Wiedmer: No love for the SEC in NCAA tourney

Wiedmer: No love for the SEC in NCAA tourney

March 18th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

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So maybe the Southeastern Conference really is a football league. At least that's the message the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee delivered Sunday evening when it left all but three SEC schools out of its 68-team basketball soiree.

Never mind that Kentucky won last year's tourney and Florida reached the Elite Eight. Or that those same two schools reached regional finals the year before that with UK going on to the Final Four.

Or that Tennessee and Kentucky both reached regional finals in 2010.

As the Selection Committee tells us year after year, that's history, and it doesn't consider history.

And maybe it shouldn't. So to leave defending national champion Kentucky out of the field was fine. So, too, Alabama, though the Tide's SEC worksheet (12-6) probably should have put the Tide in the field instead of conference brother Missouri, which lost eight of 10 league games away from home.

Nevertheless, the committee is supposed to consider this year's previous performances, which brings us to gripe about how in the world Tennessee was left out of March Madness at the same time Middle Tennessee was chosen.

This isn't to say Tennessee is necessarily a wonderful basketball team. Or that it's even better than Middle, especially since the Blue Raiders whipped the Vols inside Thompson-Boling Arena in last year's NIT.

Of course, the Selection Committee swears it never pays attention to prior seasons, so that shouldn't have helped the Blue Raiders, should it?

But this year should have mattered, especially when Middle's best win was over Ole Miss, which the committee thought so little of that it seeded the Rebels 12th after they toppled Florida in Sunday's SEC tourney title game.

Meanwhile, UT fell by one at Georgetown, by eight at Virginia, thumped Wichita State -- which got in as an at-large team -- won nine of its last 11 games, including victories over NCAA invitees Florida and Missouri, yet will be playing in the NIT.

Another view of the same argument? That victory over Ole Miss was Middle's lone win over a Top 100 opponent. TheVols had nine wins against the Top 100 and were 3-3 against the Top 50.

What they didn't have, according to Selection Committee Chair and future Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski, was a signature road win. Never mind that Middle had no such triumph, either.

Said Bobinski to ESPN on Sunday evening, "We looked at a Middle Tennessee team that is a veteran team, and their ability to win on the road [in the Sun Belt Conference]. They had no rough patches along the way, and their win over Ole Miss looks better at this point in time."

This is where the committee has its Catch 22 moment. If you've just seeded the SEC tourney champ -- a team with 26 wins -- at No. 12, how could a three-point home victory over that team get you in the field when it's your only win over a Top 100 team?

Yet the Vols being left out in favor of the Blue Raiders is also perhaps one of the few arguments worth having about this draw. Yes, Miami -- having won both the ACC regular-season and tournament crowns -- deserved a No. 1 seed over Indiana, which has lost three of its last six games and failed to so much as reach the final of the Big Ten tourney.

Yes, too, a fifth-seeded UNLV shouldn't have to play No. 12 seed Cal in San Jose, Calif. Especially when Bobinski admitted that both Cal and Pac 12 Tournament champ Oregon had actually been No. 11 seeds, but were moved down for bracketing issues.

So not only do the fifth-seeded Runnin' Rebels have to play a lower seed in what amounts to a road game, it has to play a No. 11 seed instead of a No. 12. Really? REALLY?

There's also the matter of the S-curve, which most would argue is the only way to assure that the overall No. 1 seed -- in this case, Louisville -- plays the weakest No. 2.

But Bobinski said, "We no longer use the S-curve."

Which at least explains why Duke -- which was regarded by many as the overall No. 1 after last week's regular-season rout of North Carolina in Chapel Hill -- became the No. 2 to Louisville in the Midwest some eight days later.

And I'll continue to argue that no schools with a losing conference mark -- are you listening, Minnesota and Illinois? -- deserve a bid. Especially Minnesota, which lost 8 of its last 13.

Nevertheless, this also seems to be as wide-open a year as possible. At least for all those who got in. For Tennessee and Alabama -- the top two SEC teams left home -- it means something else.

"When you win eight out of the last nine [regular-season games] in the SEC, you deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament," said UT coach Cuonzo Martin on Friday, just after his SEC tourney loss to Bama. "If not, it's an insult to the SEC."

At least the league can always exact payback come football season.