Another year, another verdict from the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee on the 2023 field of 68. It generally hit the mark, but it also left plenty of room for nitpicking among those of us who otherwise need to get a life. Here’s what it got right, and what it did not:
HIT: Kudos to the committee for working through Sunday afternoon and giving Alabama the No. 1 overall seed. This was a relatively easy call after both Kansas and Houston went down hard in their respective conference championship games. Although no real advantage is gained over the other 1-seeds — the Crimson Tide were always on a Birmingham/Louisville path — it’s a big deal to sit at the very top of a bracket representing 363 Division I teams.
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MISS: No offense to Houston, which might very well be my pick to win it all, but Kansas should be at the top of the Midwest Region with a Des Moines/Kansas City path. Why have a quadrant system if we’re going to ship a team out of its natural region after posting the most Quadrant 1 wins (17) ever? On the other hand, I hear Las Vegas is pretty excited about hosting its first NCAA tournament, and the Jayhawks’ huge fan base figures to have a great time.
HIT: The committee got at least 67 of the teams right. It couldn’t have been easy leaving out the likes of Oklahoma State, Clemson and Vanderbilt after all three posted big wins down the stretch — not to mention North Carolina, which got more debate time than any mediocre team in history. We’ll know more after further study, but at first glance it appears the various selection criteria were applied consistently across the board.
MISS: I need to spend more time on the exclusion of Rutgers, which was my only miss, in place of Nevada. I’m fine with Nevada’s selection, but I’m pretty sure Rutgers would not have been my choice in that case. The Scarlet Knights were the best of my First Four teams — ahead of Pitt, NC State and Arizona State — and had the best win (at Purdue) of any team that will be in the NIT.
HIT: I am again happy to identify a decline in major conference bias. This year, Nevada gets in ahead of Rutgers. Last year, it was Wyoming over Texas A&M. The year before that, Wichita State nipped Louisville for the final spot. This is good for both the health of the sport overall and certainly interest in the early rounds. It also is supported by overwhelming data that the teams I’ve taken to calling “middling” majors generally perform poorly in the tournament.
MISS: We’ll never know what would have happened if the likes of Florida Atlantic, Charleston or Oral Roberts had not captured their respective automatic bids. The selection process has rarely been kind to true mid-majors. As it stands, 31 of 36 at-large bids went to power conference schools.
HIT: The committee also avoided the long-held practice of underseeding non-power-conference schools. Saint Mary’s is a 5-seed for the second year in a row, and the Mountain West got three at-large bids for the second straight year. Although it has its detractors, the NET ranking system has generally worked as intended.
MISS: The committee did 7-seed Texas A&M no favors. The Aggies were clearly a line or two better than that. Then again, we said last year that A&M’s public temper tantrum over its exclusion from the field was a very bad idea. Committee members are human, after all, perhaps with long memories.
For the rest of us, memories await. And I can’t wait. Happy hoops!