Co-Written by Sports Editor Steven Peek and Assistant Sports Editor Lance Rinker
Each spring, a fever known as “March Madness” spreads across the United States, rendering millions of basketball fans immobilized, glued to their television sets, anxiously watching the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship tournament.
More than 350 Division I men’s basketball teams have fought for the right to represent their university in the “Big Dance” this season. But only 68 of those teams will get the chance, relying on a combination of quality wins, strength of schedule, ratings percentage index (RPI), and a subjective “eye test” to get them a coveted spot.
Below are our top gripes and “snubs”—those whose resumes should have been enough but just didn’t cut it.
STEVEN: THE BUFFS HAVE IT ROUGH
Colorado plays its National Invitational Tournament first-round game tonight as a No. 1 seed versus the No. 8 seed Texas Southern Tigers.
But they should have played their first postseason game—a “play-in game” for a No. 12 seed—last night against Clemson. The Clemson Tigers were instead playing an unworthy University of Alabama-Birmingham team.
Colorado finished 21-13 overall and 10-9 in the Big 12. Their strength of schedule was 49th in the country, and they finished with an RPI of 65.
All in all, those are some pretty strong numbers to make the field of 68, especially when the Buffaloes went 6-7 against RPI top 50 teams.
However, the “eye test” and a glance at their results during the regular season show more convincing evidence for why they should be in the NCAA tournament.
The greatest piece of evidence in favor of the Buffs: they beat No. 5 seed Kansas State three different times in 2011—once in January, once in February and once in March.
Colorado also beat then-No. 5 and current No. 4 seed Texas, 91-89, on February 26, and defeated then-No. 8 Missouri, 89-76, on January 8.
The Buffs should be dancing also because of their five losses in February and March, four were to teams in this year’s tournament (with the fifth occurring at Iowa State on March 2).
The Atlantic-10’s Xavier was given a No. 6 seed after the conference’s ninth-best team Dayton, who recently lost in the NIT’s first round, bounced the Musketeers from the conference tournament’s first round.
If the 10-person NCAA selection committee allowed Xavier’s blemish to go unchecked, then Colorado should have been allowed into the tournament for making a deep run in the Big 12 tournament, in which they avenged the loss to Iowa State, defeated Kansas State for the third time and lost to No. 1 seed Kansas by seven points.
LANCE: MID-MAJORS ARE MAJORLY DISRESPECTED
Saturday afternoon, in a playoff for the Ivy League championship, Princeton junior guard Douglas Davis hit an off-balance, buzzer-beating jump shot that gave Princeton an automatic NCAA tournament berth, the school’s first in seven years.
At the same time, Davis also left the Harvard Crimson forced to await their fate during the NCAA tournament selection show.
The next night, when the show had reached its conclusion, Harvard’s name had not been called, effectively extinguishing the school’s hope of reaching its first tournament since the playoff format began.
The Ivy League has never had a team receive an at-large berth in the tournament.
So, why was Harvard, a 23-win team and conference co-champion, denied entrance to the Big Dance? Only the NCAA selection committee knows that answer.
In recent years, the committee has placed more weight on the RPI ranking. Harvard placed 35th in the RPI standings and had big wins against power conference teams Colorado and Boston College.
However, the Crimson were a lackluster 1-4 in games against top 50 teams.
That said, tournament teams Clemson and UAB combined for zero wins against top 50 teams. Furthermore, Clemson’s RPI of 57 is more than 20 spots worse than that of Harvard.
Many mid-major conferences have enjoyed immense postseason success in recent years, highlighted recently by a George Mason’s Final Four appearance in 2006 and Butler’s national runner-up finish in 2010.
In each of the past six national tournaments, a Horizon League team has won its first round match-up. It is the only non-power conference to achieve that feat.
After proving time and time again that teams from mid-major conferences can consistently compete with those from power conferences, one would think that mid-major teams would be taken more seriously by the selection committee.
Even those mid-major teams selected into the tournament field were unjustly seeded. Utah State, despite losing only three games all season (two of those being to Georgetown and BYU), were handed a No. 12 seed. Utah State placed 15th in RPI, directly ahead of No. 3 seed Syracuse and No. 4 seeds Wisconsin and Louisville.
The committee annually penalizes upper-echelon teams from small conferences for not having tough enough schedules. The truth is that fans and media aren’t the only ones who have paid notice to the increasing competitiveness of mid-major schools. Teams from power conferences regularly decline invitations to play smaller schools for fear that a loss would blemish their resume.
For the time being, mid-major programs, like Harvard and Utah Stste, are caught in a catch-22. Their schedules are “too light,’ according to the selection committee., but strengthening them would mean playing on the road against a power conference team.
Something about that just doesn’t seem right.