As usual, the announcement of the NCAA tournament bracket left some teams that thought they had an excellent chance to make the 68-team field on the outside looking in. Unlike past years however, there were few teams that could legitimately cry foul about being left out. Below is a look at the six most noteworthy snubs, listed in order from most to least surprising, as well as some quick bracket impressions.
2. Colorado State: Everyone knew that a seemingly safe team was in trouble when UCLA’s name was revealed in the field. That proved to be the Rams, who were in the top 30 in RPI and weren’t even thought to be on the bubble by most. Apparently a 2-3 record against the top 50 wasn’t good enough.
3. Miami: The Hurricanes had one of the best wins in the regular season, knocking off Duke by 16 points in Durham. That, as well as another nice win over N.C. State, wasn’t enough to get into the dance.
4. Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane really didn’t have much hope heading into Selection Sunday after losing in the AAC semifinals. They only had two wins against top-50 teams this year, and both were against Temple.
5 (tie). Murray State and Iona: The Racers went 16-0 in the Ohio Valley and the Gaels were 17-3 in the MAAC, and some felt they deserved to make it on the basis of that dominance alone. Alas, both teams lost in their conference tournament championship games and neither had done enough elsewhere to earn at-large bids.
Top five bracket impressions
1. Duke—not undefeated Kentucky—is the No. 1 seed with the easiest path to Indianapolis.
The Selection Committee creates and uses an S-curve, but bracketing principles do not allow it to follow those rankings to the letter. Restrictions on when teams can meet for a second or third time, how many top-seeded teams from the same conference can share a region and geographical concerns move teams away from their true rankings. That can result in seemingly unbalanced regions, and fortune smiled on Duke this year.
The Blue Devils are on a path to play the winner of San Diego State and St. John’s in the round of 32 and have Georgetown and Utah as their 4- and 5-seeds. The Aztecs have trouble scoring; the Red Storm, whom Duke already beat in a true road game earlier this season, will be without center Chris Obekpa, who has been suspended two weeks for a violation of team rules; the Hoyas are the lowest-ranked 4-seed; and the Utes' best win all season was against Wichita State way back on Dec. 3. If chalk rules the day, Duke would meet Gonzaga, of the West Coast Conference, in the Elite Eight, while the 2-seeds in the other regions are Big 12 regular season champion Kansas, ACC regular season champion Virginia and Pac-12 regular season and tournament champion Arizona. In other words, congratulations Blue Devils on returning to the Final Four.
2. Dayton was really the last at-large team in the field?
The Flyers woke up on Sunday with an opportunity to win the Atlantic 10 tournament, as well as the automatic bid that comes with it. Not that it appeared they would need it. I had them as a No. 9 seed when the day began and few people even thought of them as a bubble team. Dayton went 7-7 against the top 100, won at VCU, ranked 30th in RPI and suffered just one loss to a sub-100 RPI team. This should not have been one of the last teams in the field. Boise State, the Flyers' First Four opponent, has a legitimate gripe of its own, as it now must face Dayton in a true home game on Wednesday.
3. UCLA—somehow—safely makes the field
Let’s get this out of the way: Every bubble team has significant flaws and a multitude of reasons why it should have been left out of the dance. It’s fun to debate who got snubbed and who they should replace, but they mostly have no one to blame but themselves. Having said that, those teams listed above can also blame the committee this year for deciding that UCLA deserved not just a bid, but one that keeps the Bruins out of the First Four. UCLA lost 13 times this season. It lost three games to teams outside the top 100 and two more to teams with RPIs worse than 80. Meanwhile, the Bruins had just two wins against teams in the field and an RPI of 65. That resume was better than all the First Four teams, plus the likes of Temple and Colorado State? I don’t think so.
4. The committee loves a good narrative
The committee insists it doesn’t consider storylines when building the bracket, but that would mean there are an awful lot of happy coincidences this year. Kansas refuses to schedule Wichita State, yet now those two Sunflower State teams will meet in the round of 32 if they each win their openers. Wisconsin and Arizona are in the West Region together again, and could reprise their great Elite Eight game from last season that was won by the Badgers by a single point. One of the game’s most respected coaches, Larry Brown, is back in the Big Dance for the first time since winning the national championship with Kansas in 1988, and his SMU team will face one of the sport's most storied programs, UCLA, a team Brown just happened to take to the title game in 1980. The tournament creates its own storylines, but the committee put more on a tee than they have in previous seasons.
5. A classic Final Four redux
The entire college-basketball-loving public had to be thrilled when the committee revealed that Kentucky and Wisconsin would not share a region. For the better part of this season, it appeared the two teams—widely seen as two of the best in the country—would end up in the Midwest Region simply because of geography. The committee thankfully dispelled that notion, though the Badgers had to earn their way to the top line in the West by winning the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, the latter of which was capped on Sunday with an overtime win against Michigan State.
Before we can dream of a rematch of the Wildcats' one-point Final Four win from a year ago, they’ll both have to make it down tough roads. Wisconsin’s region features Arizona, Baylor and North Carolina, while Kentucky may have to go through Maryland and either Kansas or ACC tournament champion Notre Dame to make the Final Four.
Neither will be easy, but these are two of the best teams in the nation for a reason. The prediction here is that Kentucky and Wisconsin will make it back to the Final Four, giving us a rematch for the ages. Whichever team ends up winning that game will ultimately cut down the nets in Indianapolis.