The NCAA men’s tournament selection committee unveiled its bracket Sunday evening. Below is a look at what it got right and what it got wrong:
What the committee got right: The No. 1 seeds
The Selection Sunday drama wasn’t at the top seed line this year. The committee ably recognized that Gonzaga, Arizona, Kansas and Baylor separated themselves from the rest of college basketball’s top teams.
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Gonzaga (26-3) sewed up the No. 1 overall seed when it avenged a prior loss to Saint Mary’s to win the WCC tournament. Arizona (31-3) left no doubt that it was also No. 1 seed worthy even before it added the Pac-12 tournament title to its regular season crown. Kansas (28-6) solidified its No. 1 seed by winning the Big 12 tournament, while Baylor crashed out early but benefited from some chaos in the SEC tournament.
Had Auburn or Kentucky made the SEC title game, they might have amassed enough quality wins to knock Baylor to the No. 2 line. The Tigers fell in the SEC quarterfinals and the Wildcats exited a day later, allowing the Bears to ride an impressive 18-6 record against the top two quadrants to their second straight No. 1 seed.
What the committee got wrong: Duke over Tennessee as a No. 2 seed
The committee did nothing to dissuade the conspiracy theorists who argue that Mike Krzyzewski receives preferential treatment. Duke landed an undeserved No. 2 seed in Krzyzewski’s final NCAA tournament before retirement.
While Duke topped Gonzaga and Kentucky in non-conference play this season, the rest of its resume was uninspiring. A thoroughly mediocre ACC provided few opportunities for marquee wins and the freshman-laden Blue Devils didn’t take advantage of enough of them to deserve anything more than a No. 3 seed.
In Krzyzewski’s final home game, Duke crumbled down the stretch against rival North Carolina. It was a similar story in the ACC title game a week later as Virginia Tech pulled away to secure an NCAA tournament bid.
Duke (28-6, 16-4, NET: 11, KenPom: 9)
Q1 record: 6-2
Q2 record: 6-3
Q3 or Q4 losses: 1 (Virginia)
Best wins: Gonzaga, Kentucky, at North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest (2)
Losses: at Ohio State, Miami, at Florida State, Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
The team who deserved Duke’s No. 2 seed was Tennessee, which amassed more Quadrant 1 wins than any other team besides Kansas after winning the SEC tournament. The Vols had five more Quadrant 1 wins than Duke, four fewer losses outside Quadrant 1 and slightly better rankings in most of the relevant metrics.
Tennessee (26-7, 14-4, NET: 8, KenPom: 7)
Q1 record: 11-7
Q2 record: 5-0
Q3 or Q4 losses: 0
Best wins: Arizona, Kentucky (2), Auburn, LSU, Arkansas
Losses: at Kentucky, Villanova, Texas Tech, at Texas, at LSU, at Arkansas, at Alabama
The one silver lining for Tennessee was that its draw as a No. 3 seed might be preferable to Duke’s as a No. 2. The Vols open against 14th-seeded Longwood and could face either sixth-seeded Colorado State or 11th-seeded Michigan in the round of 32. On the other hand, Duke could get a fight from battle-tested seventh-seeded Michigan State if they face one-another in the second round.
What the committee got right: Rutgers to the First Four
The First Four is the ideal destination for this year’s bubble team with the most bizarre résumé. Rutgers (18-13) boasted as many Quadrant 1 victories as No. 1 seed Arizona, but the Scarlet Knights also had a collection of hideous early season losses weighing down their profile like an anchor.
Way back in November, Rutgers dropped three straight to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass, each of whom are outside the NET’s top 100. The Lafayette loss was especially damaging since it came at home against a 20-loss team that is ranked 300 or below in most major metrics.
Throw in a Quadrant 3 home loss to Maryland, and it’s easy to see why Rutgers is a woeful 77th in the NET rankings and 53rd or worse in every metric that appears on the team sheets that the selection committee receives. And yet the Scarlet Knights were worthy of one of the last at-large bids thanks to victories over every other Big Ten NCAA tournament team — Purdue, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana and Michigan.
Rutgers’ First Four opponent will be a Notre Dame team that also had an unusual profile. The Irish beat Kentucky in non-league play and went 15-5 in the ACC yet they somehow entered Selection Sunday with only four victories all season in the top two quadrants, the fewest of any bubble team.
