SMU coach Tim Jankovich was sick to his stomach after watching Selection Sunday with his players. The Mustangs didn’t hear their name called as one of the 68 men’s NCAA Tournament teams by Greg Gumbel – sending a gust of disenchantment through the room.
“I saw a group of guys completely devastated and heartbroken,” Jankovich told USA TODAY Sports. “My heart totally goes out to them. There’s no magic words you can say when someone is as hurt as they were.
“In my eyes, they’re 100% an NCAA tournament team. I hope they don’t let what a small committee of others believes change how they feel about themselves. I know that doesn’t bring them the opportunity (to play in March Madness), but there are many things in life that are incredibly unfair. This will happen. You have to be strong and positive to get through it.”
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After a semifinal loss to Memphis in the American Athletic tournament, SMU became one of the most notable bubble teams as one of the “first four out” or “last four in” on bracketology boards. Jankovich said he didn’t mention the bubble directly to his players in the last several weeks but told them, “we’re in Game 7 every night.” He felt they responded and said he was praying for great news.
That great news never came for the Mustangs on Selection Sunday, as the selection committee felt otherwise and deemed SMU as the third team out of the field. It’s the cold reality for a worthy program that was on the cusp of squeezing into the field of 68.
“I certainly know the committee has a hard job to do, there’s no ill will I have,” said Jankovich, the Mustangs’ seven-year coach who has experienced the dark side of the bubble with SMU and in his previous job as head coach at mid-major Illinois State. “I would never want to be pointing at a team and say they shouldn’t be in. I only look at it from the perspective of, ‘do we deserve to be in?’ And I can’t come to grips with any other answer than yes. It’s devastating news you have to swallow no matter how strongly you disagree.”
A look at the seven most notable snubs for this year’s NCAA Tournament, including SMU.
The Mustangs (23-8, 13-4 AAC) beat Memphis twice in the regular season but needed to beat the Tigers a third time in the American Athletic tournament to secure an at-large bid. They didn’t and bowed out in the AAC semis. SMU had a lot to like on its profile, starting with a signature win over Houston and a NET score in the 40s. But just two Quadrant 1 wins overall, a Quadrant 4 loss and a non-conference strength of schedule in the 200s proved costly.
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The Aggies (23-11, 9-9 SEC) came out of nowhere to shake up the at-large bid equation with their showing in the SEC tournament – where they ousted Auburn and Arkansas on their way to the title game before bowing out to Tennessee on Sunday. Texas A&M won seven consecutive games, which seemingly would’ve offset an eight-game losing streak in January and February. Coach Buzz Williams’ team had four impressive Quadrant 1 wins. It’s almost as if the committee made its picks and neglected the SEC tournament.
The Sooners (18-15, 7-11 Big 12) played their way into contention by upsetting Baylor in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals. But coach Porter Moser’s group was judged on its wins and losses all season, not just the home stretch. And Oklahoma’s rough January – losing seven games, including four in a row – was undoubtedly hard for the committee to ignore. A non-conference strength of schedule in the 200s also didn’t do OU any favors.
The Flyers (23-10, 14-4 Atlantic 10) needed to win in the A-10 semifinals vs. Richmond to secure an at-large bid but came up short, and that was the difference-maker. Dayton had three Quadrant 1 victories that essentially were washed out by three Quadrant 4 losses – stains the committee couldn’t ignore. All the rest of the team’s credentials were pedestrian outside of a November win over Kansas.
The Musketeers (18-13, 8-11 Big East) knew the selection committee wouldn’t focus on recent losing streaks but instead examine the entire body of work. But there still wasn’t enough to garner inclusion. Relatively safe seeding-wise a few weeks ago, Xavier lost six of its last seven to fall to the danger zone on the bubble. There were five Quadrant 1 wins on Xavier’s profile, no bad losses, a top-10 strength of schedule and NET in the 40s – all positive credentials. Low win total was the key problem. The Musketeers needed one more W to avoid getting snubbed.
The Cougars (22-10, 9-6 West Coast Conference) had been sweating more than just about any bubble team, watching others leapfrog them after they bowed out of the WCC tournament a week ago. BYU showcased an impressive four Quadrant 1 wins, which speaks to the strength of the WCC this season, but one Quadrant 4 loss and a so-so NET score in the 50s worked against this team.
At first glance, the Demon Deacons’ credentials (23-9, 13-7 ACC) look solid. But upon closer inspection, Wake Forest showcased one Quadrant 1 victory and had one of the worst non-conference strength of schedules in the country – ranking 345th. Wake Forest’s loss to Boston College in the ACC tournament quarterfinals likely cost this group its at-large bid.
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.