Five things the committee got wrong in this year's bracket

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It's as time-honored a Selection Sunday tradition as filling out a bracket and entering an office pool.

As soon as the field of 68 is revealed, the bellyaching begins.

The bracket this year's selection committee created offered plenty of reasons to complain, from unbalanced regions, to peculiar seeding decisions, to the absence of top mid-majors. Here's a look at the five biggest mistakes the committee made:

1. Cinderella wasn't invited to the ball.

The appeal of the NCAA tournament's opening weekend is the potential for a no-name mid-major to pull a stunning upset, but this year's committee members robbed the event of some of its usual charm. They passed over a handful of deserving small-conference at-large hopefuls in favor of forgettable middle-of-the-pack bubble teams from power conferences.

Michigan made the field despite a 4-12 record against RPI top-50 opponents. So did Vanderbilt despite underachieving for three months and then falling to woeful Tennessee in the SEC tournament. Heck, 13-loss Syracuse had the lowest RPI of any at-large team ever, yet somehow avoidED the First Four.

A case can be made for the Wolverines by virtue of their four top-30 wins and lack of bad losses, but it's tougher for the other two. The opening weekend of this NCAA tournament would have been far more compelling had Monmouth, Saint Mary's, St. Bonaventure or Valparaiso gone in their place.

Committee chairman Joe Castiglione railed on Saint Mary's schedule, yet the Gaels had two more top-100 wins than Michigan. He also ripped Monmouth for its three sub-200 losses, yet Syracuse seemed to get a free pass for falling to No. 245 St. John's.

It's a good thing this year's selection committee wasn't in place 10 years ago. Instead of making an improbable Final Four run, George Mason would have been a No. 1 seed in the NIT.

2. East, South much stronger than the other two regions

Remember a few years ago when the selection committee put undefeated Wichita State, preseason No. 1 Kentucky and powerful Louisville, Duke and Michigan in the same bracket? Apparently they didn't learn from that mistake. This year's East and South regions are overloaded with high-quality teams by comparison to the other two regions.

The South region features No. 1 Kansas and eight other  Top 25 teams in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, yet it may not be the most difficult region. Four of the top five seeds in the East are ranked in the current AP Top 10 and their average Ken Pomeroy rating is 9.4

The No. 1 seed in the East is North Carolina, which swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles. The No. 4 seed in the East is SEC tournament champion Kentucky, which once shared preseason No. 1 honors with the Tar Heels. The No. 5 seed in the East is outright Big Ten champion Indiana, which has beaten five NCAA tournament teams in the past five weeks. That means only one of those three teams can advance beyond the Sweet 16.

As if that's not enough, the other half of the East region is loaded too. Looming are Big East runner-up Xavier and Big 12 runner-up West Virginia, both of whom have spent the past two months entrenched in the AP top 10.

It's nice that this region could provide us Kentucky-Indiana in the round of 32 when those teams refuse to play one another in the regular season. A potential Kentucky-North Carolina Sweet 16 game would be must-see TV too. But it's unfair to those teams that their path is so much more difficult than some of the other regions are.

3. Michigan State shouldn't be in Virginia's region

Any joy Virginia coach Tony Bennett experienced when his team landed a No. 1 seed had to have vanished quickly when he saw the No. 2 seed with which the Cavaliers were paired.

It's Michigan State, the same team that eliminated Virginia from the NCAA tournament both of the past two seasons.

In 2014, the fourth-seeded Spartans upset the top-seeded Cavaliers 61-59 in the Sweet 16. Last March, seventh-seeded Michigan State jumpstarted a surprise Final Four run by toppling Virginia again in the round of 32.

This year's Spartans are better than either of those previous teams and they are clearly confident playing at Virginia's pace and attacking Virginia's pack-line defense, too. Oh, and if the matchup happens in the Elite Eight, it will take place in Chicago in front of what's sure to be a pro-Michigan State crowd.

It's entirely possible that this is a moot point and that either Michigan State or Virginia fall prior to the Elite Eight, but it's unfair to the Cavaliers that another matchup is even a possibility before the Final Four. In a national tournament, Virginia shouldn't have to encounter the same road block in its regional year after year.

4. Tulsa doesn't belong in the field

Of all the mid-majors for the committee to include, it's baffling that off-the-radar Tulsa was the one selected. Not only did Tulsa not appear in a single major mock bracket, one of the Golden Hurricane's own players also actually told a friend on Twitter over the weekend that his team wouldn't make the NCAA tournament.

"We out bro," Harrison wrote in a since-deleted Tweet. "Lost to Memphis by like 30."

Tulsa had a respectable 8-8 record against the RPI top 100, but that masks glaring flaws in the Golden Hurricane's résumé. They were a pedestrian 58th in the Pomeroy's rankings, they accomplished little out of conference and they have three bad losses, one to Oral Roberts in December and a pair against Memphis by a combined 32 points in the past two weeks.

The inclusion of Tulsa reflected the committee's unexpected show of respect to the American Athletic Conference, a league it snubbed the previous two years by unexpectedly excluding SMU and Temple. Cincinnati and Temple joined conference tourney champ UConn in the field, avoided the First Four and received generous seedings as well.

In an odd twist, Temple and Cincinnati may have been helped by losing to UConn in the conference tournament. Those wins vaulted the Huskies into the RPI top 50, a metric the committee seemed to rely on as a crutch

5. The committee relied too heavily on RPI Top 50 wins and too little on other metrics

Unlike last season when advanced metrics appeared to influence numerous seeding decisions, this year's committee all but ignored anything besides RPI top 50 and top 100 victories.

The result is some seeding decisions that will put some teams at a massive advantage and others at a massive disadvantage.

Oregon State received a No. 7 seed by virtue of its 12 RPI top 100 wins even though the best team the Beavers beat on the road might be UCLA. While the Beavers belong in the field, you can bet 10th-seeded VCU was not disappointed to draw Pomeroy's 60th-ranked team in the first round.

Among the other teams whose seedings vary wildly from their ratings in Pomeroy's rankings: Temple (a No. 10 seed despite its No. 86 ranking), Wichita State (an 11 seed despite a No. 12 ranking) and Stephen F. Austin (a No. 14 seed despite a No. 33 ranking).

NCAA tournament seedings shouldn't be dictated exclusively by advanced metrics, but they also shouldn't ignore them either. Is it safe to say Arizona isn't thrilled at the possibility of seeing a top-15 Shockers team in the round of 64? Without a doubt.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

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