When the NCAA Tournament bracket is unveiled the debate about bubble teams finally concludes. We get to see what the committee valued and why certain teams made it in while others will continue their season in the NIT.
Last season’s major bubble discussion centered around the committee excluding SMU from the 2014 NCAA Tournament. This season’s major debate revolves around the committee’s inclusion of UCLA.
The Bruins earned a No. 11 seed as they finished the season at 20-13. Their season isn’t exactly filled with noteworthy wins. After being dismantled by Kentucky in December — in a game in which UCLA trailed, 41-7, at the half — the Bruins finished the season 12-9 from there and went 11-7 in a Pac-12 that only had three other teams in the 68-team field.
Many bracketlogists dismissed Steve Alford’s team from the field altogether, and UCLA comfortably made the field of 68 while also avoiding a First Four game in Dayton.
The inclusion of UCLA is undoubtedly the biggest story of the bubble in 2015, but Indiana was the most talked-about bubble team entering Selection Sunday. The Hoosiers made it in as a No. 10 seed in the Midwest Region and they get matched up with No. 7 seed Wichita State in the Round of 64.
Many Indiana fans have been upset with the team’s performance this season, and some have called for head coach Tom Crean to lose his job, but Indiana did enough to make the field in the Big Ten tournament with a win over Northwestern and a solid showing against Maryland.
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UCLA and Indiana making the field means the bubble burst for a few others.
Colorado State can stake a claim as this season’s SMU. While the Rams had a great RPI of 30 and a 27-6 record this season, 16 of those wins came against teams with an RPI of 150 or higher.
Larry Eustachy’s team only had three wins against teams in the 2015 NCAA Tournament field and they’re all an eight-seed or lower. While you can sympathize with the Rams losing in the Mountain West tournament without leading scorer and rebounder J.J. Avila, Colorado State’s overall body of work just isn’t very impressive.
Temple also missed the cut for the NCAA Tournament despite some people including them in the field. The Owls had an impressive blowout win over No. 2 seed Kansas in the non-conference portion of the season, but Fran Dunphy’s team struggled against the American’s elite. SMU beat Temple all three times, Tulsa also swept the Owls and Cincinnati split the season-series with them. No. 1 seeds Duke and Villanova also beat Temple by 20-plus points early in the season — although the Owls were not a complete team when either of those games were played.
The committee didn’t show a lot of love to the American last season with SMU missing the cut, and Temple missing out shows that the league needs to improve from top-to-bottom to get more teams in the field.
As for mid-major darlings like Old Dominion and Murray State, they’re also NIT-bound. The Monarchs were probably closer than the Racers to making the field, but their mediocre 13-5 record in one-bid Conference USA did them in. Old Dominion had wins over tournament teams like LSU, VCU and Georgia State but losing to Middle Tennessee twice — including in the conference tournament — will keep them out.
Murray State has seen a groundswell of social media support in the #RacersDeserveABid movement, but the fact remains that the Racers didn’t play anyone of note this season. Steve Prohm’s ballclub played only two NCAA Tournament teams outside of Ohio Valley Conference auto bid winner Belmont and got smoked in both games. Xavier beat Murray State, 89-62, and the Racers lost a neutral-site game against Valparaiso, 93-58.
The best win Murray State can claim is probably Illinois State and Western Kentucky, and the Redbirds were missing two starters in that game. The Racers also lost on the road to Houston, which finished the season 13-19, and the Cougars won that game without starting point guard L.J. Rose.
It’s admirable that Murray State won 25 consecutive games and went unbeaten in the regular season in the OVC, but if Prohm knew he had a tough team and an elite player in Cameron Payne, why didn’t he schedule tougher non-conference opponents? I understand the difficulty of scheduling at the low-major level but why couldn’t Murray State schedule more games against quality mid-major opponents? It’s something they’ll probably have to address to avoid this type of situation next season.