Drake coach Darian DeVries said there was no way for his team to avoid the anxiety of the past week. The Bulldogs were one of the NCAA Tournament bubble teams watching conference tournaments after losing to Loyola-Chicago in the Missouri Valley Tournament final a week ago. At the start of the week, their at-large bid was safe. By the end of it, it was set to go down to the wire.
“We decided that the best way to approach Selection Sunday is to be cautiously optimistic leading up to it,” DeVries told USA TODAY Sports. “After a year with postponements and uncertainty because of COVID-19, playing back-to-back games in conference play, there’s just a lot you cannot control. In some ways, that prepared us for our postseason (fate) being in the selection committee’s hands.”
That optimism paid off for Drake, which sneaked into the field of 68 as one of the last teams in – securing a No. 11 seed in a play-in game Thursday against Wichita State. A high win count and NET score in the 40s helped offset a non-conference strength of schedule in the 300s and just one Quadrant 1 victory for the mid-major.
The Bulldogs (25-4, 15-3) watched as other bubble teams passed them, but the ones that didn’t are now left depleted.
There is a slight chance the “first four” teams out could be called upon this year, though, taking special precedence. Under COVID-19 protocols, the 69th, 70th, 71st and 72nd teams will act as stand-by replacements for the tournament. They’d have up until Tuesday to become an alternate if one of the 68 teams cannot meet NCAA requirements in Indianapolis. After that, the bracket is locked.
A look at the seven biggest snubs from the field of 68 on Selection Sunday:
CAPSULES: West | Midwest | South | East
The Cardinals’ omission is the biggest snub of this year’s NCAA Tournament. Coach Chris Mack’s team was left out of the field, while ACC rival Syracuse squeezed in. The committee likely noticed Louisville’s one Quadrant 1 victory and NET score in the high 50s. The Cardinals (13-7, 8-5) had a game against Virginia Tech canceled on March 3 and then lost to Duke in the second round of the ACC Tournament. Considering how close it was, one loss or, this year, one cancellation proved to be the difference-maker.
The Rams (18-6, 14-4 Mountain West) lost to fellow bubble team Utah State in the MWC tournament semifinals, and that’s an outcome the committee maybe saw as a de facto elimination game, as Utah State got into the field instead. Colorado State has a NET score in the 50s and one of its two Quadrant 1 wins came against San Diego State, the regular-season and tournament champion in the Mountain West. But it wasn’t enough as the committee left out two worthy Mountain West teams.
The Billikens, similar to Drake, had been watching all week while power conference bubble teams vied for at-large bids. Saint Louis (14-6, 6-4 Atlantic 10) was ousted last week in the Atlantic 10 Tournament by tourney team Saint Bonaventure. It was a close call for the committee when examining Saint Louis’ credentials, but ultimately, the Billikens posted only two Quadrant 1 wins and their non-conference strength of schedule of 245 offset a NET score in the 40s. The team had multiple stoppages due to COVID-19, but the committee could only allow for some leniency in this area.
The Rebels (16-11, 10-8) barely lost to LSU in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals and that was the difference. Ole Miss’ NET score in the 50s was paired with three Quadrant 1 victories. But the issues included a non-conference strength of schedule in the mid-200s and not enough wins.
The Blue Devils (13-11, 9-9 ACC) announced they’d be opting out of the postseason after a positive COVID-19 test kept them from playing Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals, effectively ending their pursuit for the league’s automatic bid and blocking their pathway for an at-large bid pathway. But due to this year’s need for replacement teams, Duke re-entered the mix as a possible consideration. As of Selection Sunday, the committee doesn’t have them close. A NET score of 49 and two Quadrant 1 victories are unimpressive, but mostly this team loses a blind résumé test because of its low win count.
The Broncos (18-8, 14-6 Mountain West) had an interesting case for an at-large bid. Despite only two Quadrant 1 wins and a NET score in the 50s, Boise State owned the second-best non-conference strength of schedule in the country. One red flag for the selection committee, though, was a Quadrant 4 loss to Fresno State that stained Boise State’s résumé. Despite losing its last four games, including in the MWC quarterfinals to Nevada, Boise State had fared well against other bubble teams in its conference, splitting with Colorado State and beating Utah State twice.
The Tigers narrowly lost to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals and it cost them because their profile was missing a Quadrant 1 win. A NET score in the 50s and non-conference strength of schedule near the 200s offset coach Penny Hardaway’s group that surged at the end of the season – winning seven of their last nine and only losing to No. 2 seed Houston. Memphis’ overall body of work just wasn’t there based on how it fared earlier in the season.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.