The 5 Worst At-Large Teams in the NCAA Tournament, Presented By The Belko Experiment
The NCAA Tournament selection committee doesn't always get it right. In fact, one of the safest bets to make this time of year is that a deserving team or two will get snubbed to make way for an undeserving at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
Some of the First Four teams out had a solid case to earn one of these at-large bids, but the 36 non-automatic nods went to other squads. And, sure, teams such as North Carolina and Kansas needed to absorb some of the at-large slots. However, there are some underwhelming teams in the tournament who didn't qualify automatically.
Which at-large teams are the worst in the 2017 tournament, according to our metrics?
5. Michigan State Spartans
nERD Rank: 45
Tournament Seed: 9
The allure of Tom Izzo might not be enough for the Michigan State Spartans this time around. By our nERD metric, which indicates expected point differential against an average opponent on a neutral court, this is the third-worst iteration of the Spartans since the 1999-2000 season.
Michigan State ranks in the 57th percentile in offensive efficiency and the 69th defensively. In terms of adjusted offensive and defensive rating, they rank 47th and 39th, respectively. The Spartans finished 179th nationally in offensive rebounding rate, and they cause turnovers at the 5th-lowest rate of all teams in the tournament. Michigan State also turns it over more frequently than any team in the field other than the New Orleans Privateers, who are a 16 seed.
They might not be able to extend possessions and earn extra looks, and in what looks to be a close 8-versus-9 game against the Miami Hurricanes, Sparty will need to find another gear.
4. Virginia Commonwealth Rams
nERD Rank: 48
Tournament Seed: 10
The Virginia Commonwealth recipe -- despite the swap from head coach Shaka Smart to Will Wade two years ago -- remains contingent on great defense, as they grade out in the 92nd percentile by our metrics and 35th overall in adjusted defensive rating. The Rams sit eighth in turnover rate caused among teams in the field of 68.
However, they rank 53rd in effective field goal percentage among tournament teams, thanks to a reluctance to take three-pointers. The Rams ranked 308th nationally in three-point attempt rate this season. Their style can cause problems for teams lacking poise, but in terms of overall efficiency, this Rams team is one of the weakest at-large bids in the field.
3. Seton Hall Pirates
nERD Rank: 51
Tournament Seed: 9
Seton Hall also didn't take many three-pointers this season, ranking 296th nationally in three-point attempt rate, and overall, they posted an effective field goal percentage of just 50.2%, 209th in the nation and 7th-worst in the field of 68.
They're a strong rebounding team, finishing 21st in the nation in total rebounding rate and 12th among tournament teams, but they're mostly middle-of-the-road on both sides. The Pirates sit in the 58th percentile on offense and 61st on defense.
Seton Hall has gotten hot and has won 8 of their past 11 games, but they'll need to hit the boards hard against Arkansas Razorbacks (11.25 nERD), whose offense sits in the 92nd percentile nationally but are tied for 15th-worst in the field in total rebounding rate.
2. USC Trojans
nERD Rank: 58
Tournament Seed: 11
The USC Trojans have a play-in game against the Providence Friars, so it's not as if they were gifted anything too significant by the selection committee, but their 8.97 nERD is the second-lowest of all at-large squads. Their defense doesn't look strong enough to contend (51st percentile) even though their offense is promising (85th percentile).
They grab just 50.3% of total rebound chances, tied for 15th-worst in the field of 68, and boast an effective field goal percentage of 51.9%, 19th-worst in the field. They avoid turnovers (14th-best in the tournament in turnover rate), though.
On the other end of things, the Trojans allow the 11th-highest effective field percentage (49.7%) in the field of 68 and sit 16th-worst in turnover rate. They're not a bad team, but they aren't a particularly efficient one, either.
1. Providence Friars
nERD Rank: 59
Tournament Seed: 11
Thankfully for USC, the Friars are actually, marginally, worse than the Trojans (by just 0.05 nERD points). They're pretty much the inverse of USC in terms of offensive and defensive rating.
The Friars sit in the 45th percentile offensively but the 81st defensively. Even when adjusting for schedule strength, they're 79th in offensive rating and 30th in defensive rating.
The crazy part? Providence is actually a worse rebounding team (49.3%) than USC is and sit 10th-worst in total rebounding rate in the field of 68. They're also 12th-worst in effective field goal percentage (51.3%).
This play-in game should come down to which wins out: USC's underwhelming defense or Providence's underwhelming offense. Either way, the Southern Methodist Mustangs, who play the winner of this game, have to like their draw.