Like that, it’s official.
Middle Tennessee and Saint Mary’s were left out of the selection committee’s final bracket, and now must settle for a trip to the NIT despite excellent seasons. Here’s why each team deserved a shot in college basketball’s main event.
Middle Tennessee (24-7, 16-2)
The Blue Raiders simply didn’t have the Quadrant 1 numbers (with a 2-3 record) that the committee values, and must sit out their first NCAA Tournament since 2014-15.
That may be the country — and the field’s — loss. MT was the class of CUSA, racking up a 16-2 record and finishing with the league’s most efficient defense (31st nationally) and third-most efficient offense per KenPom. That balanced, dominance — led by Giddy Potts and Nick King — meant winning streaks of five, five and 11 games at various points throughout the year, as well as a 12-1 record in true road games.
Shouldn’t that kind of consistent, season-long success get a team from a decent league into the tournament? Their Quadrant 1 performance was the same as tournament-safe Nevada, and it’s not as if Kermit Davis ran from tough games. Wins against Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and even FGCU (twice) ended up being not as impressive as it might’ve seemed when the games were planned.
And while polls theoretically don’t matter and the methodology behind certain voters may be inconsistent (looking at you John Feinstein), the Blue Raiders are just a few weeks removed from being considered the 24th best team in the country according to the Associated Press. A consensus of voters, at the very least, though MT’s body of work put them into the upper echelon of college basketball. A team like that, with its recent history of success and proven roster, doesn’t look right not playing with the NCAA logo on its jersey.
Saint Mary’s (28-5, 16-2)
Ranked for a good portion of the season, Saint Mary’s underwhelming non-conference schedule and WCC Tournament loss to a team that wasn’t Gonzaga ultimately doomed the Gaels.
The problem, however, is that it seems clear to many that Saint Mary’s should be given a chance to prove it in the NCAA Tournament. They’ve got the 11th-best offensive efficiency per KenPom, though admittedly their defensive (119th) is a far cry from the 26th-ranked mark last year’s at-large team had.
Nonetheless, the Gaels had one of the country’s most impressive wins at Gonzaga, and for the most part took care of business against teams they should beat. Their Quadrant 4 record was perfect (14-0), and the Gaels were 10-2 against Quadrant 3 and 2-2 against Quadrant 2. While there are some bad losses in there — Washington State (neutral) and at San Francisco) — a team like Cincinnati (17-0 against Quadrants 3 and 4) soared to a high seed in part by merely taking care of business.
It’s hard to feel that sorry for Saint Mary’s, as Randy Bennett knew he had a great team and still put together a California-centric, poor non-conference slate. But the Gaels proved they belonged last year by knocking off VCU and then pushing Arizona in the second round. It’s not hard to see Jock Landale and this team, albeit a slightly weaker version, doing the same had it been given a chance.