What the committee got wrong: Snubbing Texas A&M
Left for dead after a midseason eight-game losing streak, Texas A&M surged back into at-large contention by winning eight of its final 10 games. The Aggies dispatched of Florida, Auburn and Arkansas during a memorable SEC tournament run before running out of gas against Tennessee in Sunday’s title game.
Most mock brackets had Texas A&M in the field despite Sunday’s loss. Most mock brackets were wrong. The Aggies were the committee’s third team left out, behind Dayton and SMU.
Selection committee chairman Tom Burnett specifically cited Texas A&M’s 4-10 record in Quad 1 games when asked why the Aggies didn’t get a bid. Burnett reiterated that the committee is “looking at an entire body of work” and “not just a week in March.”
But while the committee has always said it would consider a team’s full body of work and not just how it finishes, that alone should not necessarily have disqualified Texas A&M. Not only does Texas A&M’s season-long summary compare favorably with First Four-bound Indiana and Notre Dame, the Aggies also boast a regular season victory over the Irish.
Texas A&M (23-12, 9-9, NET: 42, KenPom: 42)
Q1 record: 4-10
Q2 record: 5-0
Q3, Q4 losses: 2 (South Carolina, Mizzou)
Marquee wins: Auburn, at Alabama, Arkansas (2), Notre Dame
Indiana (20-12, 9-11, NET: 38, KenPom: 40)
Q1 record: 4-7
Q2 record: 4-4
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (Rutgers)
Marquee wins: Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame
Notre Dame (22-10, 15-5, NET: 52, KenPom: 54)
Q1 record: 2-8
Q2 record: 2-1
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (Boston College)
Marquee wins: Kentucky, North Carolina, at Miami
Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork weighed in Sunday evening, insisting that the Aggies’ exclusion “doesn’t make sense” and is “hard to figure out.”
What the committee got right: Houston as a No. 5 seed
One of the committee’s toughest seeding decisions was where Houston belonged on the bracket. The Cougars were ranked in the top six in the country in the major predictive metrics, yet had a summary that was nowhere near that good.
Houston’s victory over Memphis in Sunday’s American Athletic Conference title game was just the Cougars’ second Quadrant 1 win all season. They previously had gone 0-for-3 against Memphis and SMU during the regular season, and didn’t beat a single NCAA tournament-caliber team in non-conference play.
How was Houston ranked third in the NET and fourth in KenPom despite a lack of marquee wins? The answer is that the Cougars are 27-1 in non-Quadrant 1 games and have obliterated some respectable opponents, from Oregon, to Virginia, to Butler, to Cincinnati.
The committee’s best option was to award Houston with a seed that would neither ignore their computer metrics nor unfairly reward them. A No. 5 seed in the stacked South Regional feels about right.
What the committee got wrong: Devaluing conference tournament results
We already knew that the Sunday conference tournament title games finish too late for the committee to take the results into account. This year, it’s not even clear how much this committee valued the results of Saturday night’s conference tournament action.
Tennessee won the SEC tournament, yet inexplicably remained on the No. 3 line. Iowa won the Big Ten tournament yet vaulted no higher than the committee’s lowest-ranked No. 5 seed. Virginia Tech plowed through North Carolina and Duke on back-to-back days to win the ACC tournament, yet the Hokies settled for an 11 seed.
Virginia Tech’s placement on the NCAA’s 1-to-68 seed list was 46th, one spot ahead of a Notre Dame team that was the final at-large team to make the field. That suggests that the Hokies either would not have made the field if they didn’t beat Duke in Saturday’s ACC title game or that they didn’t receive much of a seeding bump for that big victory.
Ultimately, what this committee is telling you is that the final 24 hours of championship week are made-for-TV theater that has little tangible impact. If that trend continues, smart viewers are going to catch on and tune out.
The bottom half of the Midwest region is the weakest part of the bracket. No. 2 Auburn needs better guard play than it has received the past few weeks to live up to its high seeding. No. 3 Wisconsin is ranked outside the top 30 in many predictive metrics and may not have a fully healthy Johnny Davis. No. 6 LSU is without its coach and No. 7 USC has two wins all season over NCAA tournament teams.