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March Sadness? NCAA Tournament Snubs Leave New Round of Scars

  • Several coaches, and even a U.S. senator, lash out at the selection committee.
  • Mid-major entrants into the tournament again have an uphill climb.
St. John's Red Storm head coach Rick Pitino paces the sidline in the second half of a college basketball game between the St. John's Red Storm and the Xavier Musketeers, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, at Cintas Center in Cincinnati. The Xavier Musketeers won, 88-77.
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

March Madness, ordinarily one of the most joyous events in sports, is becoming weighed down by hurt feelings and recriminations. 

The NCAA on Selection Sunday unveiled the 68-team field for the men’s Division I basketball tournament, led by UConn as the top overall seed. While debates rage every year about perceived tournament snubs, the exclusions this year are arguably reaching a new level, raising new questions about how the brackets are filled. 

Among the recent flash-points surrounding the 2024 tournament field:

  • Indiana State, ranked No. 28 in NCAA NET rankings, set a new record for the highest-ranked team in those tabulations to be left out of the tournament. That made Sycamores coach Josh Schertz brand the team’s history-making status as “beyond disappointing.”
  • The Big East had particularly raw feelings after No. 32 St. John’s was left out of the tournament, a fate also befalling No. 58 Providence and No. 67 Seton Hall. The conference was the second best in all of D-I, according to noted statistician Ken Pomeroy, but received only three bids—its smallest total since 1993—compared to eight each for the Big 12 and SEC, and six for the Big Ten (KenPom conferences Nos. 1, 3, and 4). Providence coach Kim English lashed out at the metrics helping to inform the selection committee, particularly those appearing to reward teams for running up the score in games against lesser opponents. “I think the analytics are bulls***,” English told reporters. “I think you could schedule bad teams in your non-league [schedule] and beat the snot out of them. Coaching for so long has been a gentlemen’s agreement … but right now, [there] might be a change in college basketball.”
  • St. John’s turned down an invitation to the second-tier National Invitation Tournament on Sunday, as did the Big 12’s Oklahoma and ACC’s Pittsburgh, with the start of the transfer portal holding some influence on those decisions. Red Storm coach Rick Pitino also denounced the NCAA’s evaluation metrics, saying, “I think we all should probably never mention that word [NET] again because it’s fraudulent. I think the NET is something that shouldn’t even be mentioned anymore.” Several other schools, including Indiana, Memphis, and Ole Miss, previously signaled they also had no interest in the NIT.
  • The situation even captured the attention of Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.), who posted on X, “I don’t get it. So if you aren’t a football conference the NCAA isn’t interested.”

In each of these instances, millions of dollars are at stake for the involved schools and their conferences. 

Non–Power 5 conferences, meanwhile, have an additional burden in the tournament. Eight First Four and first-round games feature teams from outside the Power 5 pitted against one another, equal to the number of such games in last year’s field. While that guarantees at least eight non-elite teams will win at least one game, it also immediately eliminates an equal number. 

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