Say this for Selection Sunday: The coaches whose teams don't make it to the NCAA Tournament rarely pull any punches when talking about being left out. Those comments are rarely vitriolic, but almost always carry notes of helplessness.
"The committee sent a message to me that it's going to get tougher for everybody at our level to get an at-large with this new system," Middle Tennessee Coach Kermit Davis told ESPN. "You've got to be perfect. We only have a few chances, and they are usually either on the road or on a neutral court, where the Power 5 schools have six to eight opportunities at home in front of their crowd . . . I think people would rather watch both [St. Mary's and] us in Dayton than two Power 5 teams that finished seventh or eighth in their leagues."
How about a Power 5 team that finished fourth? That's Nebraska's particular plight this time around. The Huskers had the win total (22) and conference finish of a typical tournament team in the past, but the committee doesn't consider conference finish and the total number of wins matters far less than who you beat, where you won, how you scheduled and, the ultimate moving target, wins against other teams in the tournament. (Nebraska went 1-6 in that last category.)
Those seem to be the key ingredients to baking tournament-worthy bread in 2018, but even if we know the preferred recipe the differences between the bubble teams that got in versus those that didn't remain hard to parse.
Just out of curiosity, I threw the NCAA team sheet data from the last four teams in, first four out and Nebraska into a spreadsheet. I wanted to see if anything jumped out from a numbers-only perspective. The only thing that did was how many moving pieces there are. (Last four in = bold, first four out = italics)
|TEAM||RPI||SOS||NC RPI||NC SOS||ROAD WIN%||Q1 WIN%|
Those numbers do offer a sense of just where (and how far) the Huskers fell short. Arizona State was the only team to earn an at-large big with an RPI lower than Nebraska's and UCLA was the only bubble team with a worse road winning percentage to get in. Among this group of eight teams closest to the bubble (plus Nebraska), the Huskers had the lowest nonconference RPI, nonconference strength of schedule, Quad 1 winning percentage and second-lowest overall strength of schedule.
In the "metrics that matter," Nebraska fell fairly short. So short that it should've been a five seed in the NIT? I certainly never would've guessed that. I guess the overall takeaway from yesterday is that there is no one path to a bid for a bubble team. Syracuse got in with a sub-.500 record in a tough conference. Arizona State was sub-.500 in a lightly regarded conference, but its nonconference RPI ranked ninth.
This is ultimately the source of conflict here. The committee can be as transparent as it wants with the criteria it is paying attention to (note: that's different than using), but ultimately it's still a committee, a group of people who have to make judgments. Every year the selection committee chair goes on TV and gets grilled by media asking, "Why Team A and not Team B?"
The chair always has some answers for these questions, and everyone can decide individually how satisfying they are. They're never going to be totally satisfying, however, because if you keep drilling down, if you tear apart the résumés and parse the criteria, you will eventually end up at the only answer that's actually there: We thought Team A should be in and Team B shouldn't.
The system is designed to make as much sense as it can, but it can never make perfect sense. We always forget this one day a year.
The Grab Bag
- Good breakdown from Jon Wilner on the Pac-12's interesting bubble cases.
- For bracket strategizing purposes: Here are the Sunday-night lines for each of the first-round games.
- Here's your de rigueur "if college football had a 64-team bracket" piece.
- And to take that one-step farther, if you wanted to fill out your bracket just based on football strength, it might look like this.
Today's Song of Today