March Madness 2019: Who Got Screwed in the NCAA Bracket?
The selection committee for the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament has spoken and—wouldn't you know it?—people are mad about it.
The Big Dance will begin with the First Four games Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, but before we move on to figuring out what to expect in the tournament, we need to take some time to pour one out for everyone who got screwed by the selection committee.
Some teams were poorly seeded.
Others got brutally jobbed.
Some "deserving" teams were left out of the tournament altogether.
These are their sob stories.
UNC Greensboro Spartans
As great as it is that Belmont was able to sneak into the First Four, the Bruins were just one of the many worthy mid-major at-large candidates this year.
Lipscomb, Furman and Toledo all went 25-7 with respectable metrics. Hofstra, South Dakota State and Campbell all had good records—the first two more so than Campbell—and one of the most electric scorers in the nation. Any member of that group would have been an entertaining inclusion.
But UNC Greensboro will go down in history as the small school that got screwed the hardest this year.
The Spartans went 28-6 and only lost one game to a team outside the NET top 15—a road game against No. 41 Furman. All six were Quadrant 1 results, as were UNCG's neutral-site win over Furman and its road win over East Tennessee State.
In the loss at Kentucky, the Spartans led with nine minutes remaining. In the loss at LSU, they put up 91 points and only fell by six. And in the SoCon Championship Game against Wofford, they were up for the majority of the first 35 minutes before going colder than a polar vortex, scoring three points in the final five minutes.
They avoided bad losses. They competed well. They deserved to get in. And the selection committee agreed.
Until Oregon beat Washington in the Pac-12 tournament. The NCAA's David Worlock announced on Twitter that UNC Greensboro was the team that got bumped out by that result.
It was the worst possible scenario for mid-majors across the country. We were all rooting for bid thieves in the MAC, Mountain West and AAC tournaments, hoping it would be teams like St. John's, Arizona State or NC State that got left out. Instead, not only was a mid-major kicked to the curb, but it was a major-conference bid thief doing the kicking.
Brutal stuff. And when the Arizona State vs. St. John's First Four game is an unwatchable brick-fest, you best believe there will be many "UNCG would have been better!" tweets.
Surely no one outside of Bloomington, Indiana, is screaming about the unfair treatment of this poor blue-blood program. The Hoosiers (17-15) suffered a bunch of losses and had one brutal stretch in the middle of the year in which they lost 12 of 13 games.
But 19-14 Ohio State and 19-15 Florida also had a lot of losses, and they both got in with some room to spare.
How did the selection committee, in its infinite wisdom, decide that Florida's 15 losses were worthy of a No. 10 seed while Indiana's 15 losses belong in the NIT?
The primary case for Florida was two wins over the committee's No. 11 overall seed LSU, which is impressive. One was a true road game and one was on a neutral site, which is extra nice. But the Gators only had one other win over an NCAA tournament team, and that was a home game against No. 8 seed Ole Miss. And they had bad home losses to Georgia and South Carolina—both Quadrant 3 games.
Indiana swept the committee's No. 6 overall seed Michigan State and also won home games against Louisville (No. 7 seed), Marquette (No. 5 seed) and Wisconsin (No. 5 seed). Its worst losses of the season were road games against Rutgers and Northwestern—not great, but both Quadrant 2 games.
So was it just a NET thing? Florida finished at No. 31 in the NET while Indiana was No. 54, which in my estimation is primarily because six of Indiana's seven best wins were by four points or fewer while Florida stomped Alabama, Arkansas and Butler. Florida's year-to-date scoring margin was plus-4.7 while Indiana's was plus-3.8. So, it appears that literally one point per game made a significant difference.
Even if it was a NET decision, why did Ohio State (NET No. 55) get in? (And how the heck did No. 73 St. John's get in?!) The Buckeyes had one road win over Cincinnati, a couple of home wins over Iowa and Minnesota and three other Quadrant 1 road wins over teams that missed the tournament (Nebraska, Creighton and Indiana). Like Indiana, the Buckeyes had bad road losses to Rutgers and Northwestern, but they also had a Quadrant 3 home loss to Illinois.
Did the committee seriously let the Big Ten second-round game between Indiana and Ohio State decide which one got a No. 11 seed clear of the First Four and which one got left out entirely?
TCU Horned Frogs
It's not a big surprise that 16-16 Texas was left out. I had the Longhorns in because they had five Quadrant 1 wins and faced one of the 10 toughest schedules in the country, but I also get it. Finishing .500 overall cannot be tolerated, nor should it be.
