Today is Selection Sunday, practically a holiday for college basketball fans as the 68-team field is unveiled for the NCAA Tournament.
A few weeks ago, CBS announced that its annual Selection Show, which began as a half-hour program in 1982 and expanded to a one-hour show in 2002, would take place over two hours.
Think about that. The entire purpose of the Selection Show is to announce a list of 68 schools, and yet tonight it was stretched out over two hours. For comparison (and a look at how simply this should be done), the online announcement of the 64 teams in the field for the Division II basketball tournament takes less than 30 minutes.
As you might expect, the 120-minute announcement did not go over well with the public. And while executives will probably chalk this up to the lack of patience of the general public (or say that if they were complaining it means they were, in fact, watching), the show was legitimately awful.
The program began at 5:30 p.m. ET, and it was 5:50 before any of the field was announced. After the top seeds were announced, CBS announced the South Region’s matchups over the next few minutes, without dragging their feet too much.
However, after that regional was announced, with three-fourths of the bracket still yet to be unveiled, the network turned to Charles Barkley. Barkley, a Naismith Hall of Famer and former NBA Most Valuable Player, is an NBA analyst for Turner Sports and is only included in NCAA coverage due to Turner’s involvement in broadcasting the event. During last year’s coverage, Barkley admitted he does not watch much college basketball before covering the NCAA Tournament, and even if he had not admitted to that, it would be made clear by the inaccuracy of some of the things he says in his analysis.
Despite this, with 51 places on the bracket still blank, and with every bubble team except Vanderbilt and Wichita State, who were in the South Region, still waiting to hear if they were even in the tournament, CBS spent several minutes with Barkley at a touch screen he had trouble operating while he made and explained his picks for the West Region’s games.
Even having to fill an allotment of two hours, there is no reason why CBS needed to have anyone on their air making lengthy predictions before 75 percent of the bracket was even unveiled.
The Selection Show did not get any better after this. However, the televised announcement would soon become a moot point.
Just as CBS finished announcing the West Region pairings, the bracket leaked online. Typically, the NCAA and CBS are able to keep the bracket a secret, revealing who’s in, who’s out, and who’s going where live on their air, announcing it everyone–teams, fans, media, etc.–at the same time. Somehow, a Twitter user posted an image of the entire bracket, with the two announced regions entirely correct, giving the image credibility.
Many were skeptical of the bracket’s authenticity, but it turned out the leaked pairings were perfectly correct.
Many just wish that the leaked bracket, in fact, had been incorrect, because the 68-team field was, in the opinion of many including myself, not picked accurately.
Teams left out of the NCAA field include St. Mary’s (27-5, 15-3 West Coast Conf.), Valparaiso (26-6, 16-2 Horizon League), Monmouth (27-7, 17-3 Metro-American Athletic Conf.), and South Carolina (24-8, 11-7 SEC). These quality teams were omitted while seemingly mediocre teams Vanderbilt (19-13, 11-7 SEC) and Tulsa (20-11, 12-6 AAC) were included in the tournament field.
St. Mary’s, Monmouth, and Valparaiso were presumably left out of the tournament because of the strength of the conference they play in. While the non-conference slate of St. Mary’s is not great either, they have absolutely no “bad losses”, and did schedule Stanford and Cal, beating the Cardinal before losing a close road game against the Golden Bears. The Gaels defeated Gonzaga, the WCC champion, twice, before losing to the Zags in the WCC championship game. The Gaels rank 37th in the RPI, which is insanely high for a team to be ranked while still failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Valparaiso, despite being 20 games over .500 and only losing to one team in their conference in the regular season (although they lost to Wright State twice), knew coming into today their tournament odds were not good, once again because of the strength of schedule. They do have four wins over NCAA Tournament teams (Iona, Oregon State, and Green Bay twice), but their schedule simply was not tough enough, although their RPI ranking of 49th was the second highest of anyone left out of the field.
Monmouth may be the most alarming mid-major team to miss the field. The Hawks did schedule tough in non-conference play, and have wins over UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, and Georgetown to show for it. While UCLA and Georgetown ended up not being as impressive, it is not Monmouth’s fault that they scheduled two of the most successful programs in college basketball (both on the road), and it ended up being a down year for both of them. Monmouth is ranked 52nd in the RPI.
South Carolina becomes the first eligible Power Five conference team to win 24 games and miss the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams. The Gamecocks are the team on this list whose omission frustrates me the most, since I do live in the state of South Carolina and pull for the team, but I objectively feel they should be in the tournament over Vanderbilt and/or Tulsa. While the Gamecocks non-conference slate was light, the team did not lose any of those games. The “light” games against Memphis, Drexel, and St. John’s were only perceived as such because each school had players transfer away after their game with the Gamecocks was already scheduled. While the Gamecocks rank 64th in the RPI, which is the lowest of anyone perceived as a snub (yet still higher than tournament qualifier Syracuse at 72nd), they picked up one of the most impressive wins by anyone in the SEC all year by winning on the road at Texas A&M. Losses to Missouri, Mississippi State, and Tennessee were the Gamecocks’ issue, as well as three losses to Georgia, but the team had the highest Strength of Record (an ESPN metric) of anyone to miss the tournament field at 33rd. (*Note: David Cloninger at The State took an even more in-depth look at how the Gamecocks missed the field.)
On a personal note, it only adds to the frustration that the team the Gamecocks will play in the opening round of the NIT also happens to be the school two of my grandparents attended (High Point). Of course.
