Which First Four Out Teams Deserved to Make the NCAA Tournament?
It seems as if ever year in college basketball, there are at least one or two teams left out of the NCAA Tournament that deserved to be included.
This year was no different.
The selection committee threw us a number of curveballs on Sunday. Let's try to break down those puzzling decisions below.
Monmouth (27-7, 17-3 in MAAC play)
Let's get one thing straight off the top: anyone who says Monmouth deserved to make the tournament solely because it's fun to watch "Bench Mob" is wrong. We all know the committee shouldn't pick teams based off entertainment factor, but rather who deserves it the most.
The Hawks deserved it.
Like a mid-major must do, they scheduled (and beat) power conference teams on the road like UCLA, Georgetown, and Rutgers. Sure, those teams ended up having less-than-spectacular seasons. Fair enough. But they also went out and beat tournament teams like Notre Dame, USC, and Iona, and challenged themselves by only playing one home game for the entirety of November and December.
Needless to say, King Rice's team had a résumé that most mid-major teams can only dream about. And yet the committee decided to leave them out of the field on Sunday afternoon. Monmouth had an RPI higher than Michigan, Tulsa, and Syracuse, and also had a better record against the RPI Top 100 than those three teams. The only possible reason for leaving them out would be due to their three losses to teams ranked below 200 in the RPI, but that will come with the territory when you're playing 19 of those opponents each season. It's borderline impossible for Monmouth to win each and every one of those games, and the committee's message came through loud and clear that it will be nearly impossible for a team like the Hawks to make the tournament in future seasons.
South Carolina (24-8, 11-7 in SEC play)
A team with a little shakier (albeit, still solid) résumé who should've gotten in is South Carolina. It started the season with 17 victories in its first 18 games, posting wins against Tulsa and Vanderbilt along the way. It should be noted, both the Golden Hurricane and Commodores were on the committee's list of "Last Four In", while the Gamecocks were among the "First Four Out".
The team hit a bit of a rough patch in February but still managed to beat Texas A&M and LSU in back-to-back games. They finished ranked 33rd in strength of schedule -- the best of any team left out of the tournament.
South Carolina may not have been the most deserving team ever, but the Gamecocks deserved to be in over a team like Syracuse, Tulsa, or Vanderbilt. They are currently ranked 41st in our nERD power rankings, ahead of multiple seven and eight seeds (not to mention a few 10 and 11's). Their exclusion from the field wasn't as erroneous as Monmouth's, but Frank Martin's bunch does have a legitimate gripe.