TCU missing the cut with a 20-13 record, though, was the most shocking exclusion, especially considering several of the Horned Frogs' best wins—Iowa State (twice), vs. Florida—looked a little more impressive by the end of the week based on their respective conference tournament showings.
Honestly, it might be because Texas was left out that TCU was subsequently cut, too. TCU swept the Longhorns, but it ended up with just four wins over tournament teams.
The Horned Frogs didn't suffer any terrible losses. Road games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia don't feel like good losses. However, the Cowboys finished just outside the NET top 75, so that was barely a Q2 result instead of Q1. And the game against the Mountaineers went into triple overtime, and it came late in the season when WVU was on the verge of winning games against Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. No shame in that result.
Or so we thought. Apparently, the committee wasn't thrilled with TCU losing a game that's tougher than a long weekend at your in-laws.
Moreover, TCU dealt with injuries and transfers all year. It lost Jaylen Fisher after just nine games. Freshman Lat Mayen left after 17 games. Kouat Noi missed six games. But the Horned Frogs played well toward the end of the season when they were at full strength.
With so many injury/suspension changes to keep track of around the country, thought, perhaps that was swept under the rug, along with TCU's ticket to the dance.
How about a break from the bubble teams to complain about a title contender that the selection committee did no favors?
Tennessee got a No. 2 seed in the South Region, which looks fine at a quick glance. Had the Volunteers beaten Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, maybe they jump up to a No. 1 seed instead. Although, the fact that Michigan State won the Big Ten title Sunday and still got matched up against Duke is further proof that the committee couldn't care less about what happens in the Big Ten or SEC championships. Tennessee was probably going to be a No. 2 seed no matter what.
Where the Vols got screwed, though, is the locations and the matchups.
Colgate is the last No. 15 seed Rick Barnes and Co. wanted to draw. Not only does the Patriot League have some Cinderella history (2011-12 Lehigh), but this is a good three-point shooting and offensive rebounding squad—the two areas where the Volunteers struggle most. It won't be a cakewalk into the second round.
Assuming Tennessee gets through, though, its probably going to run into Cincinnati—in Columbus, Ohio. The Bearcats looked great against Houston in the AAC championship and were arguably under-seeded as a No. 7, but they're practically playing home games in the first two rounds. If you don't think that's a big deal, talk to Duke fans about having to play South Carolina in Greenville, South Carolina, two years ago. The neutral fans already want to see upsets, but when it's the "home" team trying to slay Goliath, it turns into a madhouse.
Even if Tennessee survives to the Sweet 16, it might have to go through No. 6 seeded Villanova, which can shoot threes like no other and which has won two of the last three national championships.
All that just for the right to face Virginia in the Elite Eight—easily the best team in the country this year by KenPom's estimation.
But, hey, congrats on that No. 2 seed, Tennessee. You earned it.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Now hold on a dadgum minute. How can a No. 1 seed have gotten screwed?
As was our case with Tennessee, the Tar Heels have been given a brutal draw.
Iona in the first round? They should win that one. But bet the over, friends. That might be a 115-87 type of ballgame. Both of those teams love to run, and Iona's defense is a sieve.
UNC should also win the second-round game, be it against Utah State or Washington. Both of those teams have outstanding interior defense, and Washington's ball pressure could cause problems for Coby White. But the Huskies are a mess on offense, and the Aggies have had trouble scoring against great teams, too.
It's the second weekend where North Carolina has a major grievance with the committee.
If No. 4-seeded Kansas gets there, that's essentially a home game for the Jayhawks in Kansas City. And for as beat up as that team has been this season, remember that Kansas was the No. 1 team in the preseason polls. Getting a No. 1 seed only to play a road game against that team in the Sweet 16 is awful.
If it's No. 5-seeded Auburn instead of Kansas, well, then North Carolina just has to face the hottest damn team in the country instead.
The Tigers have won eight straight, including Tennessee twice and two other games against KenPom top 30 teams. They struggled to find their mojo throughout the season, but they are blocking shots, forcing turnovers and draining threes, all at absurd levels. Going straight from Washington's defense to Auburn's defense could take a toll on North Carolina, too.
And then waiting in the Elite Eight is presumably Kentucky, which already beat North Carolina 80-72 on a neutral floor earlier this season. That will also be much closer to a home game for the Wildcats than it is for the Tar Heels.
Michigan State Spartans
OK, fine, one more high seed and then we're done. Promise.
Michigan State's draw to the Elite Eight is plenty favorable. The Spartans got (in my humble estimation) the weakest Nos. 7, 10 and 15 seeds in the tournament. Neither Bradley nor Minnesota can shoot to save its life, and have you seen Louisville play since that epic comeback loss to Duke? Aside from twice beating up on lowly Notre Dame, the Cardinals have been a travesty.
