Which teams were the most surprising squads to be left out of the NCAA tournament field? These seven snubs are headed to the NIT.
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear before we get started: it’s awfully hard for any bubble team to claim it has truly been snubbed on Selection Sunday. Louisville didn’t beat very many quality teams; neither did Saint Mary’s. USC didn’t have a win against a team that ultimately earned an at-large bid. Oklahoma State was ranked 90th in RPI and played one of the worst non-conference schedules of the season. All of these teams had it the opportunity to do something that would have landed them in the field, but came up short.
Having said that, there will always be snubs. Let’s take a look at the teams with the most right to feel chagrined this Selection Sunday. Here are your biggest snubs of the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Yes, the Cardinals didn’t do much damage in their Quadrant 1 games, going 3-10 in those contests. They do deserve credit for wins at Florida State and Virginia Tech, however. Furthermore, it’s surprising to see the Selection Committee turn its back on a team ranked 38th in the RPI and 15th in strength of schedule, with zero bad losses. Every single defeat the Cardinals suffered came to a team in the tournament field. That’s typically more than enough for an at-large bid, but it wasn’t good enough for the Cardinals this season. They also ranked 33rd on kenpom.com, which should have worked in their favor. They will rue the day they let Virginia come back from four points down with six seconds left. Hold on to that one and the Cardinals almost certainly would have been in the field.
This is an interesting one. There’s some cognitive dissonance at work in granting Arizona State an at-large bid but snubbing the Cowboys. The Sun Devils got in largely on the strength of their big wins over Kansas and Xavier. Oklahoma State also beat Kansas—twice. In addition to that, they took down West Virginia (on the road), Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma twice and Florida State on a neutral floor. If Arizona State’s signature wins were enough to get them into the field, it would follow that Oklahoma State’s should have been, too. The problem for the Cowboys was their RPI, which came in at 88th on Selection Sunday. No team with an RPI that high has ever earned an at-large bid. The Cowboys made a strong run at history, but the committee deemed them unworthy of such an honor.
The Trojans also checked most of the boxes the committee asks of at-large teams. They finished 34th in the RPI, went 4-6 in Q1 games, won 23 total game and advanced to their conference championship. It’s not a gaudy résumé by any stretch of the imagination, but it has generally the right mix strengths the committee uses to make its team-by-team comparisons as apples-to-apples as possible. The Trojans had reason enough to feel confident heading into Selection Sunday, even after letting an automatic bid slip away in its loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 championship game. Ultimately, their total lack of wins against teams that earned at-large bids cost them a trip to the dance. While the Trojans do have legitimate reason to feel snubbed, it’s hard to argue with that logic. Their four Q1 wins were against Middle Tennessee State, New Mexico State, Utah and Oregon, and they lost games to Princeton and SMU. Did they have a solid résumé? Yes. Is it a miscarriage of justice that they’re headed to the NIT? No.
The Gaels seemed like a safe tournament team for most of the season, but recent losses to San Francisco and BYU opened the door to the NIT. The committee forced the Gaels through that door, but was it justified? Kenpom.com rated them 28th in the country, while Sagarin had them at No. 42. They won at Gonzaga, one of the best individual wins for any team not in the field of 68. At the same time, their strength of schedule ranked 194th and the only reason they picked up a second Q1 win was because BYU jumped up by virtue of beating the Gaels in the WCC semifinals. Like USC, there were strong arguments for and against Saint Mary’s. The committee sided with the ones in the latter camp.
Middle Tennessee State
This was easy to see coming, even though the Blue Raiders have a strong snub case. The Selection Committee simply hasn’t shown much appetite in recent years for similar teams—such as Monmouth two years ago and Illinois State last year—and it didn’t change course this season. There was a lot to like about this Middle Tennessee team. They finished the season 33rd in RPI with a pair of Q1 victories. Their non-conference strength of schedule ranked 11th in the country, and that had to impress the committee. Still, it could not get over the fact that the Blue Raiders had zero wins against at-large quality teams, compounded by four losses to teams nowhere near the at-large field, including a Southern Miss team ranked 207th in RPI. Until the committee signals that it has changed standard operating procedure, we should always assume that teams like this are going to get the short end of the stick, fair or not.
The Golden Eagles can score with the best in the country and that would have made them an interesting tourney team. They own three Q1 victories—over Providence, Seton Hall and Creighton, all on the road—and five total wins over teams that got at-large bids. Nothing else about their résumé jumps off the page, from their average standing in traditional metrics like RPI (57th) to their similarly average computer rankings (53rd on kenpom.com, 51st in Sagarin). If the Golden Eagles can point to one misstep that cost them, it was a late February loss to DePaul, their only reversal against a team worse than 77th in the RPI.
Baylor made things interesting with a late-season run that included wins over Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas and Oklahoma. That put the Bears back on the at-large radar, after being previously left for dead. The computers loved the Bears, with kenpom.com ranking them 34th while Sagarin pegged them as the No. 31 team in the country. The big knocks on the Bears were by more traditional measures. Put simply, the Selection Committee may never take a 17-14 team, no matter what the other metrics say. (One of the Bears’ 18 wins came against a team outside Division I.) That they ranked 68th in RPI didn’t help, either.