For a few unlucky teams each March, Selection Sunday becomes Rejection Sunday. They gather to watch the unveiling of the NCAA men's tournament bracket together only to endure the heartache of Greg Gumbel not calling their name.
This year, there were bubble teams of every flavor waiting to learn their fate. Some surged into NCAA tournament contention in March. Others sputtered into Selection Sunday leaking oil and missing parts. Some were barely over .500 but played a rugged schedule. Others had sparkling records but few quality wins to show for it.
The NCAA tournament selection committee ultimately awarded this year’s last at-large bids to a trio of middling power-conference squads and a Mountain West team that dropped its last three games entering Selection Sunday. Pittsburgh, Mississippi State, Arizona State and Nevada will all be in Dayton this week to play in the First Four.
Rutgers was the most surprising exclusion from the NCAA tournament field, but the Scarlet Knights weren’t the only team who left their team watch party dejected. Here's a look at Sunday's five biggest snubs:
1. Rutgers (19-14, 10-10, NET: 40, KenPom: 35)
Almost every mock bracket projected the Scarlet Knights to make the NCAA tournament, but their unusual profile always left them vulnerable. This was a team that didn’t challenge itself in non-league play and showed it could beat anyone and lose to anyone over the course of the Big Ten season. On one hand, Rutgers won at Purdue in January and pushed the Boilermakers again in the Big Ten quarterfinals. The Scarlet Knights also swept Penn State, and beat Indiana and Maryland. On the other hand, Rutgers’ 2-4 record in Quadrant 3 games was the worst among bubble teams. The Scarlet Knights were one of only three Big Ten teams to lose to last-place Minnesota. They also dropped games to Nebraska, Temple and Seton Hall.
2. Vanderbilt (20-14, 11-7, NET: 81, KenPom: 80)
Vanderbilt has been the nation’s 30th-best team since Feb. 1, per Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings. The Commodores won 10 of their final 12 games, including a pair of victories over Kentucky and single wins over Mississippi State, Auburn and Tennessee. If the committee took the 68 teams playing the best on Selection Sunday, Vanderbilt would be a lock. The problem is the committee evaluates the full body of work, which means the Commodores’ early home losses to Grambling and Southern Miss worked against them, as did their egregiously low No. 81 NET ranking and No. 80 KenPom ranking. Ultimately, Vanderbilt was 2022 Texas A&M. Just like those Aggies, the Commodores hit their stride too late.
When Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton posted an open letter to the committee on social media Friday, it had a whiff of desperation. Boynton cited Oklahoma State’s eight wins in a “historically good” Big 12 and said “we certainly deserve inclusion” in the NCAA tournament. Alas, what Boynton conveniently ignored was which eight games Oklahoma State won. The Cowboys went a dismal 0-9 against the league’s top four teams. They needed 18 Quadrant 1 games to get their six Quadrant 1 victories. Even coming from a league that was far and away the nation’s best this season, too many missed opportunities doomed Oklahoma State.
4. Clemson (23-10, 14-6, NET: 57, KenPom: 64)
There was a lot to like about Clemson’s résumé. The Tigers were the rare bubble team with an above-.500 record in Quadrant 1 and 2 games. They beat Penn State, took down Pittsburgh and Duke and swept three games from fellow bubble team NC State. They went 14-6 in an admittedly down ACC. So where did it all go wrong for Clemson? The 334th-ranked non-conference schedule, always a point of contention for the selection committee, and a hideous array of Quadrant 3 or 4 losses. You cannot drop a game to 28-loss Louisville and expect to make the NCAA tournament, let alone also fall to South Carolina, Boston College and Loyola Chicago.
UNC made some painful history Sunday night. The Tar Heels became the first AP preseason No. 1 team to miss the NCAA tournament since the field expanded to 64 in 1985. Despite returning four starters from last year’s national runners-up, North Carolina never came close to recapturing the form it displayed last March. The Tar Heels went 2-9 in Quadrant 1 games — and one of those victories came against an Ohio State team that finished second-to-last in the Big Ten. When North Carolina lost a defensive struggle to Virginia in the ACC quarterfinals, the Tar Heels seemed to know their fate. Asked if he had a “pitch” for why his team deserved an NCAA bid, head coach Hubert Davis said candidly, “At the end of the day, we had our chances.”