Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Ole Miss made committee's job easier by winning SEC, Middle Tennessee gets nod over Vols, Kentucky
The NCAA Tournament begins in about 48 hours with the First Four. For now, though, we’ll have plenty of hand-wringing about Selection Sunday.
Most of the teams in the field weren’t a shock -- Ole Miss erased any doubt by winning the SEC Tournament. Kentucky played its way out by losing to Vanderbilt days earlier.
But the bracket brought its share of surprises anyway: What are Middle Tennessee and La Salle doing here? Where is Tennessee? What does an ACC regular season and tournament title get you these days? And who the heck seeded the Pac-12?
When the Tournament starts, everyone will forget the frustrations of the selection process, but for now, here’s what struck us as the bracket was revealed:
Miami left out of a No. 1 seed
The Hurricanes became the first team to win the ACC regular season and tournament titles and not be a No. 1 seed. Louisville and Kansas moved onto the first line by winning conference tournaments, and the final two No. 1 seeds instead went to Indiana and Gonzaga. The Hoosiers lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten semifinals, but they were a possible No. 1 overall seed heading into the conference tournaments. With two losses, Gonzaga had the fewest losses in the country. The selection committee may have put weight on Miami’s finish late in the regular season, which included three losses in the final five games (at Wake Forest, at Duke, Georgia Tech). Miami was ranked fifth in the official seed list.
The South is the most interesting region, because:
Wolters vs. Burke? In a round of 64 game, Michigan will face South Dakota State, setting up a meeting between potential national player of the year Trey Burke against one of the most fun players to watch in the mid- to low-major ranks in Nate Wolters. The winner may draw VCU’s havoc defense, which will face an Akron team that just suspended its point guard.
Roy vs. Kansas: North Carolina’s hot streak earned the Tar Heels a No. 8 seed, where they may end up facing Kansas in the round of 32. Roy Williams coached at Kansas from 1988-2003, taking the Jayhawks to four Final Fours. Williams' old team also knocked North Carolina out of the Tournament in the Elite Eight last season. Of course, North Carolina won’t face Kansas if the Heels can’t defeat ninth-seeded Villanova, which reached the Tournament by knocking off big-name teams in the Big East.
Tubby vs. Howland: The most important coaching matchup for career trajectory may be between UCLA and Minnesota. Despite winning the Pac-12 regular season this year and reaching three Final Fours, Howland is under a microscope at UCLA. The same may be true for Tubby Smith, whose Minnesota team enters the Tournament on a three-game losing streak. One of these coaches will have an early exit.
Florida vs. Georgetown, part 2: Florida and Georgetown were scheduled to open the season on an aircraft carrier before the game was called at halftime due to moisture on the court. If the Gators and Hoyas can navigate the first weekend, they’ll meet in the Sweet 16, this time indoors.
Bucknell is the most over-seeded team
The official seeding list suggest Bucknell should be a No. 12 seed, but the Bison ended up with a No. 11 seed facing Butler in Lexington, Ky. With three top-100 wins (La Salle, New Mexico State, Loyola-Maryland), the Bison are a stretch here. Bucknell is also the Patriot League’s highest seed since 2006 when the Bison defeated Arkansas as a No. 9 seed.
The committee made a statement with non-power conference teams
Middle Tennessee and La Salle are in, Tennessee and Kentucky are out. Middle Tennessee won the Sun Belt regular season championship and 28 games before FIU knocked it out of the conference tournament. La Salle had a top-50 RPI and defeated Butler and VCU in January. The selection committee handed 11 at-large bids to teams outside of the six major conferences, matching last year’s total. Those at-large bids went to the Atlantic 10, Mountain West (four each), Missouri Valley, Sun Belt and West Coast (one each).
The committee recognized the SEC struggled this year
The SEC landed only three teams in the field, fewest since 2009, and one of those teams (Ole Miss) was seeded at No. 12. The Rebels were the third-lowest seeded at-large team, according to the official seed list at No. 47. That’s one spot behind Saint Mary’s, two ahead of La Salle and three ahead of Middle Tennessee. The SEC ranked eighth in conference RPI, and it showed in the field. Two of the SEC’s three teams were sent to the lower half of the bracket with Missouri earning a No. 9 seed and Ole Miss at 12. Regular-season champion Florida, though, earned a No. 3 seed.
The committee devalued the Pac-12, too
It’s been five seasons since the NCAA Tournament had this many teams from the Pac-12, so maybe the committee was out of practice. Oregon and Cal landed as No. 12 seeds, despite both teams sharing second place at 12-6 in the league. Neither team was considered to be on the bubble for several weeks, but received seedings more likely to go to some of the last teams in the field. Oregon won the Pac-12 Tournament, finished one game behind UCLA in the standings and defeated the Bruins twice, yet the Ducks were six seeds behind UCLA. Colorado was seeded 10th while Arizona was seeded sixth. Which brings us to...
The strangest round of 64 game is No. 5 UNLV vs. No. 12 Cal
Not only is Cal’s No. 12 seed low, the Bears will play in a rematch of a regular-season game in the round of 64, a possibility the committee attempts to avoid. And what does UNLV get for its 76-75 win over Cal and a No. 5 seed? Playing Cal in its backyard in San Jose.