March 12th, 2006
Biggest Selection Sunday Controversies
Ah, Selection Sunday. It can be the best of times, and it
can also be the worst depending on what a team’s situation is. Are you
fighting for a top seed, a smaller school awaiting your name being called,
or a bubble team on pins and needles hoping that the committee picks you? We
all know the myriad of emotions that come with this day, but it’s the
overwhelming excitement that the college basketball season is reaching its
apex. Yet for all the excitement, there’s also the pain of not hearing your
school’s name called, and the anger of receiving a seed lower than you
anticipated, and the shock of being sent to a locale different than the one
you felt your team deserved. Undoubtedly, some past Selection Sunday
“issues” will be left out, but here are some of the more intriguing
controversies of the last ten years.
1996: Kentucky and Massachusetts are placed on the
same side of the bracket.
Going into the Tournament, the two best teams in America
were Kentucky, with their deep roster of talent, and UMass, with National
Player of the Year Marcus Camby. Perfect recipe for a Monday night title
game, right? Wrong. Somehow the two best teams ended up on the same side of
the bracket, setting up a much-anticipated semifinal…and an anticlimactic
final. Kentucky got a measure of revenge from their early season meeting,
and went on to defeat Syracuse 76-67 for the title.
1997: The possibility of a North Carolina/ Indiana
matchup in the second round.
The selection committee has always said that they don’t
set up brackets for television, and that CBS executive aren’t in their ear.
But the skeptics had a field day with this one. Dean Smith, looking to break
Adolph Rupp’s all-time wins (Division I) record and having to beat Bobby
Knight to do it? Too good to be true. Well, Fairfield gave the Tar Heels all
they wanted and then some in the first round, and the Hoosiers were
unceremoniously bounced by Colorado. Coach Smith, two days later, got the
record by beating the less ratings-sexy Buffaloes.
1998: Florida State gets in with a 6-10 record in the
Talk about your eye-openers. Yes the ACC is traditionally
one of the best conferences in the country, but how do you justify selecting
a team that finished the regular season with ten conference losses?
You say that they played a very tough schedule outside of the league. Helped
by this and a strong RPI, the Seminoles found themselves in the NCAA
Tournament. And despite the outrage, the ‘Noles knocked off fifth-seeded TCU
in the first round. Valparaiso sent FSU home in the second round in the
always interesting 12 vs. 13 matchup.
1999: Despite an RPI of 74, New Mexico gets into the
Rarely do you have a team with a record of 23-8 be
questioned about whether or not the deserve an at-large bid. But when you
have a strength of schedule of 157 (nonconference SOS: 240), and a record of
12-1 against teams ranked 201 or higher in the RPI, a red flag is raised.
However, the Lobos were able to make it to the WAC Conference final, where
they lost to a Utah team that hadn’t lost a game in conference play. UNM
eventually lost in the second round to eventual national champion
2000: Cincinnati gets a two-seed.
The Bearcats were the team to beat heading into
Championship Week, the top-ranked team in America with the nation’s best
player, Kenyon Martin. But a fractured leg changed all of that. Losing
Martin in the Conference USA quarterfinal against St. Louis, the Bearcats
lost that game then watch in shock (and horror) as they were dropped down to
the two line. Unfair? Maybe it was, but the Bearcats were clearly a
different team without their best player. Tulsa proved that in knocking them
out in the second round.
2000: Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State)
left home despite an RPI of 34.
The Bears are the answer to the trivia question of the
team with the highest RPI to not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament. An
overall SOS of 60, and a nonconference SOS of 28, and a record of 9-1 in
their last ten games. How on earth did they not get in? The Missouri Valley
Conference was ranked eleventh in conference RPI, and an even worse
nonconference SOS of 21st among the thirty-two leagues. This led
to the demand of MVC Commissioner Doug Elgin that the member schools beef up
their nonconference schedules.
