Considering six teams were ranked No. 1 in the country at some point this season, the NCAA Tournament figures to be one of the most wide-open in history. But “bubble” teams, such as upstart Monmouth, that were left out can’t help but feel the 68-team field remains closed to seemingly deserving mid-major teams.
Current No. 1-ranked Kansas (South) was the top-seeded team in the entire tournament field revealed by the Selection Committee Sunday night ahead of the next three top regional seeds North Carolina (East), Virginia (Midwest) and Oregon (West). Their combined 23 losses are the most ever for the top seeds.
It was the first time Pac-12 champion Oregon ever received a No. 1 seed, but the big surprise was ACC Tournament runnerup Virginia being placed on the top line ahead of Big Ten tournament champion Michigan State.
Selection committee chairman Joe Castiglione noted Virginia had the No. 2 strength of schedule, was No. 3 in the RPI ratings and lost by a close margin to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. “A lot of our committee felt good about [Virginia] as a possible No. 1 seed and felt like even the loss in that tournament championship didn’t change their minds all that much,” Castiglione said.
There were celebrations all over the New York metropolitan area when first-round pairings were revealed. Stony Brook’s long-awaited first NCAA berth brought a formidable challenge when the 13th-seeded Seawolves (26-6) were matched against fourth-seeded SEC champion Kentucky in a first-round East Regional game Thursday night in Des Moines, Iowa.
Kentucky coach John Calipari tweeted about Stony Brook’s America East championship win over Vermont, writing: “I watched Stony Brook play that game. They’re good.”
Big East tournament champion Seton Hall (25-8) drew a tough matchup as a sixth seed against West Coast Conference tourney champion Gonzaga (26-7) in a Midwest Regional game Thursday night in Denver. MAAC tournament champion Iona (22-10), which upset regular-season champ Monmouth (27-7), was placed as a 13th seed in a Midwest Regional game in Denver against Iowa State (21-11) of the Big 12.
Earlier this season, Castiglione said the committee would consider Monmouth even if it lost its conference tournament because it pulled road or neutral-site upsets over eventual NCAA teams, Notre Dame and USC as well as major conference schools UCLA, Georgetown and Rutgers.
“We recognize teams like Monmouth have a hard time trying to get games outside their conference, and they did a good job. They did exactly what you would want a team like that to do, but it’s those three losses [to Manhattan, Army and Canisius] over the 200 RPI line that really hurt them. I will say Monmouth was right there in that final discussion.”
Monmouth released a statement from coach King Rice, who said: “We are disappointed that we were not selected, but are excited to continue our season as part of the National Invitation Tournament.”
The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 each received seven bids, meaning that 24 of the 36 at-large bids went to schools from those four major conferences. The Big East was next with five bids, including second-seeded Villanova, which will meet North Carolina-Asheville in a first-round game Thursday at Barclays Center, second-seeded Xavier, and ninth seeds Providence and Butler in addition to Seton Hall. Included in the eight-team field in Brooklyn are West Virginia, Notre Dame and Temple.
Possibly the most controversial selection was Syracuse (19-13), which tied for ninth in the ACC. The Orange were 71st in the RPI rankings, while higher-ranked regular-season mid-major champions were omitted, including St. Bonaventure (30), St. Mary’s (37), San Diego State (39), Valparaiso (49), Monmouth (53) and Hofstra (54).
Castiglione cited five top-50 wins by Syracuse as justification and added, “When those No. 1 seeded teams lost [in conference tournaments], the bubble got smaller, and we had to leave them out.”
The NCAA show also will go on without LSU freshman star Ben Simmons who might have played his last college game. Coach Johnny Jones announced the Tigers would not play in the NIT.
Leagues receiving multiple bids to the NCAA Tournament:
Pac-12 — 7
Big 12 — 7
Big Ten — 7
ACC — 7
Big East — 5
American Athletic — 4
SEC — 3
Atlantic 10 — 3
Missouri Valley — 2