Before we go any further, let's get one thing out of the way: In this year's bracket, there are no such things as "snubs."
How so? Because this 68-team field wasn't hard to crack. The addition of three spots in the bracket and the First Four first round made this tournament more accessible at the margins. That accessibility was accentuated by the list of mediocre teams that failed to improve their at-large chances throughout February and March. Yours truly wrote the words "soft bubble" far too many times this season, and I hate to wedge them in again, but it's just true: This bubble was soft. Any team left outside the tournament -- not to mention the teams playing in Dayton this week -- won't garner a ton of public sympathy Sunday night.
At least, that's what we thought Sunday afternoon. Surely this year would be free of outrage. Surely the committee wouldn't make us that angry, right?
Wrong. Oh, so wrong. Leave it to Gene Smith and his confusing committee to take the softest bubble in tournament history -- never before have so many 11-, 13-, and 14-loss teams been in the field -- and make us rip our hair out in frustration at one bubble-line omission.
The decisions to include UAB and VCU in the tournament -- two teams most thought were on the outside looking in, especially UAB -- while leaving out the likes of Colorado and Virginia Tech (especially Colorado) are shocking. No, neither the Buffaloes nor the Hokies are overwhelmingly accomplished. But seeding and selection are relative only to this year's field. And in this year's field, Colorado's résumé is blatantly, unarguably better than UAB's. So is, frankly, Virginia Tech's résumé.
Never doubt the selection committee. It always finds a way to up the ante.
In descending order, here are the biggest snubs of the 2011 NCAA tournament, and the evidence both sides -- the committee and that team's aggrieved fans -- might present on their behalf:
Colorado Buffaloes (20-13, 8-8 Big 12; RPI: 66; SOS: 70)
What the committee would say: "Colorado's nonconference schedule ranked No. 331 in the nation. Without the 10 wins Colorado got against sub-150 RPI teams -- which included plenty of sub-200 and sub-300 teams, too -- the Buffaloes would be 10-13 overall. We like to reward teams for going out and playing teams in the nonconference, even if they don't win. We also really like the RPI, and Colorado's was 66. That might make very little sense to you but makes plenty of sense in the logic-free land we call the committee room. Sorry, but we think UAB's better. Why is everyone yelling at us?"
What the fans -- OK, pretty much everyone -- would say: "Are you guys kidding? You put UAB and Clemson in the bracket. Guess how many top-50 wins those teams have combined? Do you know? The answer is zero. Guess how many Colorado has? Six. The Buffaloes beat Kansas State three times and beat Texas once. No, the nonconference schedule wasn't pretty. No, the losses at San Francisco, Oklahoma and Iowa State didn't help Colorado. But when you're looking for a team that can be competitive in the NCAA tournament, wouldn't you prefer one whose best wins came against the best teams in its own conference both in the regular season and in the conference tournament? What about UAB's awful résumé makes you think the Blazers belong more than us? It can't be the eye test. It can't be the wins. It has to be RPI, and if it's RPI, that's not good enough. We all promised ourselves there would be no outrage this year, and you somehow pulled it off. Frankly, we're not even mad. We're sort of impressed. And deeply, deeply confused."
Virginia Tech Hokies (21-11, 9-7 ACC; RPI: 60; SOS: 88)
What the committee would say: "We heard a lot of talk about Virginia Tech 'scheduling up' this season, but it's clear the Hokies were speaking in relative terms. After all, their nonconference strength of schedule figure is a mere 180. Plus, did the Hokies happen to beat any of those teams? With the exception of a win over Penn State, the Hokies spent much of their November and December either (a) beating up on bad teams or (b) losing to good ones (Kansas State, UNLV, Purdue). And yes, that win over Duke was nice, and the buzzer-beater that wasn't in the ACC quarterfinals notched an OK win over Florida State. But the losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia -- who swept the Hokies, by the way -- outweighed those good vibes. This team is simply too inconsistent for us, and that's reflected in its ugly computer rankings."
What fans would say: "You're killing Seth Greenberg, selection committee. You know that, right? You're killing him. Frankly, you're killing us. Last year, we had the most conference wins of an any ACC team to not make the NCAA tournament. Basically, you told us to go out and play a tougher schedule. We did. Now, because we lost at Kansas State, versus UNLV, and to Purdue at home, our nonconference results aren't enough for you. Sure, we dropped a few stinkers in ACC play, but every team does that from time to time. Plus, we beat Duke on Feb. 26. When UAB played Duke on Jan. 5, the Blazers got destroyed by 21 points. But, no, you're right, UAB should be in. Way to go, committee."