There's almost always at least one No. 2 seed that fails to reach the Sweet 16, but it is hard to imagine this will be one of them.
Even after that, Michigan State is matched up with either LSU—a No. 3 seed in off-the-court turmoil—or Maryland, which hasn't shown up for many games since mid-January. Or, if you're optimistic about Cinderella, the Spartans might get No. 11 Belmont to reach the Elite Eight. Either way, they should win that game, too.
But let's talk about the B.S. of winning both the regular-season and conference-tournament titles in the best league in the country and needing to go through the favorite to win it all just to reach the Final Four.
Seriously, why do they even play the Big Ten title game anymore?
The Spartans beat Michigan (another No. 2 seed) for the third time this season, and all they have to show for it is a nightmare matchup in the Elite Eight and a key reserve (Kyle Ahrens) with a badly sprained ankle.
Had the game been played Saturday, there would have been a strong, almost undeniable argument for the Spartans as the fourth No. 1 seed. In addition to the Big Ten sweep, they had 13 Quadrant 1 wins. 13! The only other teams with more than 10 were Virginia (12), Duke (11) and Kansas (11)—two No. 1 seeds and one team that probably would've been a No. 1 seed if it had played more than one month at full strength.
Instead, the game ended 15 minutes before the selection show began. And no matter how many times the committee says it has X contingency brackets at the ready, the Big Ten and SEC title games never matter. It's a shame, because this team accomplished more than enough to deserve better. Michigan got the more favorable draw while losing the game.
Kansas State and Wisconsin
The problem with only one team west of Texas being good this year is that there still need to be four first-round games in Salt Lake City and four first-round games in San Jose, California.
No. 1 seeded Gonzaga was happy to take one of the SLC pods, but the other favorites starting their runs in San Jose are Kansas State, Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State. Hard to imagine there will be much of an edge for those teams.
But at least Mississippi State and Virginia Tech are facing other teams from at least 2,000 miles away from San Jose—Liberty and Saint Louis. (Seriously, who is going to those games?)
Kansas State and Wisconsin, on the other hand, are at major geographical disadvantages in their first-round games. The Wildcats drew UC Irvine, which is about six hours from San Jose. Wisconsin has to face Oregon, which is closer to a nine-hour drive. But that beats the 26-hour drive for Kansas State fans and 31-hour drive for Badgers Nation.
And because they're the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the same region, if either one loses in the first round, the other has to then face a second team with a semi home-court advantage.
Wisconsin would have been better suited taking a page from Maryland's playbook and just crashing and burning down the stretch. The Terrapins got the No. 6 seed in Jacksonville, Florida, but Hartford and Tulsa were also possible destinations for the No. 6 seeds. Instead, the Badgers earned a No. 5 seed and now have to play two games light years from home just to get a Sweet 16 matchup with Virginia.
Seton Hall Pirates
Seton Hall finished with an incredible flourish. After three straight losses to Xavier, St. John's and Georgetown to fall into serious bubble trouble, the Pirates closed out the regular season with home wins over Marquette and Villanova.
That alone seemed enough to punch the Pirates' ticket. But in the Big East tournament, they proceeded to beat Georgetown with ease, eked out a win over Marquette and played an incredible championship game against Villanova, losing by just two points.
They ended up with seven Quadrant 1 wins and seven Quadrant 2 wins. By my count, they were one of just 19 teams with at least 14 wins against the top two quadrants. The other 18 teams combined for: three No. 1 seeds, four No. 2 seeds, four No. 3 seeds, three No. 4 seeds, three No. 5 seeds and one No. 6 seed.
What did Seton Hall get?
A No. 10 seed.
Even worse, it got matched up with an under-seeded Wofford team that finished No. 13 in the NET and No. 19 on KenPom. The Terriers arguably deserved a No. 5 seed, but they got the Wichita State treatment and are now a tough draw for the others in their pod.
In the selection committee's defense, Seton Hall's metrics weren't great. The Pirates finished roughly 55th in NET and KenPom.
But that's just proof we're putting too much stock in margin of victory at the expense of quality wins. Who cares that 11 of Seton Hall's wins were by six points or fewer or that its year-to-date scoring margin is just plus-2.4 points? Shouldn't it matter more that the Pirates beat Kentucky on a neutral court and won four games against teams on the No. 5 or No. 6 seed lines—Villanova, Maryland and Marquette (twice)?
For all their trouble, they need to go through one of the best offenses in the country in the first round just for a second chance to prove they're better than Kentucky. They deserved a No. 7 or No. 8 seed for how well they finished, but the committee didn't agree.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.