The 10 members of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee emerged Sunday afternoon from an 18th-floor suite at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis, where they had been sequestered the past few days, and pulled a couple of shockers to go along with the undefeated ones from Wichita State.
Inevitably, every Selection Sunday, some fans somewhere end up downright insulted that their team either was under-seeded or excluded from the party altogether. That leads to days and weeks of belly-aching ad nauseam on sports talk radio. This year is no different.
Everyone who has been following college basketball the past four months figured they would give the No. 1 overall seed to the University of Florida (32-2), which rolled through its Southeastern Conference schedule and squeaked past Kentucky 61-60 in Sunday’s tournament championship. And nobody was surprised to see Arizona (30-4) atop the West and Wichita State (34-0) atop a brutal Midwest quarter that includes three of last year’s Final Four teams.
But Virginia as the No. 1 seed in the East? Instead of Villanova or Michigan? That one was a bit of a shocker.
The committee chose to reward the Cavaliers (28-6) for winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and the tournament championship game over Duke. Big Ten regular-season champion Michigan (25-8) had more impressive wins than Virginia, and Villanova (28-4) had two fewer losses. But Michigan lost to Michigan State in Sunday’s Big Ten final, and the committee liked Virginia’s body of work and strong finish.
“Virginia’s total résumé was very impressive to us,’’ Ron Wellman, chairman of the selection committee and Wake Forest athletic director, told CBS. “They won the ACC regular-season championship and followed that up with a tournament championship. They continued to impress us all season long, were always right there knocking on the door, played well down the stretch, so we were obviously very, very impressed with them to put them on the top line.”
Fans of Southern Methodist University were shocked to see their 23-9 team left off the 68-team bracket, passed over for many teams with double-digit losses. Wellman explained that the Mustangs’ strength of schedule killed them. Their non-conference strength of schedule was “in the 300s, which is not very good, obviously,’’ and their overall strength of schedule was 129.
“The next-lowest strength of schedule in the field was 91, so that’s quite a bit of a difference,’’ Wellman said. “It still remained a difficult decision because when you give them the eye test, they look impressive, but when we started comparing their team sheet to the other teams, we sided with the others.’’
Fans of defending national champion Louisville, which went 29-5 and won 12 of its past 13 games, were puzzled about their No. 4 seeding. The Cardinals won the AAC title with a 71-61 win over UConn, and many projected them as a No. 2, or at worst a No. 3 seed. Coach Rick Pitino even lobbied for a No. 1 seed.
The NCAA selection committee apparently didn’t agree.
“You look at the number four line, and we have some great teams,” Wellman said. “We look at the total résumé, though. Right now, if you ask anybody, Louisville is playing as well as anyone, and the committee certainly agrees with that. However, we look at the total body of work, comparing everything they did from November through March.”
Michigan State, a team many experts are picking for the Final Four, was also a surprising No. 4 seed.
Even fans of Wichita State have reason to gripe. Their team, the first to enter the tournament undefeated since UNLV in 1991, was rewarded for perfection by being placed in a Region of Death with preseason No. 1 Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan and Duke.
Who will be this year’s Florida Gulf Coast? It could be the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin (31-2), who have not lost a game since November. Only Florida and Wichita State have more wins. This team from Nacogdoches, Texas, plays frantic defense and could give opponents fits. Don’t count out Harvard, either. Tommy Amaker’s team is in the field for the third year in a row and is playing well.
The conference with the most teams? The Big 12 has seven, led by No. 3 seed Iowa State. The Atlantic 10 has six. The SEC got just three teams, and one of them (Tennessee) is in a play-in vs. Iowa.
Lucky to be in? Cal Poly, the only team with a losing record at 13-19. The Mustangs were surprise winners of the Big West tournament.
Best Nickname? (tie) The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and the Delaware Blue Hens.
Gaudiest uniforms? Albany’s purple-and-yellow getups.
The tournament begins Tuesday with two First Four play-in games.