game, since No. 16 seeds don't win those, but the Musketeers will likely need to face Missouri in Nashville, Tennessee, in the second round.

    First of all, Nashville is SEC country. At best, Cincinnati is a few miles closer than Columbia is, but you better believe that will effectively be a home game for the Tigers. And then you throw in the fact that this team is the ultimate wild card with the end-of-season addition of Michael Porter Jr.

    No matter which No. 1 seed got matched up with Missouri, it was going to feel a bit unfair. For it to take place in what appears to have been the closest subregion to Missouri's campus only makes matters worse.

    But let's assume Xavier wins that game. For the next round, it will need to fly all the way to Los Angeles for a likely matchup with Gonzaga, and the Spokane, Washington-based school is closer to L.A. by several hundred miles. Moreover, I had already identified Gonzaga as the nightmare Sweet 16 matchup for Xavier, in part because the Bulldogs are the hottest team in the country and in part because the Zags eliminated the Musketeers in the Elite Eight last year.

    Survive that game, though, and they'll either draw a hotter-than-the-sun Michigan team or a seeking-third-consecutive-national-championship-appearance North Carolina team. It's not quite as bad as having to choose between Duke and Michigan State, as is the case for Kansas in the Midwest Region, but that is a disastrous "reward" for having the country's fourth-best resume.

Fans in San Diego

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    Deandre Ayton and Sean Miller
    Deandre Ayton and Sean MillerRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    For the non-bracketologists out there, here's a TL;DR breakdown of how the locations are chosen for the sub-regions: The top 16 teams are ranked Nos. 1-16, and the sub-regions (two pods for each of the eight locations) are awarded in that order. There's a little more nuance to it than that, but the No. 1 team gets its preferred region and sub-region, and the No. 16 overall seed gets what is left over.

    Based on how it works and on how the balance of power shook out, it had been obvious for a long time that the No. 4 seeds were going to end up in Boise, Idaho, and San Diego. The only team from west of Kansas with any realistic shot at a No. 3 seed or better was Arizona, but it wasn't meant to be. And most likely, at least two of those four pods were going to end up with East Coast teams at both the No. 4 and No. 5 seed.

    As it turns out, San Diego got both of those pods, and the teams it got aren't strong draws.

    The No. 4 seeds are Auburn and Wichita State. The No. 5 seeds are Clemson and West Virginia.

    How many people in San Diego do you suppose will be calling off work to go watch those teams? Anyone? Bueller?

    The real shame of the matter is Arizona is a No. 4 seed and would have been a huge draw in that market. But because they were the No. 16 overall seed and the committee decided Auburn and Wichita State would rather go to San Diego than Boise, the Wildcats are going north to Idaho for their first- and second-round games.

Rhode Island Rams

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    Jared Terrell
    Jared TerrellAndrew Harnik/Associated Press

    It's not that the selection committee intentionally screwed over Rhode Island because it lost to Davidson on Sunday and forced an eleventh-hour bracket change, but it sure did work out that way.

    The Rams had one of their best seasons in program history. For a while, it looked like they could be headed for a No. 4 seed. But late losses to Davidson (twice), Saint Joseph's and St. Bonaventure bumped them down to a No. 7 seed.

    Big deal, right? They still get to face a relatively weak No. 10 seed.

    Unfortunately, this No. 10 seed has Trae Young, as that's where Oklahoma controversially landed in the bracket. The good news is Rhode Island does a great job of forcing turnovers and limiting three-point attempts, so, if anything, it would appear Oklahoma got screwed here. But no matter how much the Sooners struggled in the season's second half, I promise you, no one wants to deal with guarding Young.

    From there, Rhode Island would most likely need to beat Duke, Michigan State and Kansas to reach the Final Four.

    The color commentator for one of Rhode Island's A-10 tournament games said, and I quote, "I've got Rhode Island in the Final Four. Don't at me." He may not be feeling so good about that prediction now.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Tim Miles
    Tim MilesJohn Peterson/Associated Press

    Let's state up front that Nebraska did not deserve to be in the NCAA tournament. At no point in the bracket-updating madness did the Cornhuskers come close to getting onto my bubble. In my spreadsheet, I held on to teams such as Washington, LSU, Georgia and Temple longer than Nebraska. So when I write they got screwed, I'm not implying I thought they would get in.

    But it's a crying shame that a 15-loss team from the SEC got into the Big Dance as a No. 9 seed for a second consecutive year (Alabama this time around; Vanderbilt last year) while the 13-5 No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament never had a realistic shot at a bid.

    Again, I was nowhere close to having them in, so I've heard, understood and made all of the complaints that the anti-Nebraska crowd has been making for the past few weeks. The Cornhuskers had one great win over Michigan, and that's it. The 13 wins are a product of an imbalanced schedule in a year where the Big Ten was about as bad as it has ever been. Nebraska's nonconference schedule consisted of a victory over Boston College, four losses and a bunch of meaningless wins.

    It's not quite as much of a cream-puff buffet as what Saint Mary's consumed to get to 28-5, but there were a ton of empty calories in this 22-10 record.

    What ever happened to the eye test, though?

    All of the advanced metrics say Nebraska was a decent team. The Huskers were one point away from a marquee win over Kansas that could have changed everything. They should have won at Penn State. They could have won at Ohio State. And even the 10-point loss at Creighton was a nail-biter until the final two minutes.

    This was a good team that only got a few opportunities to prove something and came up just short on too many of them.

    Worst of all, now we'll have to spend the rest of our bracket-projecting lives hearing about that one time the committee left out a 13-win team from the Big Ten in favor of five squads that went 8-10 in their leagues.

USC Trojans

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    Chimezie Metu
    Chimezie MetuIsaac Brekken/Associated Press

    This one comes last because, as with Nebraska, the selection committee didn't make a bad decision on USC. I had the Trojans in the field, but they were my last team in, and I spent much of the week complaining on Twitter and in blind-resume articles about how much their profile didn't hold up.

    USC's two best wins were against Middle Tennessee and New Mexico State. The former missed the tournament, and the latter only got in because it won the WAC auto bid.

    The Trojans went 12-6 in Pac-12 play and picked up two more wins in the Pac-12 tournament, but they ended up going 0-5 against the teams from that league who made the Big Dance—Arizona (twice), UCLA (twice) and Arizona State.

    Most damning of all, they lost a home game to Princeton, which didn't even qualify for the Ivy League tournament. If USC had great wins, the committee would have gladly overlooked that misstep. (See: North Carolina, which got the No. 5 overall seed despite a home loss to Wofford.) Given USC's lack of victories, though, it was unforgivable.

    Nevertheless, almost all of the bracketologists on the Bracket Matrix had USC in their projected field. More than a dozen had the Trojans as a single-digit seed. The world's most famous committee forecaster, Joe Lunardi, had them as a No. 10 seed, safely in ahead of the bubble. But it wasn't meant to be.

    The reason so many of us had them in is because of their RPI. At No. 34 in those rankings, they became the highest major-conference team to get left out of the field since it expanded to 64 teams. Louisville was No. 38 and would have been the highest if not for USC.

    But if the committee doesn't care about RPI anymore, let's bring this thing full circle and ask why in the world Oklahoma State was left out when the only bad thing about its resume was its RPI-based rankings?

    Because they all got screwed, that's why.

              

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