One of the biggest questions entering Selection Sunday was whether this year's committee members would favor bubble teams from power conferences or mid-major conferences.
Would they prefer middling big-name schools who played a lot of marquee opponents but didn't beat many of them? Or would they opt for top mid-majors who played weaker schedules but took advantage of a higher percentage of their opportunities?
We have a definitive answer now to say the least, and it's a disappointing one. This year's bracket is full of middle-of-the-pack power-conference programs and almost devoid of at-large hopefuls from smaller leagues.
Syracuse? In. St. Bonaventure? Snubbed. Vanderbilt? In. Valparaiso? Snubbed. Michigan? In. Monmouth? Snubbed. One of the few exceptions was Wichita State, and the Shockers still had to settle for a First Four appearance.
The problem with this approach is that it robs the NCAA tournament's opening weekend of some of its usual charm. You remember George Mason and VCU making Final Four runs after receiving at-large bids? They both might have landed in the NIT were this committee in charge in 2006 or 2011.
Here's a look at this year's biggest snubs, almost all of which are from mid-major conferences:
1. MONMOUTH (27-7, 17-3): Though it's best known for the colorful antics of its fun-loving bench, Monmouth also made a name for itself with its performance on the floor too. The Hawks accomplished just about everything this season that a MAAC team can besides winning an automatic bid, upsetting four power-conference teams in non-league play, winning the MAAC outright and reaching its conference tournament title game. Neutral-court victories over Notre Dame and USC bolstered Monmouth's resume, but road wins at UCLA and Georgetown no longer look as meaningful as they once seemed. That must have factored in the committee's decision, as must have Monmouth's trio of sub-200 RPI losses.
2. SAINT MARY'S (27-5, 15-3): With five starters graduating from last year's NIT team and no seniors on this year's roster, Saint Mary's seemed headed for a rare transition season. The Gaels instead far surpassed last season's accomplishments, winning 27 games, beating Gonzaga twice and failing by four at a Cal team that went undefeated at home this year. What apparently cost Saint Mary's a bid was soft, in-state-heavy non-conference schedule, but it's worth noting that the Gaels were ineligible to play in an exempt tournament and struggle to find power-conference foes willing to play them at home. The Gaels also capitalized on their few chances for marquee wins, going 6-3 against top 100 foes.
3. ST. BONAVENTURE (22-8, 14-4): Winning a share of the Atlantic 10 title apparently was not enough to earn St. Bonaventure a bid. The Bonnies tied VCU and Dayton atop the league, sweeping Saint Joseph's, winning at Dayton and beating George Washington at home in the process. What hurt St. Bonaventure was surely its lack of notable non-conference victories as well as league losses to Duquesne and La Salle. It also couldn't have helped the Bonnies that they bowed out in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals on Friday after giving away a late lead against solid-but-not-great Davidson.
4. SOUTH CAROLINA (24-8, 11-7): Just how dreadful was South Carolina's schedule? So bad that they played only two RPI top 50 teams — Kentucky and Texas A&M — even though they play in a power conference. The Gamecocks steamrolled to a 15-0 start this season but the best team they beat during that stretch was ... Hofstra? Tulsa? Maybe Vanderbilt? After that, South Carolina plummeted back to earth, especially during the last month when the Gamecocks went just 3-5 including losses to Mississippi State and Missouri. They had a solid 8-5 record against the top 100, but the committee wanted to send a message that a tougher schedule is a requirement.
5. SAN DIEGO STATE (25-9, 16-2): The Aztecs are the first outright Mountain West champ to miss the NCAA tournament since the league's inception in 1999. They won the league by three games, but they were undone by six non-conference losses and a league too weak to offer enough chances to atone for them. The strength of San Diego State's profile was a win over Cal, a top-five non-league slate and a 9-2 record in true road games — no easy feat considering the logistical challenge of getting to many Mountain West cities and the altitude once you arrive. That apparently wasn't enough to outweigh a 3-7 record against the RPI top 100 and a fluky bad loss against San Diego in a baseball stadium.
6. VALPARAISO (26-6, 16-2): Valparaiso had big dreams entering the season thanks to the return of nearly its whole rotation from a team that came within a bucket or two of upsetting Maryland in the NCAA tournament last March. The Crusaders won the Horizon League by three games this season, but a loss to Green Bay in the conference tournament semifinals wrecked their hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament. A 4-2 record against top 100 teams highlighted by a victory at Oregon State was Valparaiso's best argument, but the Crusaders also had four losses to sub-100 RPI opponents.
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