We've Got Beef: Critiquing The NCAA Tourney Sneak Peek

On Sunday, the NCAA Selection Committee released its sneak peek of the current top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament. While the usefulness of and motivation for this are questionable, it’s something we have to take a look at. And let’s just say there were a few things we found…curious. Let’s work our way through it.

We’ll start with the most shocking part of the mini bracket…

What the hell are Oklahoma and Arizona doing anywhere near the top 16?

The inclusion of Oklahoma and Arizona as four seeds is enough to make you question if the committee has spent any time actually watching basketball recently. The Sooners have lost six of their last eight games, while Arizona has lost two of three. Okay, but this is a season-long evaluation, so maybe shaking off the recency bias and taking a deeper dive will support the committee’s rationale.

Or not.

We'll start with Oklahoma. The Sooners have an overall record 16-8. They are ranked 21 in RPI, 31 in BPI, and 31 in KenPom. Oklahoma is 6-5 against the RPI top-50. None of those numbers warrant Oklahoma being anywhere near a four seed. A six is more realistic, and it would be hard to argue if they ended up a seven or even an eight. Trae Young is fantastic, and the Sooners are a ton of fun to watch but looking at their current body of work and giving them a four seed is laughable.

What about Arizona? The Wildcats currently sit at 20-6. They were embarrassed in the Battle 4 Atlantis, going winless and plummeting from No. 2 in the country right out of the top 25. While they steadied themselves since, they own bad losses to Colorado and Washington. Like Oklahoma, the computers indicate a team unworthy of a four seed. The Wildcats are 19 in RPI, 21 in BPI and 24 in KenPom. Arizona is crazy talented and has the potential to make noise come March, but this team is currently a five or six seed.

There are at least a handful of teams more worthy of a spot in the top 16.

Which brings us to our next point of contention…

Where’s Gonzaga?

The ‘Zags fell from favor nationally after falling in their two most high-profile matchups of the season against Florida and Villanova. But the Bulldogs have a 23-4 record and hold solid wins over Ohio State, Texas, Creighton, and St. Mary’s.

Where's the love for Gonzaga? (Gonzaga Bulletin Archives)

The RPI doesn’t like the Bulldogs, slotting them in a tie for 40th. However, Gonzaga checks in at 7 in KenPom and 8 in BPI. You would think that Gonzaga’s big win over St. Mary’s on Saturday night might bring some attention, but apparently not. The Bulldogs’ resume speaks for itself, and it’s pretty clear to see that they are more qualified than both Oklahoma and Arizona.

Overlooked in all of this is the ripple effect it has on the rest of the tournament. When the committee messes up its seedings, higher seeds end up getting more difficult games sooner than they should. Similarly, other teams get pushed to lower seeds, netting them questionable opening-weekend matchups. We’ve seen this recently with teams like Wichita State and Wisconsin getting under-seeded, creating ridiculous early matchups for both them and their opponents. Much of the focus on Selection Sunday is on who did or didn’t get in, but with each seeding mistake the committee makes the entire balance of the tournament is further thrown off.

Let’s move to the, "upon further review" section.

Purdue as a 1, Michigan State as a 3

This is one that warranted a double-take at first sight but looks less egregious after some digging around. Recency bias plays a role here, as Michigan State just beat Purdue on Saturday. With the Spartans being a mainstay in the top-5 all season long and notching a head-to-head win just days ago, it was jarring to see the disparity between the two teams. The fact that Purdue has just lost two-straight games doesn’t help either.

But the computers love Purdue, as the Boilermakers check in at 12 in RPI, 2 in BPI, and 4 in KenPom. They are 5-3 against the RPI top-50 and 8-3 against the KenPom top-50. While the Boilermakers have hit a bump in the road, they’ve been solid all season long and a deeper dive proves them worthy of a one seed at this point in the season.

My initial reaction towards Michigan State's seeding was that the Spartans had just earned a spot on the one-line with the Purdue win, but I’ve backed off that after a more in-depth look. Michigan State has decent computer numbers (14 RPI, 6 BPI, 6 KenPom) but are just 2-3 against the RPI top-50. It also has the fewest Quad 1 and Quad 1 + Quad 2 wins of any team vying for a top seed.

However, in addition to Michigan State being a top-5 team all season long, it is one of only two teams who have flirted with being top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency by KenPom all year (interestingly, the other is Purdue). Despite an early-January hiccup, the Spartans have been among the most consistent teams in the nation. They also happened to be ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and No. 1 in the Coaches poll.

I’m comfortable with the committee’s decision to put Purdue on the one-line, but Michigan State has done enough to be a two seed at this point.

Okay, I’ve spent a lot of time picking apart the committee’s work, and it’s only fair I subject myself to the same critiques. So, here’s what my top 16 seeds would look like as of today.


Virginia, Duke, Texas Tech, Rhode Island


Villanova, Cincy, North Carolina, Ohio State


Xavier, Auburn, Clemson, Tennessee


Purdue, Michigan State, Kansas, Gonzaga

The whole exercise of releasing a top 16 is kind of ridiculous. There’s still several weeks of the regular season to go, plus the conference tournaments. It’s likely that there will be a ton of movement, especially among the 9-16 spots. The whole thing is obviously an attempt to generate buzz (which is smart), and you have to wonder if some of the selections were an effort to increase that buzz. Regardless, we’d be remiss if we didn’t address it. If this release is a true representation of the committee’s current thinking, there is some real cause for concern about what will transpire on Selection Sunday.

We’re set up for a crazy finish to a crazy season, so make sure to stay with TSFJ for all the college hoops happenings.



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