Less than 24 hours after the men's selection committee got pounded by media and fans alike for its selections, seeding and geographical placement, the women's committee took its turn. Unlike their counterparts on the men's side, the women's committee got it right.
Not that the committee needs my validation, but this group doesn't leave much to be criticized. My last projections produced two misses, but neither is worth quibbling over. The teams that got in were just as worthy as those that didn't. So this year, I forgo the usual critique with some observations and explanations.
Notre Dame, not South Carolina, to Lexington.
This may be the most interesting situation in the entire bracket. South Carolina stayed the No. 2 team overall on the committee's board with Notre Dame as the No. 3. It's an evaluation many fans and media disagreed with throughout February as the committee revealed its top-10 three times and it's a topic committee chair Chris Dawson has admitted all along was much discussed among committee members.
"We recognized the closeness of the two teams and it was something we spent some time on," Dawson said. "South Carolina's one more win in the RPI top-25 is really what made the difference."
However, the twist here is that despite being No. 2 overall, South Carolina was not sent to the Lexington, Kentucky region, the closest site to Columbia. Instead, the Gamecocks will be playing in the Sioux Falls Region. The Irish are the No. 1 seed in Lexington.
"When it's possible, we would rather have teams drive rather than fly as much as possible with a 350-mile radius as the marker," Dawson said. "South Carolina was a flight either way [to Lexington or Sioux Falls]. Notre Dame could drive to Lexington, but not Sioux Falls. That is why the teams were placed that way."
The byproduct of that decision was the ability to also place No. 3 seed Kentucky in Lexington, although Dawson said it wasn't something the committee sought out. If South Carolina had been there, the Wildcats could not be because of the NCAA's bracketing principle that doesn't allow teams from the same conference (the SEC in this case) to be placed in the same region if they are among the top-four seeds.
The Lexington Region is at Rupp Arena, where the Wildcats played twice this season (they play the majority of their games in Memorial Coliseum). By rule, if it had been more than three times, Kentucky would not have been allowed placement in Lexington.
So, the Irish get a bus trip rather than a flight, but that could also mean a possible matchup with the Wildcats in the Elite Eight at Rupp Arena, a true road game for the No. 3 overall team in the country. That kind of potential atmosphere would certainly be good for the game. It certainly is not ideal for the Irish.
Bubble: Who's in? Who's out?
Missouri, St. Bonaventure, Purdue and Princeton represent the last four teams in the field. I missed on two of those, including NC State and Florida Gulf Coast instead. I have no problem with either choice. This had not been a good bubble for weeks. The dissection of all of those teams was difficult because they had little on their resumes to laud. The committee could have chosen any two of perhaps seven teams and it wouldn't have seemed wrong.
The inclusion of Princeton's Tigers is historic, representing the first time the Ivy League has received an at-large berth. It comes just days after the Ivy announced it would be moving to postseason tournaments to decide the conference's NCAA tournament representatives beginning next season. The regular-season champ has always received the automatic bid. This season, that is Penn. The move to the tournament may have been, at least in part, to give the Ivy League a presumed better chance at multiple bids. This year, that actually happened without the tournament.
The frailty of the bubble is illustrated in the fact that Princeton and the Bonnies, which each had RPI's in the 30's, totaled just four top-50 wins, but got in because of those quality wins. The others in the discussion didn't even have that many.
"With Princeton, the committee focused on top-25 wins and no bad losses, none above 83 in the RPI," Dawson said. "St. Bonaventure had two wins in the top-25 and was 4-5 against the top-100."
Dawson admitted the most difficult task the committee had was choosing the teams.
"We spent the most time on choosing the at-large spots. Seeding was next in terms of time then bracketing," Dawson said. "Because we had 11 teams win their regular-season championships, but not win their tournaments, we had 73 teams for 32 at-large spots. We ended up with 14 for the final four spots and 12 for the final two."
The first four teams left out were Iowa, NC State, Ohio and UTEP. Each of those teams had just one top-50 win and none in the top-25 of the RPI. Interestingly, Temple was not on the list despite having two top-50 wins and one top-25.
With NC State missing out on an at-large bid, this NCAA tournament will be the first since 1988 and the first ever in the 64-team era that no team from the Tobacco Road "Triangle" will be represented. Duke, North Carolina and the Wolfpack all missed being selected.
Lady Vols get a 7
After Tennessee suffered consecutive head-scratching losses to LSU and Alabama in February, it fell out of the Top 25 poll. Many wondered if the next shoe to drop would be missing the NCAA tournament altogether. The Lady Vols righted a wayward ship with three straight wins after that and were never in danger of missing out after all. But, at No. 7 (one spot lower than the projected No. 6), Tennessee has its lowest seed in program history.
"The 19-13 overall record was certainly a consideration on Tennessee's seed and their somewhat uneven performance throughout the season," Dawson said. "We did recognize that they were trending up, though, so I feel like we got Tennessee where it was appropriate."
And, not only were the Lady Vols not in contention to host games in Knoxville that has become commonplace over the years, but they have one of the most significant opening-round travel itineraries of anyone in the tournament, going to Tempe, Arizona. Add that to first-round foe Green Bay, one of those perennially successful mid-majors with some tournament success, and the road to rescuing a turbulent season is not an easy one for Tennessee.
Michigan State a top-four seed, but can't host
The Spartans landed in the top-16 overall, beating out teams such as Florida State, Miami and Mississippi State for the final spot in that group. It was nice recognition for Michigan State, but because the Breslin Center is being used for a high school tournament that same weekend, the Spartans are unable to host first- and second-round games.
Mississippi State as the assumed No. 17 on the overall board (the committee would only release the order of its No. 1 seeds and the last four teams in and first out) is the beneficiary.
Dawson noted Michigan State's run to the Big Ten tournament title game and 7-3 finish to the season as two of the reasons the Spartans got that presumed No. 16 spot. Given their bad luck with timing, it may not matter much. The reward is a possible road game in the second round against the Bulldogs in Starkville.