The NIT bracket is out. I did alright projecting the bracket this season, missing just two teams (Stanford and BYU), both of which I thought had a good shot of being in the field. I had 17 teams seeded exactly correct with another nine within one line. Overall I finished right in the middle of the pack among an extremely competitive field of five NIT bracketologists this season.
Just because the bracket projection went well doesn’t mean that I don’t have some serious gripes with how the process played out. (Even if they were completely expected.) Here are four of my biggest concerns. [Though, it should be noted, my biggest frustration was that ESPNU failed to interview the NIT selection committee chair on camera this year.]
1. The NCAA bubble selection is designed to screw over mid-majors and that process continued this season. Let’s start at the top of the bracket. Saint Mary’s went 28-5 with a win at Gonzaga and was left out of the NCAA Tournament entirely. Now, it appears the Gaels had a chance to schedule some tougher games and declined, but that many wins against almost any schedule should’ve been enough. Similarly, Middle Tennessee went 24-7, including 16-2 in Conference USA and was given a three seed in the NIT. How? It appears that despite the establishment of the “quadrant” system this season the committee continued to reward victories over power conference teams (no matter the location) and ignore difficult road victories, such as at Murray State, Old Dominion, or Western Kentucky. Until that culture changes on the selection committees, we’ll continue to see teams such as Arizona State and Syracuse make the NCAA Tournament. I get why ASU made it. The committee sent a clear message that it values non-conference basketball. Why did Syracuse? Because they won at Louisville and Miami (FL) and took down Clemson at home? It sure helps when you get 12 cracks at the Quadrant I apple.
2. The Big Ten was in a unique and perilous situation this season and it affected every team in the conference. Speaking of bites at the Quadrant I (and II) apple, the Big Ten failed to provide adequate opportunities due to poor non-conference seasons from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. The games Big Ten teams did get in Quadrant I and II were hard. Maryland, which was left out of the NIT, played 10 Quadrant I games, but 7 of them were at road or neutral locations. Not surprisingly the Terrapins lost all of them (plus home games against Michigan State, Purdue, and Michigan). The lack a signature victory apparently kept UMD out of the NIT despite a 74 RPI and predictive metrics in the 40s. Maryland’s average RPI loss was 41. BYU’s was more than double at 88. The committee though doesn’t care if you lose games, just how many notches you have on your belt. You can see this problem in how both Nebraska (a 5 seed) and Maryland (out) were treated. How did Penn State survive with a reasonable 4 seed? By beating Ohio State three times.
3. Why is Stanford in this bracket? Why are they a 3 seed? Stanford is in this bracket on Selection Sunday and has a 3 seed because the Cardinal went 6-1 against Quadrant II. They played 7 Quadrant II games, including six at home. Guess which ones they won. Stanford’s “signature win” was at Arizona State. Those Quadrant II home wins were apparently enough to convince the committee to ignore home losses to California and Eastern Washington along with a neutral court loss to Portland State and a defeat at Long Beach State. Yes, a Stanford team that probably would’ve struggled to win the Big Sky or WAC is hosting a game in the NIT because they racked up home victories and the committee ignored their losses. This is maybe the worst seed I’ve ever seen the committee hand out. It’s inexplicable.
4. BYU over South Carolina is a logical decision that goes against almost everything the committee typically does. It wasn’t all bad for the NIT selection committee. They did give Stanford a game against BYU instead of including 17-16 South Carolina. Though I do wonder if it’s just because the Gamecocks had a game against Limestone on their schedule and thus were actually exactly .500 against Division I teams (and at the top of their team sheet). That mark appears to be a taboo line for the committee, despite guidance that it would even be okay if a team was under .500 if they had a worth profile—teams have gotten bids when 1 game over .500, but at has proven near impossible. The other USC had road wins at Florida and Georgia, but it wasn’t enough. BYU appears to have gotten in thanks to its WCC Tournament victory over Saint Mary’s and a home win over in-state rival Utah. It’s cool that the committee gave BYU a bid, but the logic behind how the Cougars made it into the field and teams like Northeastern or Old Dominion didn’t is a little perplexing.