- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Say this for the NCAA: When it expanded the tournament to 68 teams, it accomplished at least one thing.
It made your argument invalid.
Once the province of outrage and disgust, the post-tournament bracket digestion process has become downright serene. The bubble is soft. It is really, really soft.
The opportunities were there. If your favorite high-major team didn't make the tournament, it's probably because it missed numerous chances for big wins. If your mid-major squad didn't get in, it's probably because its league was bad and it didn't prove anything outside conference play.
It's hard to feel much sympathy for any of these teams. If your team was good, it would have gotten in the field. If it didn't, it wasn't. Simple enough.
That said, the bubble is always a matter of relativity. And relatively speaking, a handful of teams will be able to lodge legitimate complaints against the 2013 NCAA tournament selection committee. These are their stories:
What their fans would say: We're not too far from Middle Tennessee State, and we've seen them play, and frankly, we're better. The Sun Belt is terrible! Saint Mary's beat one good team the whole season! We beat Florida, Wichita State and Missouri! But seriously ... we went 9-2 down the stretch. All of our nonconference losses were to good-to-great teams.
What the committee would say: We respect the Vols' above-average nonconference schedule, and the nine top-100 wins were more than many bubble teams. But the schedule wasn't that good, and Tennessee had a ton of opportunities -- Oklahoma State, Virginia, Georgetown, Memphis — to prove it was anything more than another thoroughly mediocre SEC outfit. It never did.
What their fans would say: We have a good team! Pretty much every advanced metric smart people use to discern teams' relative qualities says that Virginia is at least one of the best 40 teams in the country, if not better (KenPom.com's efficiency system ranks the Cavaliers No. 27). You say you want teams to perform on the road in the nonconference? We won at Wisconsin. We also beat Duke, UNC and NC State. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell are two of the best players in the ACC.
What the committee would say: Most of what you just said is ... well, it isn't irrelevant, exactly, but it's only tangentially related to what we look for when we're selecting and seeding the field. We are impressed by the top-50 wins, especially at Wisconsin, but are we impressed enough to overlook the (count 'em) seven losses to teams ranked below the RPI top 100? Or that 3-10 road-neutral record, where you lost to Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest, George Mason, Old Dominion and Clemson? Were you so good that we could pretend we haven't spent the last half-decade telling everyone how important we think it is that teams schedule tough in the nonconference, and pretend your nonconference strength of schedule wasn't ranked No. 299 in the country? No, no, no and no.
What their fans would say: We beat Duke twice! It's been nearly 20 years since a team did that and didn't make the tourney. Look, that's two wins over the No. 1-ranked RPI team in the country. We have a lottery center on our team! That's more than Middle Tennessee State! What is Middle Tennessee State, anyway? Seriously, how are we not in the tournament?!?
What the committee would say: Those two Duke wins are excellent, no doubt. Unfortunately, the season is more than two games, and the rest of the year you went 5-11 -- 5-11! -- against the RPI top 150. Your nonconference schedule rated out worse than Virginia's, but honestly we didn't even get that far with you. You were 5-11 against the RPI top 150. You have no argument.
What their fans would say: What I can't seem to wrap my head around, [PAWWWWWL], is why on Earth y'all wouldn't invite the Alabama Crimson Tide Football Winter Diversion Program to the NCAA tournament, if only on the off chance that Coach Nick Saban will grace y'alls weird shootin' hoops game with his magisterial presence. Roll Tide?
What the committee would say: Anyway ... while we admire the Tide's willingness to go on the road in spots in nonconference play, they went 0-6 against the RPI top 50 and lost four games below the RPI top 100 line. Either of those things are automatic disqualifications, especially if you lack elite strength of schedule numbers. There was never much here.
What their fans would say: In addition to referencing the Golden Eagles' tidy RPI figure (34), I'd imagine their case would sound something like coach Donnie Tyndall's: “I don’t want to become a lobbyist, but the bottom line is, that’s a borderline Final Four-type team we just lost to,” Tyndall said of the Tigers. “We need to be in the NCAA tournament. We deserve to be in, and I feel like if we get in, we can win a game or two. I really believe that."
What the committee would say: We believe that you believe that, and you may well be right. The problem is you had all season to prove it, one way or another, and while it's not your fault the rest of Conference USA was atrocious, it is your fault you lost to Memphis three times and that you finished the season with just three top-100 wins. That's just not good enough.
What their fans would say: [Silently watch 2012 Kentucky commemorative DVDs while wearing 2012 Kentucky commemorative sweatshirt; toss all evidence of 2012-13 into burning barrel in corner of room.]
What the committee would say: Kentucky still had a chance to get in the tournament after the injury to Nerlens Noel, even as late as the SEC tournament, and if we're being 100 percent honest, all things equal, we probably would have given the benefit of the doubt to a blue blood program coming off a national title. But then Kentucky laid an infamous egg against Vanderbilt in the SEC tourney -- you guys weren't even competitive against a 10-seed in the awful SEC, c'mon -- and adding that to an already blah profile was just about all we needed to see.