The 4 Best Teams Left Out of the Big Dance
Every year, people yell about how their team got robbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, how their team should have made it in and how their squad should have received a better ranking. While some fans do have a legitimate argument, others are just bitter that their team isn't better.
Obviously a lot of emotion surrounds the festivities of Selection Sunday and March Madness, but this has a tendency to blur the logic that surrounds the bracket. Here at numberFire, we like to eliminate that emotion and focus on what the numbers have to say. And remember, numbers, when analyzed properly, never lie.
For this evaluation, we'll be using numberFire's favorite nERD metric to find the best teams left out of the Big Dance. Keep in mind, we're not looking at the first four teams out - we've already done that. Instead, we'll be analyzing the four teams who, despite having resumes that the committee didn't like, finished high within our power rankings.
Note: The offensive and defensive ratings below are adjusted.
Southern Methodist Mustangs
nERD Rank: 32nd
ORtg: 110.34, 61st
DRtg: 89.86, 19th
For all of you SMU fans out there: I feel your pain. The season was going so well under Larry Brown, who led you to a 23-9 record while tying Memphis for third in the American Athletic Conference. On paper, SMU could have finished even better because of their solid squad that lead to a very balanced attack. Aside from Nic Moore and Nick Russell, who lead the team in minutes played by a decent margin, Coach Brown made sure to distribute playing time pretty evenly to rest of the team to keep fresh legs on the court.
On the offensive side, Southern Methodist passes the ball well, ranking 40th in the nation in assists. This is coupled by the fact that the Mustangs make sure not to waste shots, ranking as the 16th-most efficient team shooting the ball. Although they do struggle with rebounds, turnovers and free throws, SMU has done well defensively. They rank in the top 50 when it comes to steals, and all players on the team, save one, has a personal DRtg of 90 or higher.
As much as the numbers were in the Mustangs favor this year, they blew their chances in crunch time. All they had to do was win a conference championship, and they would've been in. After beating both Houston and Memphis earlier in the season, the Mustangs suffered a nine-point loss to Memphis at the end of the regular season and a four-point loss to Houston in said championship game.
But perhaps the biggest reason that this is a hard pill to swallow is because SMU's nERD ranking is .62 points higher than Memphis', and only half a point behind UConn's, who ended up with a six seed in the tournament. No non-tournament team had a higher nERD score than SMU this year.
nERD Rank: 34th
ORtg: 112.13, 44th
DRtg: 92.53, 42nd
As you can, see the Utes are an even more balanced team than SMU was this season. While the Mustangs had ups and downs, Utah had a solid standing in the majority of categories. But just like the Mustangs, the Utes had their season end sooner than desired thanks to one game, despite finishing eighth in their conference.
Yes, number one seed (and number one ranked according to our metrics) Arizona blew out the Utes in the conference tournament, but don't ignore the fact that Utah had taken the same Wildcat team to overtime just a month prior. If you look at the conference, too, they were only one win away from being tied for fifth, with Oregon, which would have put them ahead of Arizona State and California. Although California is also in the NIT this year, both Arizona State and Oregon are in the tournament as a 10th and 7th seed respectively.
Let's look at the statistics. Like I said, this team is mostly a solid middle-of-the-pack team, but they do excel in their shooting efficiency. Granted, they struggle from behind the arc, but once the Utes step foot inside the three-point line, they rank seventh in the nation in shooting percentage, while their total field goal percentage ranks 12th in the nation.
They also excel in free throw percentage, assists, and defensive rebounding. Perhaps the biggest weakness that kept them from the tournament is the fact their team is not very deep. While riding the shoulders Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge, and Brandon Taylor, Utah can hold their own on the court. But once these guys sit, Utah losses their power. Adding to the hurt, Utah usually just beat the teams that were bad while consistently losing to superior competition, and a weak strength of schedule didn't help their cause to make the tournament, either. Though they're talented, there's a reason they aren't in - the resume was lacking.
nERD Rank: 38th
ORtg: 112.15, 42nd
DRtg: 92.23, 39th
Only three teams are dancing from the SEC this year, and Arkansas isn't one of them.
After going on a six-game winning streak from February 15th to March 5th, it seemed as though the Razorbacks would be a good bet to make the tournament. After all, during that stretch, the Razorbacks beat the talented Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington.
Losing by 25 points to a 13-19 Alabama team, and following it up with a quick exit in the SEC Tournament against an even worse South Carolina team is no way to build your NCAA Tournament resume. But that's what Arkansas did, and that's why they're not in the tournament.
It's a shame, too. The Razorbacks were very balanced this year, finishing around the 40th-best team in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their strength of schedule, however, was weaker than even Utah's, which makes sense considering how weak the SEC was outside of Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. When you factor that with the way they played after their winning streak, you can see why the selection committee decided to go against them. Though adding a team like North Carolina State probably didn't make them feel a whole lot better.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
nERD Rank: 39th
ORtg: 108.98, 81st
DRtg: 91.56, 33rd
The Bulldogs are a team that was poised to take home the Conference USA title, gain a berth into the Big Dance and maybe even upset a favorite or two. But like I've said before, an entire season can come down to one bad game. So how did Louisiana Tech make it so far and then fall so fast?
Over the last month and a half of the season, the Bulldogs suffered defeat only twice. When all the dust settled this season, they were tied with Tulsa for the best record in Conference USA while sharing a six-loss season with Southern Miss. When it came to scoring, they followed the mantra of quantity over quality - they were in the top 10 in the nation in field goals, field goals attempted, three-pointers attempted and points. This allowed them to run a fast-paced offense and wear a defense down by sheer numbers. They fueled their offense by also ranking in the top 10 in defensive rebouding, assists and steals.
All of these positive stats were being used to defeat conference opponents in the C-USA tourney by margins of 21 and 18. But then Tulsa finished them off in the Conference USA championship, which sealed their fate as a non-NCAA Tournament team. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, too, is the fact that Tulsa is ranked 45 spots lower in our power rankings than Louisiana Tech.