- 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. It was difficult to gin up much outrage over 2011's tournament "snubs," and you'll have to stretch even harder to get there in 2012. This bubble was soft. It was 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. If you're from the Pac-12 ... well, again: Nicolas Cage's hair is a bird, and your argument is invalid.
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 2012 NCAA tournament selection committee. These are their stories:
Drexel Dragons (27-6, 16-2 CAA; RPI: 64; SOS: 248)
What the committee would say: We liked Drexel's dominance in the Colonial -- we couldn't easily discount a team that won 25 of its final 27 games -- but whom did Drexel beat, exactly? The Colonial was down this season. No one in the league got a good nonconference win. Drexel got both VCU and George Mason at home (and didn't have to go on the road), and its atrocious scheduling numbers put a major dent in all those wins. Drexel was good in the CAA tournament final, but so were a lot of teams, and we don't look at margin of victory. We wish we could put them in, but we just can't do it.
What fans would say: Dudes. Dudes! Put down the nitty-gritty sheets, toss aside your dumb schedule-strength metrics and RPI nonsense, briefly come up for air, and then ask yourself: What bubble team played better basketball in the final two months of the season than Drexel? Just because the Dragons can't get the same number of games against top-50 teams doesn't mean you shouldn't reward them for beating the teams on their schedule. Sure, the entire body of work matters, but what about the win at Cleveland State? What about that 25-2 record since early December? (25-2!) Plus, the only bad losses this team took all happened four months ago. Strength of schedule is a joke, and so are you.
Also ... you put in Iona and not Drexel? What? How does that make any sense? Explain yourselves! (You can't. Ugh.)
Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-11, 8-8 SEC; RPI: 73; SOS: 87)
What the committee would say: We care about the entire body of work. We really do. But we also reserve the right to evaluate a team as it currently is, not as it was earlier in the season, and the bottom line is this: The Bulldogs collapsed down the stretch. MSU lost six of its final eight games, including two games to Georgia, one to LSU and one to Auburn. We watch teams play, and when we watched Rick Stansbury's, we saw a disjointed, disinterested bunch who looked ripe for early upset. Besides, it's not like the body of work is overwhelming. MSU has two good wins -- over Alabama and at Vanderbilt -- and really not much else. And that 73 RPI? Yeah, that's not good.
What the fans would say: Oh ... it ... we ... we have no response. That was perfect.
Washington Huskies (21-10, 14-4 Pac-12; RPI: 70; SOS: 94)
What the committee would say: This team went 7-6 in the nonconference, and its best win came at home against UC-Santa Barbara. Its best overall win came against either Oregon or Arizona. It lost by 19 at home to South Dakota State. Sure, it won its league, but so what? The Pac-12 went 1-29 in nonconference play against the RPI top 50 this season, and if Washington was so good -- or at least as good as its obvious talent -- it would have dominated that league and made an emphatic statement in the Pac-12 tourney. Instead, it lost to Oregon State. No sympathy here.
What fans would say: East Coast bias! OK, maybe not: We admit the Pac-12 was really bad. But UW did win the league, and no power-conference regular-season champion has ever missed the NCAA tournament. Plus, before you go ripping on UW's nonconference performance, please account for the fact that it narrowly lost to Duke and Marquette in a matter of days on the East Coast in early December. If you've seen this team play, you know it can make a deep tournament run. Isn't that worth something? (Answer: No. But UW fans seem to keep making this argument anyway.)
Seton Hall Pirates (20-12, 8-10 Big East; RPI: 61; SOS: 57)
What the committee would say: Seton Hall had as many chances as any bubble team in the country to get the wins it needed to impress us. With just minimal exception, the Pirates didn't. Sure, they crushed Georgetown on Feb. 21, but that win came in the midst of a 5-10 overall finish and was mixed in with missed opportunities against beatable opportunities like Notre Dame, Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati. Throw that in with a nonconference schedule that included a loss to Northwestern and no good wins, and the impression remains: The Pirates had a decent season, but they just didn't do enough.
What the fans would say: Few bubble teams have even one RPI top-50 win. Seton Hall has four. It also won at Dayton and beat West Virginia, which, OK, that's not crazy impressive, but no one's arguing the Pirates should be a single-digit seed -- just that they're more deserving than most of the bubble for one of those last at-large spots.
Northwestern Wildcats (18-13, 8-10 Big Ten; RPI: 59; SOS: 15)
What the committee would say: How many opportunities do you need? You got 11 cracks at top-50 wins. You won one of them. That's really all you need to know. We respect the strength of schedule, but it had more to do with your conference than your nonconference, and your chief nonconference wins came over Seton Hall and LSU. OK? Bottom line: Northwestern proved it was a very average team that could beat the teams it was supposed to beat but couldn't get over the hump against the kind of teams you need to beat to prove you belong. We feel for you, Northwestern fans, but you really didn't belong.
What the fans would say: [Play Morrissey's "How Soon Is Now?", throw remote control across the wall, decide to stop caring about basketball forever.]