Alabama Crimson Tide (21-11, 12-4 in the SEC; RPI: 80; SOS: 136)
What the committee would say: "Alabama had a nice SEC season, sure, but we think that 12-4 conference record has more to do with its status as the SEC West's lone competent team and less to do with any inherent quality on Alabama's part. What's more, every game counts. You can't play one of the worst high-major nonconference schedules in the country -- rank: 294 -- and expect to get the benefit of the doubt unless you easily handle that schedule. Alabama went 9-7 against that slate. It lost to Iowa, Seton Hall and St. Peter's. Its RPI would be one of the worst to ever get in the NCAA tournament. We like the eye test, but it goes only so far, and we can't ignore Bama's ugly resume just because we think Anthony Grant's team 'looks' like it can compete in the tournament."
What fans would say: "Dudes ... we went 12-4 in the SEC! We were 4-4 against the RPI top 50! Sure, we had one bad weekend in November. So what? What about that USC team that got in with six sub-100 losses and three sub-200 losses? Do those not count? And whatever happened to considering how teams played late in the season? (We were 8-4 in our last 12 games, including two wins over Georgia and one at Tennessee, not to mention the royal jobbing we got in an 81-77 loss at Vanderbilt.) For that matter, whatever happened to considering how teams played against their conference? The SEC West was bad, but we didn't get to 12-4 merely by beating Auburn, LSU and Arkansas. We're one of the best defensive teams in the country! If you don't think we're a tournament team, you just haven't been paying attention."
Saint Mary's Gaels (23-8, 11-3 WCC; RPI: 48; SOS: 105)
What the committee would say: "At some point, you have to beat someone. When that 'some point' is in the first game of the season, at home, against a St. John's team that had yet to remotely resemble the Big East contender it now is, excuse us if we don't see why you belong in the NCAA tournament. What's worse, Saint Mary's second-best win -- and its only other wins in the RPI top 100 -- came against Gonzaga and Long Beach State. It may not be fair, but when you play in the WCC, you have to go out and get wins. Saint Mary's didn't do that. Instead, the Gaels got blown out at Vanderbilt and were handled on their own floor by Utah State, and when you throw in a mid-February loss to profile-killer San Diego (RPI: 318!), your 11-3 record in the WCC isn't nearly enough to impress us."
What fans would say: "OK, so 15 of our 23 wins came against teams ranked outside the RPI top 150. Fine. But that's not exactly our fault. It's hard out here for a quality mid-major: We can't get high-majors to schedule home-and-homes, so we're stuck trying to go on the road to places like Vanderbilt. In case you didn't get the memo, committee bros, it's really hard to win on the road in college hoops, especially when you have to travel from Moraga, Calif., to Nashville, Tenn., to do so. Here's a question: If we had beaten BYU in South Padre Island on Nov. 27, you'd have us in, wouldn't you? Well, we lost that game by one point. That's a toss-up. Can't you cut us some slack?"
Boston College Eagles (20-12, 9-7 ACC; RPI: 57; SOS: 40)
What the committee would say: "We have no idea if Boston College can beat anyone worth beating. The Eagles' only notable win came over Texas A&M. Their next best win came at Virginia Tech. Boston College lost to every other top-50 RPI team it played, and that includes a loss to Harvard at home. The Eagles were swept by Clemson. They lost at Rhode Island. And here's the killer: Boston College lost to Yale (yes, Yale) on its home floor (yes, on its home floor). If BC had a fewer less bad losses -- or had looked remotely competent in a blowout loss to Clemson in the ACC tournament this week -- the Eagles might have gotten in. But with a 1-5 record against the RPI top 50 and a 7-11 record versus the RPI top 100, we couldn't confidently say this team could compete with NCAA tournament-level teams. Sorry."
What fans would say: "OK, you're right. We didn't beat anybody good. We get it. But we did beat a lot of teams that at least qualify as 'pretty good'; unlike some of your selections, we didn't pack our schedule with sub-150 RPI wins. Plus, it's not our fault that Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Indiana are so unusually bad. If those teams are even halfway decent, our already solid strength of schedule and list of top 150-RPI wins looks just fine."
Two honorable mentions: Harvard Crimson (top-40 RPI, neutral/road wins over BC and Colorado, only one bad loss, mere seconds from the Ivy League's auto-bid); Missouri State Bears (Missouri Valley regular-season champions that went to the MVC final). Harvard, like most of the teams on this list, could make an argument that its resume is legitimately better than UAB's. At least the Crimson beat somebody. And if UAB is in, why isn't Missouri State? Why are those two résumés different?