The field of 64 has been announced, and there are just a few eyebrow-raisers. The Southeastern Conference, which has received no fewer than six bids every year since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1999, got just five teams in this year, as Tennessee and Alabama were left out. Both teams finished strong in the regular season, winning three of their final four conference series, but poor RPIs (Tennessee ranked 56th and Alabama 64th) combined with lackluster SEC tournament showings probably torpedoed both teams.
The Sun Belt Conference was the biggest beneficiary of the SEC’s down year, as Troy earned the Sun Belt’s third bid despite a mediocre RPI (54) and a 1-2 performance in the conference tournament, where the Trojans were the fourth seed. Troy has lost five of its last seven games and eight of its last 13. I’m baffled that the Trojans got the nod over a Tennessee team with a comparable RPI, a stronger stretch run (including an SEC tournament win over Vanderbilt) and a tougher conference schedule.
Memphis is in the same boat as Troy. The Tigers’ RPI is nothing special (50), they finished tied for fourth place in Conference USA, and they went 4-6 in their last 10 games. Memphis benefited in the RPI by playing six games against Rice in the last week, but the Tigers went just 1-5 in those games–they shouldn’t be rewarded for that. Memphis lost three of its final four conference series, including a home series against Marshall. Its best series win is a sweep of Southern Mississippi at the beginning of April, but the poor finish should have negated that.
Meanwhile, teams like Georgia Tech (29th in the RPI), College of Charleston (41st) and Gonzaga (75th) were left out. Georgia Tech’s poor finish (losing eight of its last 10) hurt, but that finish came in the ACC, which is a much tougher conference than the Sun Belt or CUSA. The Yellow Jackets have won series against North Carolina State and Rutgers, which should have trumped anything on Memphis’ resume. CofC has a stronger RPI and performed better in its conference than the Trojans or Tigers. And Gonzaga’s RPI is considerably lower, but its series wins against San Diego and Pepperdine are far more impressive than anything Memphis has done. Troy, at least, won a series from Coastal Carolina.
I was pleased to see Northern conferences like the Big East and Big Ten rewarded with three bids each. I didn’t think Minnesota would get in, but I thought it was deserving of a spot. And I applaud the committee for having the fortitude to flout history and award just five bids to the SEC. But if Tennessee and Alabama were going to be omitted, Troy and Memphis were the wrong teams to reward.
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