USM, La. Tech deserved NCAA Tournament bids
Clearly, Southern Miss deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament.
So did Louisiana Tech.
Clearly, also, Conference USA has about as much pull with the NCAA Selection committee as I have with the people who pick Nobel Prizes. Zero. None. Nada. Null set. Such is life in the NCAA where the rich get filthy rich and the poor finish 35-0 and get Kentucky in the second round.
USM will take a 29-6 record to Minnesota to play Tuesday night in the quarterfinals of the NIT, an absurdity. At the very least, USM should be hosting Minnesota, just as the Eagles should have hosted Missouri Sunday instead of having to become the first non-conference team to win on Mizzou’s home court in nine years. USM did just that, helping to prove my point.
The victory over Missouri was USM’s 10th true road victory of the season. That doesn’t count winning on UTEP’s home floor in the Conference USA Tournament. I do not know how many teams in the country have that many road victories, but it is not many. I guarantee you that.
For the second straight season, USM had the highest RPI of any team left out of the NCAA Tournament. That RPI moved to No. 28 in the nation after Sunday’s victory. All 27 ahead of the Golden Eagles are in the NCAA Tournament. The next 14 below them are also in the NCAA Tournament.
If you ask the NCAA selection committee why this is, they will tell you it is because USM did not play a strong enough schedule.
The fallacy of that: USM played as strong a non-conference schedule as it could.
Here’s a fact: You cannot play teams that will not play you.
USM coaches tried to schedule anyone and everyone. Nobody from a power league will come to Hattiesburg, so USM offered to play the power league teams on the road. You can count the number of teams that accepted the challenge on one finger.
So USM played at North Dakota State, at Morehead State at DePaul and at Rhode Island. Those aren’t power conference schools but they are tradition-rich basketball schools who can usually play. The Golden Eagles won all those places, difficult places.
Fellow CUSA member Louisiana Tech, which eliminated USM in the semifinals of the league tournament, has also won 29 games and was relegated to the NIT. Coached by former Ole Miss standout Michael White, the Bulldogs also had to win their second round game on the road against an SEC team, Georgia. Just as USM, Tech is deep, talented and well-coached. And, as with USM, few power conference schools want any part of Tech. Oklahoma, a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, played Tech at home and lost. (Oklahoma played North Dakota State in the NCAA first round and lost.)
• UTEP, which finished fifth in CUSA, handily defeated Tennessee on a neutral court this season. Tennessee is in the Sweet 16.
• Charlotte, which finished ninth in CUSA, defeated Michigan and Kansas State in regular season games. Michigan is in the Sweet 16. Kansas State was beaten by Kentucky in the first round.
• Conference USA got one bid; the Atlantic 10 got six. Conference USA teams had more top-50 non-league victories than the A-10, 8 to 7. Yes, and CUSA and the A-10 finished 8-8 in head-to-head competition.
Much of the blame lies with the selection process. But part of the blame lies with CUSA, which has to do a better job marketing itself and its record.
Says Tim Floyd, the coach at UTEP, who has coached in the power conferences, “Nobody knows how good this league is. I don’t know how many teams should have gotten in out of our league, but certainly more than one.”
That grows more obvious every day.
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