Indiana coach Archie Miller thought the NCAA tournament selection committee had a no-brainer on Selection Sunday with a Big Ten team that had 14 losses on its profile and had finished four games under .500 in conference play.
Except Miller wasn’t talking about his own team with a similar résumé — one that had more quality wins than any bubble team, including two eye-raising victories vs. Michigan State.
“They should definitely be in the tournament,” Miller said of Ohio State (19-14) after his Hoosiers lost to the fellow bubble team in the Big Ten tournament. If Miller had his way, both teams would be dancing, but his team’s 15 losses — 13 of which came in a depleting 14-game January-February span — were too much to overlook and led to an ultimate snub.
Ohio State, meanwhile, was one of the bubble teams to squeeze into the field while other at-large contending teams with 14 or more losses — Alabama (15) and Texas (16) — weren’t so lucky. Florida, a 15-loss team that fared well in the SEC tournament by upending top-seeded LSU before bowing out in the semifinals, played itself off the bubble at the last minute and notched a No. 10 seed.
But the differentiation between the No. 11 seed play-in game line and an NIT bid left coaches frustrated with their team’s postseason fate.
“It’s a brutal feeling to know you were that close,” UNC Greensboro coach Wes Miller told USA TODAY Sports. The Spartans were the first team left out of the field and had bid thieves Oregon and Saint Louis not unexpectedly won their conference tournaments, they might’ve been dancing.
“It’s an indescribable pain to sit in a room full of kids that had their dreams crushed, with all the work they’ve put in. It’s a big moment for our school to be considered as an at-large, but its tough to swallow knowing we were right there.”
While mid-major Belmont was one of the last four teams in the field and will be in a play-in game at Dayton, UNC-Greensboro wasn’t as fortunate. The Spartans (28-6, 15-3 Southern) likewise were the second-best team in their mid-major conference behind No. 7 NCAA tourney seed Wofford and uniquely had only lost to only Quadrant 1 (top-30 home, top-50 neutral, top-75 road) ranked opponents. While Belmont was a deserving bid, it also played in a conference that ranked 24th of 32 Division 1 conferences and lost to a No. 12 seed in its league tournament whereas the Southern ranked 15th and Miller said Wofford was good enough to be a No. 5 seed.
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“What really doesn’t sit well with me is the fact that our conference had its best year ever (ranking 15th in the NET) and Wofford is respected but we weren’t necessarily,” Miller said. “Then you look at our losses, we lost to a No. 2 seed (Kentucky), a No. 3 seed (LSU), a No. 7 seed (Wofford three times) and a top-40-ranked team (Furman).”
Miller couldn’t find any holes in his team’s résumé that the committee saw, and vented about the difficulty mid-majors face in scheduling non-conference games as an elite mid-major, calling it the “most underrated puzzle” every year and “something the committee needs to look at closer.”
UNC-Greensboro was ultimately hurt by the NCAA’s new metric, the NET, which replaced the RPI this year and calculates in-game statistics as opposed to just wins and losses that are home or away. The Spartans’ NET ranking on Selection Sunday was 60, compared to a 31 RPI — which would have tied for the second lowest RPI of a team to get snubbed from the tournament since 1985.
“I’m a fan of the RPI being considered in the 2018-19 season because selfishly it’d play in our favor,” Miller said. “I don’t think using one metric is fair and a lot of metrics should be incorporated because we’re better (than a 60 NET score).”
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Here’s a look at the other bubble teams to suffer Selection Sunday blues by getting left out of the field of 68:
Alabama: Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson said of his team’s NCAA tournament hopes following an SEC tournament quarterfinal loss to Kentucky, “Hopefully, we’ll be able to sneak in.” That would have been exactly what Alabama (18-15, 8-10 SEC) would have done had the committee decided to award an at-large bid to a rather undeserving team. While the Tide have lost seven of their last 10, one of those wins was a Quad 1 neutral court victory over Ole Miss in the SEC tourney. The other major eye candy on this portfolio included a Jan. 5 win over Kentucky, which paired nicely with a top-20 overall strength of schedule largely filtered by a stronger SEC this year. A non-conference win over Murray State also looked much better on Selection Sunday.
TCU: The Horned Frogs (20-13, 7-11 Big 12) struggled down the stretch, having lost seven of their last 10 and finishing tied as the third-worst team in the Big 12. But this team had no bad losses on its profile, a top-35 strength of schedule and a NET score in the low 50s. An argument can be made that a team playing in the country’s best NET conference, the Big 12, should have won more than three Quad 1 games. But TCU was undoubtedly snubbed here based on everything it had to offer.
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack (22-11, 9-9 ACC) were in line to be the NET metric’s biggest fans given it scored them a highly respectable top-35 ranking. That’s in comparison to an RPI in the high 90s. Virtually all of N.C. State’s wins came against low-tier opponents, and the committee was smart enough to notice and not over-rely on its new system. The Wolfpack only posted three Quad 1 wins despite playing in the ACC and have the country’s second worst (352nd) non-conference strength of schedule. Wonder why their NET score is so solid? Because they pummeled bottom feeders by large margins and it created the illusion that they were one of the 68 best teams in the country. The committee smartly used a magnifying glass for this portfolio.
Texas: The Longhorns (16-16, 8-10 Big 12) had a top-five strength of schedule and top-40 NET score despite all their losses. More than that, Texas posted five Quad 1 victories to entice the committee, including wins over Purdue, Kansas State and Kansas. But ultimately, the committee didn’t want to set a negative precedent by including its first-ever 16-loss at-large team into the field since the tourney expanded in 1985.
Creighton: The Bluejays (18-14, 9-9 Big East) had features on their profile that the committee surely looked at, starting with a top-25 non-conference strength of schedule and followed by a top-55 NET score. There were only three Quad 1 wins on this profile, and even if one of those was on the road at Marquette, this profile was just too bare to sway the committee.
Georgetown: The Hoyas (19-13, 9-9 Big East) had five Q1 victories on their résumé, having taken down Marquette and Villanova in Big East play. But a NET score of 80 and non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 250 ultimately kept Patrick Ewing’s young team out of the NCAA tournament.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.