The 6 Best Teams Left Out of the NCAA Tournament
There's subjectivity involved in choosing the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament. And because of that, there are snubs. All the time. Every year.
That was no different this year.
As we all know, teams make or miss the tournament based on their overall résumés and body of work. Hence the subjectivity -- who's to say one particular résumé is truly better than another?
That's why we use math.
Our nERD metric takes in all sorts of variables and spits out a clean number that represents the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average one on a neutral court. If a team has a nERD of 14.56, we'd expect that team to beat an average one by close to 15 points. If it's -5.67, then they're below average.
nERD is résumé-indifferent. Kind of. It doesn't necessarily care what a team's record is, but opponents and margin of victory matters.
So, with that being said, we're not necessarily looking at tournament snubs here. We're looking at the best (eligible) teams -- according to nERD -- that were left out of the NCAA Tournament.
It just so happens that a lot of these teams were, in fact, snubs.
6. Florida State
It was known that Florida State wouldn't be among the 68 teams dancing this March, but hold your head high, Seminole fans -- your squad was still pretty nERDy this year.
Florida State finished with a 19-13 record, losing to teams like Hofstra, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. They went 8-10 in the ACC, so making the tournament was never really going to happen.
Why their high (46th) nERD ranking? Well, they actually finished the year with the 45th best Net Rating in college basketball, with a near top-40 Adjusted Offensive Rating. They also had a big win against 1-seeded Virginia and beat Notre Dame by 21 points. That'll certainly help.
Creighton ended the year with an 18-14 record, finishing sixth in the Big East. All five teams ahead of them in the Big East standings, though, ended up making the NCAA Tournament.
A big reason for Creighton's 9.88 nERD -- a rating that placed them two spots higher than Florida State in our power rankings -- was that their bad losses to average or bad teams were close games. They lost to Arizona State by 2, Loyola by 3, Marquette by 5, and Georgetown by 1. Every other loss came against the tough Big East teams or other NCAA Tournament squads.
Had Creighton won some of those winnable contests, perhaps they'd be dancing today.
Alright, now we're talking.
Valpo, to many, was a big snub on Selection Sunday, as they finished the season with 26 wins. We're not disagreeing -- Valparaiso finished with a 10.18 nERD, which was higher than more than 10 teams in the tournament.
The team's six losses came to an eventual NCAA Tournament 1 seed (Oregon, by 6), Ball State (by 3), Belmont (by 4), Green Bay (in overtime) and Wright State twice (perhaps a matchup issue?).
Essentially, every loss Valpo took was a close one, and they ended up winning 26 games. It's tough seeing them outside the tournament, especially considering their Adjusted Defensive Rating this year ranks in the top 20 in the country -- strong defense is always a good thing for teams trying to make a Cinderella run.
3. South Carolina
Another one of the first-four-teams-out squads was South Carolina, and like Valparaiso, we saw them as pretty deserving.
South Carolina finished one spot ahead of Valparaiso in our regular season nERD rankings this year and went 11-7 in the SEC, finishing third.
The biggest reason South Carolina didn't make the tournament was because they had just one top-50 win. And, if we're being honest, their schedule wasn't all that tough, ranking 120th in the country according to our numbers.
But they were still a good squad, finishing in the top 50 in Net Rating with a 27th-ranked Adjusted Defensive Rating. The résumé just wasn't there.
2. Saint Mary's
Perhaps the biggest snub of all was with Saint Mary's, who lost to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference Championship, which ended up booting them out of the big dance.
Saint Mary's, though, had an 11.38 nERD this season, which was better than teams like Butler and Notre Dame. They went 27-5, with only three of those losses coming against non-tournament teams. And two of them came against Pepperdine, which could easily have been matchup-related.
It's true that they didn't play a tough schedule -- 145th hardest one according to our numbers -- but a conference championship loss to Gonzaga shouldn't overshadow the 27 wins they fought for elsewhere this season.
The Gators went 9-9 in a fairly weak conference this year and finished the year 19-14. They were considered by some to be on the bubble heading into Selection Sunday, but many didn't consider them.
So how are they the best team not dancing this year?
Well, first off, let me tell you that their 11.44 nERD is currently 33rd best in the country, just behind Pitt, who enters the tournament as a 10 seed. And according to their Net Rating, only 34 teams are better.
The unfortunate part is that Florida took some bad losses -- and did so during the worst time possible. They fell to Tennessee and Alabama earlier in the year and then lost five of their final seven games. That's not going to give you love from the Selection Committee.