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NCAA Tournament Snubs

by Matthew Stevens | March 13th, 2006

Andy Kennedy sat down with his players to watch the selection show Sunday evening and had a scheduled meeting with his assistants immediately afterward to begin the process of gameplanning for its first round matchup. Then he waited, and waited and waited some more.Once Cincinnati never appeared on the board but mid-major schools like George Mason and Air Force were shown dancing literally and figuratively, Kennedy was forced to scratch his head and angrily accept a top seed in the NIT.

“Sitting there today, I was 99.9 percent sure simply because I’m one of those guys that put a lot of thought to the process by which they say they use, which again is obviously rhetoric,” Kennedy said.

Virginia Athletic Director and Selection Committee Chair Craig Littlepage made what could be considered an inconsistent precedent for future committees in March when evaluating mod-major schools.

“When we looked at certain schools numerically and in groups, one of things we asked everyone was ‘who is a team that you wouldn’t want to play’ and Air Force kept coming up first in conversation,” Littlepage said. “They played a solid non-conference schedule by playing Washington and playing two schools from my conference (the ACC).”

Essentially, Littlepage admitted in that radio interview that style of play is subjectively part of the criteria for how a school makes the NCAA Tournament. This form of logic led ESPN college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb to throw out a conspiracy theory taking place inside in the conference room at the Indianapolis Westin.

“I can say Air Force, Utah State and George Mason being in is ridiculous and Tennessee getting a 2-seed doesn’t make sense,” Gottlieb said. “So then, you have to look at the committee and ask how did that happen?”

Kennedy, the interim coach with the Bearcats, arguably took the tournament snub by the committee the hardest of any of the schools left out of the dance. Kennedy stated his frustration that it’s possible the committee led by Littlepage had changed its criteria for at-large selections for the 2005-2006 season.

“Devastated. Completely devastated,” he said. “If you put the numbers up there, it just does not make sense. I would say that never in history of determining teams that get included in the NCAA tournament, a team with the strength of schedule at No. 6 as we sit here today, with a non-league schedule of 23 as we sit here today, and has gone 8-8 in the most powerful league has had to deal with what we’ve had to deal with.”

Kennedy was able to reflect on Cincinnati’s season and predicted that Syracuse’s run through the Big East Conference Tournament killed the Bearcats tournament hopes in the eyes of the committee.

“Granted, if we can hold (Gerry) McNamara for six seconds, we’re not in this position,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s our fault – we didn’t get enough done. I take full responsibility for that.”

The Bearcats (18-12, 8-8) won five games against teams selected to the tournament including a neutral site win over LSU, a road win at Marquette and 17-point road win at Syracuse but double-digit losses at Louisville, Pittsburgh and Seton Hall hurt Cincinnati’s resume.

“You could make the argument that Cincinnati was up and down coming down the stretch but at least Andy Kennedy had enough guts to play teams in [his] non-conference slate,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb believes after talking with several coaches that members of the committee decided to pick schools looking less at its tournament resume and more to do with keeping its regional population happy when they left the room.

“When a school that is related to a specific member, they’re supposed to leave the room but c’mon,” Gottlieb said. “Let’s see, George Mason is in because their AD is on the committee, Air Force is in because Chris Hill is the AD of Utah and Utah State is in because Karl Benson is in charge of making WAC fans happy.”

Gottlieb believes that this provides evidence to a cohesion charge of this season’s committee.

“At some level, when you have these ties it is so easy to make the ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ situation,” Gottlieb said. “Why does George Washington have to play two road games in Greensboro (UNC-Wilmington, Duke) when they only lost two games? When you look at the overall resume of Utah State, they won 24 games two years ago and didn’t get in. Why? Because they didn’t play anybody and guess what, they didn’t play anybody this year either.”

Maryland coach Gary Williams was excited to see Wisconsin and Arizona in the field because he figured that his Terrapins would be getting a bid but will be regulated to a second consecutive NIT berth.

“Interesting. What makes them better than us? I don’t know,” Williams said. “For whatever reason, our 19-12 wasn’t as good as Arizona’s record or Wisconsin’s record.”

The athletic department at Hofstra is trying to figure out how to make the field of 65 because they can’t understand how/why they were left out of the Dance. Hofstra won 14 of its last 16 games and beat George Mason twice, including in the conference semifinals.

“I need someone to explain this process to me,” Hofstra coach Tom Pecora said. “I thought we did enough to get our RPI to the right level [for the NCAA], we reached the conference championship game. Obviously, how you finish the season is not that important.”

One could make the arg ument that unless the NCAA Tournament became like the local high school state tournament where all 312 schools make the field (which will never happen) some school could make the argument but coaches, analyst and fans seem to be calling for more explanation on how the selections are made because with a more in-depth look at the pairings, it becomes clearer that Littlepage and company changed the process this season.

“If your job is taking the 34 best at large teams, how does Cincinnati get left out?” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said. “Those kids got a raw deal, no doubt about it.”

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