Good thing the fair prince didn’t ask the knights of the NCAA selection committee to guard the entrance to his dance hall.
If they had seen Cinderella, they would’ve curb-stumped her to a bloody pulp, pulverized her glass slippers, ransacked her carriage and left her dying by the moat.
That’s essentially what the Gang of 10 has done to what was once the most romantic sporting event on the planet – March Madness. They’re only letting in the prim-and-proper offsprings of the nobility, and leaving the riff-raff out in the cold.
Read the entire transcript from Joe Castiglione – the Oklahoma athletic director and NCAA tournament selection chair – if you wish. But there is only one unmistakable message from the committee: If you’re not from a power conference – drop dead.
How else would you explain the outrageous exclusions of Monmouth, St. Bonaventure, St. Mary’s, Valparaiso and San Diego State while power conference also-rans such as Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Michigan and Tulsa all got a free pass? Of the 25 non-power conferences (excluding football’s Power 5, Big East and American), only Dayton, VCU (Atlantic 10) and Wichita State (Missouri Valley) earned at-large berths out of 36 available.
That’s right. If you’re a mid-major or a small conference program, no matter how well you scheduled, how many big-name schools you beat and how much you dominated your conference during the regular season, you should go directly to the NIT if you don’t claim your conference’s automatic bid.
No example of the committee’s snubbishness is more evident in the exclusion of Monmouth, which went 27-7 during the season before just falling short of Metro Atlantic’s automatic bid when it lost to Iona in the conference title game. The Hawks played all but one of their 11 non-conference games on the road and won eight of them, beating the likes of UCLA, Georgetown, Notre Dame and USC. The Irish and Trojans are in the tournament, and it’s not Monmouth’s fault that perennial powerhouses Bruins and Hoyas decided to suck this season. (And Monmouth beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion, something tournament-bound Kentucky and Arizona couldn’t do.)
Essentially, Monmouth did what the committee has claimed for years what a non-power program must do. Go play the big boys and prove yourself. Never mind how difficult that is in the first place – most power programs don’t want anything to do with decent mid-majors – and the Hawks did it anyway. But on Selection Sunday, the committee found new excuses to keep them out.
Oh, Monmouth lost to Canisius! Lost to Manhattan! Those are bad losses! Funny how the same principle didn’t apply to Syracuse, which lost to the same Georgetown team that Monmouth beat and 8-24 St. John’s; or Vanderbilt, which was sent packing by a 14-18 Tennessee team in the first game of the SEC tournament; or especially Tulsa, which lost to Memphis twice in 12 days by a combined 32 points – and Memphis wasn’t even invited to the NIT!
It’s as if had Syracuse played in the Metro Atlantic, it’d automatically have gone 20-0. No matter what conference you play in, it’s difficult to run the table just because of the familiarity, the rivalry and the fact that for a team like Monmouth, every road conference games it plays in is the game of the year for the opponent. But in the committee’s eyes, every loss is just a bad loss.
And you know who almost did run the table? San Diego State. The Mountain West had been a multi-bid conference in past years, but it’s a little down this year. But still, the Aztecs went 16-2 after winning the first 11 conference games to open the season. You know how hard it is to play in the high altitudes of Laramie and Albuquerque and in as disparate places as Boise, Fresno and Las Vegas? If you put Kansas, Michigan State or North Carolina in the MWC this year, they’d be hard pressed to top San Diego State’s 16-2 mark.
But the committee doesn’t care about any of that. All it wants to do is pick warts from the resumes of non-power programs. If they had quality wins, then it’s the bad losses that did them in (Monmouth). If they don’t have many bad losses, then it’s their non-conference schedule that’s not up to snuff (St. Mary’s). Or it’s just too much or not enough of either (St. Bonaventure).
So what we’re left with is seven teams apiece from the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12. Yeah, we can’t get enough of Jim Boeheim, Kevin Stallings or Jamie Dixon. Who needs to see Cinderellas when you can have all those ugly and whiny stepsisters at the ball?
The committee seems to forget that Madness became an essential part of March precisely because Valpo knocked out Ole Miss on an impossible buzzer-beater, Florida Gulf Coast dunked its way to two upset victories, George Mason made it all the way to the Final Four, Butler played in back-to-back title games, and Princeton came within a last-second jumper to slay mighty Georgetown.
Nah, who needs that kind of romanticism? Instead of fourth-year seniors who bring something special in one last organized basketball game before they move on to something other than sports, we’ll see more one-and-dones with agents ready with the paperwork and cash on their way out of the arena. Instead of hearing stories about a unique campus that’s the fabric of Americana, we’ll get more of power conference infomercials on how much they’re spending on their spanking new athletic lounges.
And please, please spare us the bull manure about which teams were more “deserving.” The selection of the final tournament teams is entirely subjective as you can use any metric or analytic tool to justify the inclusion or exclusion of any team that’s on the bubble. When the tournament was expanded by four teams to increase the number of at-large bids, is it really for the purpose of adding more big-conference mediocrity?
Apparently so, to this selection committee. In the world of Castiglione and Co., the three little pigs must be devoured by the big bad wolf, Hansel and Gretel must be cooked by the witch, and Cinderella? She must be locked away in the attic, never to be seen again.