Kansas players receive the tournament trophy following an NCAA college basketball game against West Virginia in the finals of the Big 12 conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., on Saturday. Kansas defeated West Virginia 81-71. The Jayhawks are the overall No. 1 in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Orlin Wagner/AP hide caption
toggle caption Orlin Wagner/AP
Players from Monmouth, St. Bonaventure and even Michigan State got the bad news the way so many folks do these days — through social media.
The bracket that leaked on Twitter while CBS was in the middle of unveiling the March Madness pairings turned out to be 100 percent accurate. That left a number of teams searching for answers a bit earlier than they’d hoped — and it gave the NCAA something else to explain, beyond the selection committee’s annual handful of unexpected — inexplicable? — decisions.
For Michigan State, the news was that it was a No. 2 seed, behind Oregon, Virginia, Kansas and North Carolina — a ranking that belied the predictions of almost every self-proclaimed bracketologist in the country. For the Hawks of Monmouth and the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure, along with South Carolina, St. Mary’s, San Diego State and a handful of other bubble teams, the news was even worse: They wouldn’t be part of March Madness.
“To me, that’s very unprofessional,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said.
He was talking about the leaking of the bracket, which the NCAA called unfortunate and regrettable, though he could have just as easily been speaking of the selection committee’s overall body of work.
There was, as always, plenty to debate.
In the end, Michigan, Syracuse, Vanderbilt and, yes, even Tulsa, made it off the bubble. Monmouth, which went out of its way to toughen its schedule, per the NCAA’s mandate, and St. Bonaventure, which was rated 25 in the RPI but had bad strength of schedule, were among those that did not.
“This year, they say it’s top 50. Last year, it was road wins. Two years ago, it was RPI,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, speaking to the vagaries of the selection committee’s criteria.
His team earned a No. 4 seed, while the team Kentucky beat only hours before the brackets came out, Texas A&M, was a “3.”
Even before Kentucky was done playing, the committee had more or less made up its mind on that one, said chairman Joe Castiglione, the athletic director of Oklahoma.
Then, not too much after Michigan State was wrapping up its title in the Big Ten Tournament – which serves as the lead-in to CBS’ bracket coverage – a copy of the pairings was going viral on Twitter. It showed up while CBS was on the air, putting a big damper on the network’s selection show, which had been newly super-sized, from one to two hours.
The NCAA is investigating.
“Nothing’s secure, huh? That’s great,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “That is so typical. It’s so typical of college basketball.”
The 68-team tournament starts Tuesday, with the Final Four set for April 2 and 4 in Houston.
A few story lines to follow:
PLAY-IN GAMES: The opening-round game between 11th seeds Wichita State and Vanderbilt is being touted as potentially one of the best since the NCAA expanded the bracket to 68 teams in 2011. That game is Tuesday, along with a meeting of No. 16 seeds Florida Gulf Coast and Fairleigh Dickinson. On Wednesday, No. 16s Holy Cross and Southern meet, followed by Michigan vs. Tulsa in another pairing of 11s.
TOP BILLING: Kansas is the overall No. 1 seed. North Carolina got another of the top spots. The other No. 1s, Virginia and Oregon, were considered surprises in some circles. The Cavaliers were runners-up to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Oregon got less attention because of the West Coast, though Michigan State was almost universally viewed as a higher-rated team. Not that Virginia’s road to the Final Four will be easy. This is the third straight year Virginia has Michigan State in its region. If they meet, it would be at the Midwest Regional final in Chicago, which could feel like a home game for the Spartans.
BET THE OVER: Here’s a sure thing that has nothing to do with your bracket: Take the ‘over’ in the Iowa State-Iona game. The fourth-seeded Cyclones average 81.8 points; the 13th-seeded Gaels average 79.6. They are playing in mile-high Denver, which means getting back on defense will be that much tougher. Also, already, Iona is trending as a popular upset pick.
HUH?: Castiglione listed Tulsa as the last bubble team to get in. The Golden Hurricane went 10-11 against teams in the top 200, a record no team had previously overcome to get an at-large bid. Oh, Tulsa also lost by 22 to Memphis in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals. So off the grid was Tulsa that, as Selection Sunday approached, most bubble watchers weren’t even watching anymore. Apparently, the Golden Hurricane passed the eye – or some other – test to become the tournament’s most-unexpected at-large team.
TOPSY-TURVY: Given the season, maybe the surprises aren’t so surprising. This was one of the most unpredictable years for college basketball in history. Six times, the top spot in The Associated Press poll changed hands – one short of the record. Also, there were 31 conference tournaments, and the top seed came out the champion in only 10 of those. That put teams such as Fresno State, Florida Gulf Coast and Holy Cross, with its 14-19 record, in the dance. But it ultimately took away a few bubble spots — which left Monmouth and Co., on the outside looking in.