Earlier this week, I heard Dick Vitale speak of the tournament chances of St. Mary’s, Valparaiso, and Monmouth, saying that those teams should be rewarded for winning so many games, instead of awarding the mediocrity of teams who happen to be in a good conference. I would agree that winning games is the best determiner of who should be in the NCAA Tournament field. And yet, a pair of teams with 11 and 13 losses from two conference that are not necessarily considered the best are in the field.
Vanderbilt is clearly in the field based on the strength of wins against Texas A&M and Kentucky, although both were at home. However, while the Commodores met a handful of NCAA Tournament teams in non-conference play, their best non-conference win was arguably against Wake Forest, who was just 2-16 in the ACC. Typically the ability to win on the road is something the committee looks for, but the Commodores did not beat a single NCAA Tournament team on the road or at a neutral site (0-7 in such games), and they lost to Tennessee (15-19) in their opener of the SEC Tournament. Vanderbilt does not have an NCAA Tournament resume, plain and simple.
Tulsa has the quality wins to make the field, winning games over five teams in the NCAA field, as well as SMU (25-5, serving one-year postseason ban). But losses to Oral Roberts and Houston should have made their entry into the field questionable, and two losses in the last two weeks to Memphis, including a 89-67 drubbing in the AAC Tournament, should have made the possibility of a bid remote at best. After that blowout loss, most assumed the Golden Hurricane had no shot at making the field, creating a complete surprise when their name was on the leaked bracket on Sunday.
Adding to South Carolina’s frustration in missing the field was the fact that they defeated both Vanderbilt and Tulsa in head-to-head matchups this season. The Gamecocks defeated Tulsa 83-75 on November 23, and beat Vanderbilt 69-65 on January 9.
Yes, I understand that I’m saying there were four snubs and only two teams that should not be in. In my opinion, there are 38 teams deserving of the 36 at-large bids (the 34 teams that received bids, excluding Vanderbilt and Tulsa, and the four snubs). Naturally, two of these teams were going to be disappointed in any circumstances. But the selection committee further magnified the shortage of at-large bids compared to the number of deserving teams by putting two teams in the field that are entirely undeserving.
The committee also made some mistakes in the seeding of the tournament, but I am not going to delve into that discussion. Bad seeding can be fixed by the affected teams winning games and making a run in the tournament. Putting the wrong teams in in the first place cannot be fixed, because even if an affected team wins the NIT, it still does not compare to even losing their first game in the NCAA Tournament.
The NCAA Tournament is one of the best sporting events in America. From the buzzer-beaters, to the Cinderella upsets, to the miracle runs to the Final Four, a nation will be captivated by the thrilling theatre that will unfold over the next three weeks.
But after such a horrendous start to March Madness, the NCAA may need its teams to produce one of its best tournaments ever if they want us to quickly forget the committee’s mistakes.
(*Note: ESPN’s Joe Lunardi wrote his own article about what the committee got wrong. It’s worth the read.)
NCAA Tournament Field
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Austin Peay (Thursday, Des Moines)
#8 Colorado vs. #9 Connecticut (Thursday, Des Moines)
#4 California vs. #13 Hawaii (Friday, Spokane)
#5 Maryland vs. #12 South Dakota State (Friday, Spokane)
#3 Miami (Fla.) vs. #14 Buffalo (Thursday, Providence)
#6 Arizona vs. Wichita State/Vanderbilt winner (Thursday, Providence)
#2 Villanova vs. #15 UNC Asheville (Friday, Brooklyn)
#7 Iowa vs. #10 Temple (Friday, Brooklyn)
#1 Oregon vs. Holy Cross/Southern winner (Friday, Spokane)
#8 St. Joseph’s vs. #9 Cincinnati (Friday, Spokane)
#4 Duke vs. #13 UNC Wilmington (Thursday, Providence)
#5 Baylor vs. #12 Yale (Thursday, Providence)
#3 Texas A&M vs. #14 Green Bay (Friday, Oklahoma City)
#6 Texas vs. #11 Northern Iowa (Friday, Oklahoma City)
#2 Oklahoma vs. #15 Cal State Bakersfield (Friday, Oklahoma City)
#7 Oregon State vs. #10 VCU (Friday, Oklahoma City)
#1 North Carolina vs. Florida Gulf Coast/Fairleigh Dickinson winner (Thursday, Raleigh)
#8 USC vs. #9 Providence (Thursday, Raleigh)
#4 Kentucky vs. #13 Stony Brook (Thursday, Des Moines)
#5 Indiana vs. #12 Chattanooga (Thurday, Des Moines)
#3 West Virginia vs. #14 Stephen F. Austin (Friday, Brooklyn)
#6 Notre Dame vs. Michigan/Tulsa winner (Friday, Brooklyn)
#2 Xavier vs. #15 Weber State (Friday, St. Louis)
#7 Wisconsin vs. #10 Pittsburgh (Friday, St. Louis)
#1 Virginia vs. #16 Hampton (Thursday, Raleigh)
#8 Texas Tech vs #9 Butler (Thursday, Raleigh)
#4 Iowa State vs. #13 Iona (Thursday, Denver)
#5 Purdue vs. #12 Arkansas-Little Rock (Thursday, Denver)
#3 Utah vs. #14 Fresno State (Thursday, Denver)
#6 Seton Hall vs. #11 Gonzaga (Thursday, Denver)
#2 Michigan State vs. #15 Middle Tennessee State (Friday, St. Louis)
#7 Dayton vs. #10 Syracuse (Friday, St. Louis)
#11 Vanderbilt vs. #11 Wichita State (Tuesday, Dayton)
#16 Florida Gulf Coast vs. #16 Fairleigh Dickinson (Tuesday, Dayton)
#11 Michigan vs. #11 Tulsa (Wednesday, Dayton)
#16 Holy Cross vs. #16 Southern (Wednesday, Dayton)