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Arizona State was left out of the NCAA tournament. Did the committee get it right?

Grading the Committee: One Snub Left Out of Astoundingly Deep Field


You are what your RPI says you are. Sometimes, so do the wins.

That was the general notion handed down by the NCAA Selection Committee on Sunday night as the 29-team field was announced on ESPNU.

“[The RPI] is a considerable factor when we put things together,” said Mike Scerbo, chair of the NCAA Selection Committee and Duquesne associate athletic director. “It’s the first thing we look at. It’s an easy default to go to.”

That answer was to a question about a team being left out of the 29-team field, Arizona State. The Sun Devils boasted wins over Rutgers, USC and Stanford, but ultimately Scerbo cited the fact they had an RPI of 27 and didn’t win the “right” games as reasons for exclusion. Namely, that ASU lost to USC and Stanford twice, which took the shine off. Another factor that didn’t help the Sun Devils was a season-opening loss to Michigan.

“A win over Rutgers, who almost got seeded, was impressive,” Scerbo said. “Consistently winning and getting more than that one win, that’s where we faltered. While the Rutgers win was critical, however, that’s the only one they have.”

Michigan got into the field despite dropping four of its last five games and missing the Big Ten tournament. The Wolverines, RPI No. 20, were among the final four teams to make the field, along with UConn (RPI No. 14), Johns Hopkins (RPI No. 15) and UMass (RPI No. 19). None of the at-large teams were below 20th in the RPI.

When you compare Arizona State to the final four teams that got into the field, they outrank them in wins over top 20 competition. In fact, the Sun Devils went 2-6 in this regard, while UConn (1-3), Johns Hopkins (0-7) and UMass (0-2) did not. ASU had three wins against tournament teams as compared to UConn (two), UMass (two) and Hopkins (one). UMass’s inclusion also meant the Atlantic 10 became a multi-bid league for the first time since 1984.

Clearly, Saturday’s Pac-12 championship game was a de facto play-in, as Stanford had a lower RPI than Arizona State. When asked if the Cardinal would have received an at-large bid, Scerbo deferred. 

“I’m not going to speculate,” he said. “They’re in the field right now.”


“Consistently winning and getting more than that one win, that’s where we faltered.”

— Mike Scerbo on Arizona State


FOUR TEAMS, THREE SEEDS

The committee relied on the final RPI to determine its top eight seeds as well as the 14 at-large teams. North Carolina was undoubtedly the No. 1 seed, followed by Maryland, Boston College and Northwestern, which fell in line with the RPI. From there, things got a little jumbled.

Syracuse (RPI No. 6) moved up to the No. 5 seed. And those pining for Loyola (18-1) to get a seed had their wishes granted. More importantly, the Greyhounds’ impressive play is what got them the coveted No. 6 seed.

“They finished as a one-loss team, and their one loss was relatively early in the season to Syracuse,” Scerbo noted. “When you have a team on a [10-game] win streak, I think very similar to where Maryland was, they continued to win, and that was the one thing we returned to in all our decisions. The wins were the most critical point we kept coming back to.”

Florida (RPI No. 5) slotted in at No. 7, while Stony Brook’s seed matched its RPI at No. 8. Left out was Rutgers (RPI No. 7), whose win over Northwestern Friday night seemed to get enough traction for a seed, but in the end, the Scarlet Knights will be traveling to Stony Brook in a possible 8-v-9 matchup.

“That was a difficult decision,” Scerbo admitted. “That was one where we ran the conversation with (Rutgers’) win over Northwestern that vaulted them up from our last reveal … we definitely considered moving them into a seeded spot, but then looking at the results from [Sunday], analyzing the data, running the RPI, we gave the nod to Stony Brook. It came down to secondary criteria, and it was a difficult decision.”

If one had to guess which secondary criteria the committee used to separate those teams, it was likely late-season performance coupled with non-conference RPI. Rutgers went 4-2 with a non-conference RPI of 12 entering Sunday’s Big Ten title game, while Stony Brook was 6-0 with a non-conference RPI of 6.

TUCKER GETS ONE MORE DANCE

Johns Hopkins head coach Janine Tucker gets another trip to the NCAA tournament. The retiring coach had to wait until the final pairing of teams was called for her Blue Jays to make the field — a surprise to many and a delight to those inside the Hopkins locker room.

The Blue Jays’ late-season surge included a win over Ohio State to reach the Big Ten tournament. Johns Hopkins and Michigan gave the Big Ten five teams in the tournament after getting just three a year ago.

THE FAVORITE

North Carolina. The undefeated Tar Heels (18-0) haven’t been tested much this season and have weapons at every position. Since 2006, the national champion has been at least a No. 3 seed, and that seems likely to hold true again this year.

The Tar Heels’ path to Homewood Field will be through either USC or Virginia in the second round and likely No. 8 Stony Brook or the unseeded Scarlet Knights mentioned before. Also in North Carolina’s half of the bracket are No. 4 Northwestern and No. 5 Syracuse, provided the Orange can advance while on the road (more on that later).

The greatest threat to UNC completing its perfect season must be No. 2 Maryland. The Terrapins (17-1) have been rolling lately, and aside from a slip up against James Madison, they’ve handled everyone else with ease.

