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The SEC's Bubble has Popped: Let Murray State Take its Place

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Let’s get weird, NCAA selection committee.

In one day, the SEC lost probably one and perhaps two teams in consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Texas A&M lost 66-59 to an Auburn team that won four SEC games all year. Ole Miss lost 60-58 to a South Carolina team that won six league games.

If the Aggies and Rebels are a representative sample of the bubble, send the lot of them to the NIT.

This is not picking on Texas A&M and Ole Miss in particular, but let’s entertain that they’re typical of the bubble. These two just happened to lose in one place in one day and in sloppy and spectacular fashion.

Texas A&M won’t go to the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss, by virtue of beating Arkansas and Oregon on the road this year, might.

Every year we do the same thing. We identify a dozen or so halfway decent teams, call it the bubble, and those that don’t fall all over themselves against an Auburn or South Carolina in a conference tournament claim the last bids in the NCAA Tournament.

The selection committee needs to shake things up.

Every precedent says Murray State won’t be in the field. The Racers played one RPI top 50 team and lost to that team by 27. That’s the only NCAA Tournament they’ve faced all year.

No one on Selection Sunday will be surprised if Murray’s name isn’t called. When Murray doesn’t go to the tournament, selection committee chair Scott Barnes won’t have to go on TV and explain why.

No one will pity Murray State because those are the breaks.

In the last two weeks, I’ve watched Murray State in the Ohio Valley tournament, and I’ve watched Texas A&M and Ole Miss in the SEC tournament in the last two weeks.

I’d rather see more of Murray State.

Instead of rewarding Murray State’s 25-game win streak that came to an end on a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left in an Ohio Valley final, the committee will pick among flawed major conference bubble teams.

Even if Texas A&M and Ole Miss are out of the field, there are still plenty of teams like Texas A&M and Ole Miss still playing — Indiana, Purdue, UCLA and Georgia for starters.

And some unnamed school that makes South Carolina coach Frank Martin ill to see in the field.

“I’m not going to use school names because it makes me sick to my stomach,” Martin said. “Texas A&M gets beat today with a leading scorer in the conference (Danuel House) not playing. And all of the sudden they’re no longer an NCAA tournament team? Yet there’s a team that everyone has in from a different conference and they got beat last game of the season by a lot of points. Yet’s OK for them, but it’s not OK for our guys?”

We could take guesses at the team making Martin sick. Maybe it’s St. John’s, who lost 105-68 to Villanova in its last regular conference game. Or Ohio State, which lost 72-48 to Wisconsin. Maybe it was some lopsided conference tournament score.

The team he’s referring to doesn’t really matter.

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We’re talking about a Texas A&M that turned the ball over 19 times and trailed by double figures in the second half to Auburn.

Or we’re talking about an Ole Miss team that turned the ball over 21 times and shot 30 percent from the field in a game it absolutely could not lose.

“We have had a hard time handling the pressure of games when things went bad for us,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.

Said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy: “The inability to make a play has cost us.”

Sure, they both lost Saturday, but those aren’t trends I want Tournament coaches to admit.

Even in its last game, a loss, Murray State hit 11 3-pointers, scored 88 points and shot 33-of-68 from the floor. Let’s see more of that.

Teams like Ole Miss and Texas A&M have shown us enough. Perhaps Georgia has as well. The Bulldogs’ best two wins of the year are over Ole Miss. At least by drawing South Carolina, Georgia can show us it can beat the No. 11 seed in its own league, something the Bulldogs didn’t do during the regular season.

“How do you know the middle of the pack SEC is good? How do you know the middle of the pack Big Ten is good?” Prohm said after the Ohio Valley tournament. “Everybody just starts with an RPI number. That’s not fair. Watch the teams play. A team wins 25 in a row, there’s no question that team belongs in the Tournament. It shouldn’t even be up for debate. I’m not saying it’s a 10 seed (we deserve), but if it’s a 12 seed, a 12-seed play-in game, we definitely are deserving.”

And it’s not just Georgia or Ole Miss taking up valuable space in the NCAA Tournament.

Iowa lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament and will likely stay in the field despite doing nothing of note since early February. The Hawkeyes beat North Carolina in December, swept an OK Ohio State team and beat Maryland in early February. Since then, Iowa has lost to Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State.

St. John’s lost to Providence by 17 and may still be in the field. 

And Murray State isn’t the only low-major that should find its way into the field,  regardless of the conference tournament. 

If Stephen F. Austin loses in the Southland tournament, the Lumberjacks are out, too. They’ve lost once since Nov. 24. They won their league by two games and neat VCU last year in the tournament.

North Carolina Central is 16-0 in the MEAC, won its league by four games and outscored league opponents by more than 15 points per game.

On the CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball Podcast, Gary Parrish suggested a tweak to the system.

Teams from traditional one-bid leagues win their regular season in dominant fashion get into the 64-team bracket, regardless of their conference tournament results. The conference tournament champion, in the case of the OVC, play in the first four.

The selection committee doesn’t even need to go that far.

Just take Murray State as an at-large. Or Stephen F. Austin or North Carolina Central if need be. Other arms of the NCAA ignore precedent all the time, why not tournament selection committee?

Don’t think of it as breaking the rules, just making new ones.

Photo courtesy of Tab Brockman, Murray State Athletics