2001: Despite a record of 18-14, Georgia gets into the
This may have been one of the first examples of how it
pays off to play an extremely tough schedule. Thanks to an RPI of 19, the
Bulldogs received an eight seed in the South Region opposite the Missouri
Tigers. What helped their cause was a 9-7 conference record in the SEC,
which that year was rated the toughest conference by the RPI. Wins over Top
25 teams such as Ole Miss and Florida sealed their fate. Unfortunately, they
fell 70-68 in the first round to Missouri.
2002: The first year of the pod system.
In 2002, the selection committee instituted the “pod
system”, meant as a way of keeping the higher seeded teams closer to home. A
good idea in terms of rewarding the schools who did what they were supposed
to do throughout the year. But this did not prevent a few raised eyebrows at
the fact that Pittsburgh got to play their first two games in Pittsburgh.
Not on their home court mind you, but close enough for some to question how
this would all work. The only true error in the system may have been
Southern Illinois, and eleven seed, playing the first two rounds in Chicago
against Texas Tech and Georgia, two schools who had to travel a much farther
distance to the site. Yes, the Salukis made it to the Sweet Sixteen, but
that was also a skilled team that could have advanced regardless of the
2002: Gonzaga gets a lower seed than they had hoped
The Bulldogs and their fans went into Selection Sunday
expecting a four seed, maybe a five. But a six? This did not make for a
happy bunch when head coach Mark Few was interviewed after the pairings were
announced. Amidst the boos and catcalls, Few made his team’s case for a
higher seed, and this set the tone for the days leading up to their game
with eleven seed Wyoming. You have to wonder if this displeasure rubbed off
on the players, who were shocked by the Cowboys in the opening round. The
classic meeting between the Bulldogs and Arizona would have to wait one
2003: Big East gets just four teams in- much to the
chagrin of Seton Hall and Boston College.
The feeling among many experts during the 2002-03 season
was that the Big East was down. A conference record of 10-6 got Boston
College and Connecticut a share of the East Division title, and Seton Hall
finished with the same record in the West. But when it came time to hear
their names called on Selection Sunday, Eagle (1-5 vs. RPI Top 50) and
Pirate (2-7 vs. RPI Top 50) fans heard nothing. Outrage was the feeling of
many within the league, including the four (Connecticut, Notre Dame,
Pittsburgh, and Syracuse) that actually made the tournament. How do you make
up for this? All four get to the Sweet Sixteen and one (Syracuse) wins it
2004: More pod trouble.
The pod system was explained as a way to reward teams in
the first two rounds, not look ahead to the second weekend. For some reason,
the explanation for placing Pitt in Milwaukee for the first two rounds was
that if they won the Panthers would move on to East Rutherford. Small
problem: the committee placed Wisconsin in their “pod” as the six seed. This
made for a rather slanted “neutral” site in the second round. But to their
credit, the Panthers kept their mouths shut and played the game, which they
2004: Who’s the one in East Rutherford?
St. Joseph’s went undefeated through the regular season,
then lost in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. One loss does
not a season make, unless people decide that you played in a weak league.
Ignoring the tough nonconference schedule that the Hawks played, critics,
most notably CBS’ Billy Packer, loudly voiced their displeasure with SJU’s
one seed. The popular choice to be on the one line was Oklahoma State, who
ended up being a two seed in…East Rutherford. The bracket played out just
right, treating fans to a classic regional final won by the Cowboys. But by
that point, any remaining critics had to acknowledge that the Hawks were
worthy of their seeding.
2005: Washington gets a one seed.
After Wake Forest made an early exit in the ACC
Tournament, many still expected the Demon Deacons to be on the one line. The
selection committee had other ideas, rewarding the Washington Huskies, who
had a better record vs. the RPI Top 50 than Wake Forest (8-4 to Wake’s 6-3)
and a better nonconference strength of schedule (21 to 27), with the honor.
The Huskies made it to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual Final Four
team Louisville (who was also upset with their seed), and the Deacons (who
most pundits still picked to win the Albuquerque region) fell to
seventh-seeded West Virginia in the second round. I guess there were quite a
few seeding issues in Albuquerque.
Some information within this article courtesy of