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NCAA tournament 2012: How did those teams get in?

There are questions every year about why certain teams are invited to the NCAA basketball tournament and others not. The author looks at the 2012 'March Madness' field.

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The Huskies, for their part, finished at 19-12 for the regular season, 8-10 overall in the Big East (9th of 13 teams) and then lost to Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. They also lost four of their last five regular season games, with the only win being against Pittsburgh, who isn’t in the tournament and finished 5-13 in the Big East. Connecticut’s record is more worthy of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), though they were never really seriously discussed as a “bubble” team.

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Partisans may say UConn should be included because the team lost so many games while head coach Jim Calhoun was absent with health challenges (he’s since returned), and that the team’s strength of schedule (SOS) was ranked third in Division 1. But with a talent pool like UConn’s, these excuses are quite flimsy. And losing games against a tough SOS is still losing games. In fairness, no team with a losing record in conference should really be in this tournament (unless of course they win their conference title, which Connecticut has done in previous seasons – despite sporting similarly ordinary statistics). Pairing them in the South region with 8th seeded Iowa State, who went 12-6 in the highly competitive Big 12 - including a win over Kansas, is just odd. 

The University of South Florida’s selection was equally unusual – particularly when teams like Drexel who, before losing in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament final, hadn’t lost a game since January 2nd, and had 27 wins in all. And even though their SOS was only 248, Drexel was certainly more proficient than Iona – another squad whose selection was a head-scratcher. Iona’s conference SOS was 266, and they had two fewer wins than Drexel.

Those who favor “power” conferences over so-called “mid-major” teams bemoan the fact that there are more mid-majors getting bids to the tournament than ever before – and as they see it, diluting its quality. But seemingly forever, power conference schools have stacked the deck against those teams by dictating onerous terms, including making the smaller schools travel to them for non-conference games. Such teams often receive a fee for agreeing to those terms, but those who decline them usually won’t get put on the schedule.

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