It just wouldn’t quite feel like March if there weren’t some teams complaining about getting shafted from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Despite an additional three teams added to this year’s field, and with what was widely regarded as a weak bubble, the NCAA Selection Committee still found a way to make a pair of egregious errors.
Colorado and Virginia Tech are the latest teams to be left out of March Madness, with coaches, players, and fans from those universities rightfully furious about their lack of entry into the field of 68. Buffaloes and Hokies alike are dumbfounded that they were passed over in favor of a pair of smaller schools with far less impressive resumes.
The two mid-majors who shockingly squeaked into the tournament were Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Alabama Birmingham. VCU (23-11 overall and 12-4 in conference play) finished fourth in the regular season standings of the Colonial Athletic Association, while UAB (22-8 and 12-4 in conference play) won the Conference USA regular season title.
On the surface, a pair of 20-win teams from solid conferences (CAA conference RPI was 10th and CUSA conference RPI was 8th) getting to go to the big dance doesn’t seem so bad. But when comparing each of their resumes against those of Colorado and Virginia Tech, the gaffe on the selection committee’s part is apparent.
The VCU Rams had four wins over tournament teams throughout their season (UCLA, Wofford, Old Dominion, and George Mason), were 3-6 against RPI top-50 teams, and were solid in both RPI (49) and strength of schedule (85).
However, 13 of the Rams 23 wins came against teams with an RPI of 150+, and 12 of those wins were against teams ranked 200+ in the RPI. VCU also had three terrible losses against teams with an RPI of 150+, falling to South Florida (156), Northeastern (172), and Georgia St. (223).
Though VCU won a pair of games in their conference tournament, they fell in the title matchup to Old Dominion and closed the season by going 3-5 in their last eight games.
The UAB Blazers had only one win over a tournament team (and that lone victory came against fellow controversial tournament selection, VCU), were 1-4 vs. the top-50, had the 31st best RPI, and the 72nd ranked strength of schedule.
However, UAB does have a bad loss of their own, as they dropped a game to Arizona St. (160 RPI) back in November, and didn’t counter that with a large number of quality wins.
The Blazers ended the year by going 6-2 in their final eight games, but they made a poor last statement before Selection Sunday. UAB lost in the first game of their conference tournament, as they fell to an Eastern Carolina team they had trounced just five days earlier.
Colorado (21-13, 8-8 in conference play) finished the regular season tied for fifth in the Big 12, which had the third best conference RPI. The Buffaloes were 6-7 against top-50 teams, finished with an RPI of 65, had the 70th ranked strength of schedule, and had five wins over tournament teams (Texas, Missouri, and three wins over Kansas St.).
Colorado had no losses to teams with an RPI over 150, but they did drop games to San Francisco (RPI of 120), Oklahoma (126), and Iowa St. (136). The Buffaloes closed out the year by going 5-3 in their final eight games, including a couple of wins in the Big 12 Tournament.
Colorado ended up losing a hard fought game in the conference semifinals (60-67) to Kansas. The Jayhawks were the Big 12 regular season champion, the conference tournament champion, and were later awarded a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field.
Due to tiebreakers, Virginia Tech (21-11, 9-7 in conference play) wrapped up the regular season sixth in the ACC (5th best conference RPI) and had four wins over tournament teams (Penn St, Duke, and Florida St. twice). The Hokies went 4-5 against top-50 teams, had an RPI of 60, and had the 88th ranked strength of schedule.
Virginia Tech had one loss against a team with an RPI of 150+ (Georgia Tech – RPI of 167), and a couple of losses against a team with an RPI over 100 (fell to Virginia twice – RPI of 139).
The Hokies finished the season by going 5-4 in their final eight games and closed out their NCAA tournament resume with a pair of wins in the ACC Tournament. Virginia Tech ended up losing to eventual ACC Tournament champion Duke (who was later awarded a No. 1 seed in the big dance).
Many will write off the injustice of Colorado and Virginia Tech being left out of the major tournament’s field and will choose to argue that neither team had a realistic shot to win the national title anyway. However, the pair’s title chances don’t make their lack of admission any less criminal. Both the Buffaloes and Hokies compiled more impressive seasons than the pair of teams who received bids over them, but unfortunately they were not rewarded.
Colorado had more top-50 wins (6) then VCU and UAB combined (4). The Buffaloes also had more top-50 wins then North Carolina, Arizona, Xaiver, Kansas State, Vanderbilt, George Mason, Texas A&M, Temple, Cincinnati, Missouri, Penn State, UCLA, Michigan State, Georgia, Florida State, Clemson, Marquette, and USC, all of whom received at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
Colorado also performed admirably in a top-3 conference in the nation, had a very impressive win over Texas to their credit, and was the only one of these bubble teams not to lose a game to a team with an RPI of 150+. The Buffaloes clearly passed the eye test, as besides their six top-50 wins, Colorado had a pair of single digit losses to Kansas (78-82 and 83-90) as well as an overtime defeat to Texas A&M (70-73).
Virginia Tech had the best win of any of the four bubble teams mentioned in this article, knocking off an NCAA No. 1 seed in Duke just 16 days before Selection Sunday. The Hokies didn’t have as many bad losses as VCU and they didn’t boost their record by beating the barrage of terrible teams that the Rams did either. Virginia Tech’s four wins against top-50 teams dwarfs the lone top-50 win for UAB, and while VT beat Duke once, the Blazers lost by 21 to the Blue Devils earlier this year. Aside from their top-50 wins, The Hokies lost to North Carolina and Purdue by a combined six points (55-58 OT loss to the Boilermakers and a 61-64 loss to the Tarheels).
Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg has felt the sting of being left with his ticket un-punched before, as the Hokies have had their bubble burst on selection Sunday many a time under his command. But first year Colorado head coach Tad Boyle is new to this type of pain, and while Greenberg decided to stay silent, Boyle lamented his team’s exclusion from March Madness in a brief television interview with ESPN on Sunday night.
“I was shocked,” Boyle said. “That’s the only word that comes to my mind. I was just absolutely shocked that we weren’t in the field.”
Boyle went onto say that his team took the news pretty hard. He talked of how bad he felt for his five seniors, who would never have another opportunity to make it to the tournament, and he spoke of how he had no words to console his players.
The title chances for Colorado and Virginia Tech may have been minute or possibly even nonexistent, but clearly the pain is real. Just making the tournament is a big deal for schools across the country, and to have worthy teams discarded for unknown reasons while inferior teams make it ahead of them is simply unacceptable.