LAST FOUR IN

According to Scerbo, the final four teams (in no particular order) were UConn, Johns Hopkins, UMass and Michigan. Our guess on the order is UMass was the final team in the field, preceded by Michigan, Johns Hopkins and UConn.

FIRST FOUR OUT

As listed by Scerbo: Temple, Arizona State, Yale and Ohio State. Again, he didn’t provide an order here, but Arizona State seems like the one that was closest to getting in, followed by Ohio State (RPI No. 23), Temple (RPI No. 22) and Yale (RPI No. 25). The Bulldogs were a bit of a surprise inclusion given that they didn’t beat anyone with an RPI better than 31 all season long.

It’s the second straight year that the Sun Devils were among the first four teams left out. Beyond the first four out, Vanderbilt, Army, Richmond, Navy, Towson and Virginia Tech were not mentioned.

“With their RPIs as low as they are we didn’t move much down into the 30s or the 40s,” Scerbo said. “Again, that was such a big factor, and being a specific factor we remained focused on teams with RPIs above that 30 mark.”

BIGGEST SNUB

Arizona State. See above.

TOUGHEST DRAW

It feels like this is written every year: the Stony Brook pod. Rutgers is probably deserving of a seed and has a tough test in Saint Joseph’s in the opening game, while SBU has to get past a scrappy Drexel team that won the CAA tournament for the first time.

After that, it’s Loyola that must run a likely gauntlet of national championship programs in James Madison, Boston College and Maryland to reach the final.








UPEST ALERT, PART I

Loyola. The Greyhounds have been excellent this year, but James Madison has been unbeatable since a loss at Rutgers in mid-March. During that stretch, the Dukes have beaten Virginia and Maryland before romping through CAA play. When they meet, it’ll be a matchup fit for a quarterfinal.

UPSET ALERT, PART II

Syracuse. This will be a trendy pick because the Orange can’t play at home due to facility conflicts. Therefore, the pod is being played at Princeton. Scerbo said on the ESPNU selection show that even if Syracuse could host, the pod would have remained the same. Nevertheless, a fired-up Princeton side in Chris Sailer’s last hurrah will be inspired to reach the quarterfinals.

REVENGE FUEL, PART I

Maryland against Duke. The Blue Devils ended Maryland’s 2021 season in the second round, and this time around, it’s the Terrapins hosting. It’s possible Duke doesn’t get by Johns Hopkins, but it would be a surprise if they didn’t.

REVENGE FUEL, PART II

Notre Dame against Michigan (and Northwestern). The Fighting Irish almost didn’t qualify for this tournament due to a lack of wins. One reason why is Michigan, which beat Notre Dame early in the season. Should that happen, they’ll play Northwestern, who beat the Irish in 2019 to advance to the quarterfinals.

DON’T BE SURPRISED IF…

Multiple unseeded teams reach the quarterfinals. Rutgers, Princeton, Notre Dame, Denver, James Madison, Stanford and Duke all lurk as potential spoilers in the second round for seeded teams.

NAMES TO KNOW

Jamie Ortega (North Carolina): The ACC tournament MVP tallied nine points in the title game en route to breaking the ACC’s career points record. Her championship-game record five assists were part of a nine-point night. Ortega now stands first all-time with 451 points and is third in NCAA history with 325 goals. 

Emily Sterling (Maryland): The junior netminder is All-America material and has saved over 55 percent of the shots she’s faced. Sterling was selected as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week five times, the most since 2019 Tewaaraton winner Megan Taylor.

Charlotte North (Boston College): The reigning Tewaaraton winner must be on this list — 75 goals and 19 assists in 19 games this year. It’s slightly off last year’s pace, but she has unmatched firepower. If her shot percentage creeps back to the 65 percent we saw last year, the Eagles will be in a good position to lift another trophy.

YOU’LL HEAR A LOT ABOUT... 

Arizona State and the depth of this year’s field. It’s astounding how deep this field is. Typically, even among the automatic bids, there are a half-dozen teams without a chance. This year, 27 teams own RPIs in the top 35. Aside from the top three seeds, everyone is beatable from the onset.




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER


PREDICTIONS

North Carolina and Maryland are making it to Homewood Field. After that, the other two spots are up for grabs.

It will be fascinating to see how some of these talented, unseeded teams fare on the road. Whoever emerges from the Loyola pod will be a tough out and give BC a game. We will lean with James Madison to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since their title run in 2018.

While Syracuse and Northwestern are vulnerable, one of them will likely emerge. The Wildcats have the edge here but won’t be able to solve UNC. Expect Maryland to avenge its loss to JMU and reach the final.

North Carolina completes the perfect season to lift its third national title and third since 2013.

GRADING THE COMMITTEE

B: Three issues are at hand — Rutgers not getting a seed, bracket placement due to traveling limitations and Arizona State being left out.

In the end, the major haggle is Rutgers not getting a seed. The Scarlet Knights beat the No. 4 seed, which only the No. 1 and 2 seeds did this year. That win was better than Stony Brook and Loyola’s victories over Florida and certainly better than Florida’s over Syracuse.

Secondly, and this is more a NCAA support thing than a committee issue: This bracket had its challenges, especially in the geography department. This fact was admitted by Scerbo multiple times, literally sighing through his answers as he found the right words.

“The difficult part, it happened this year and last year, and something the committee will always struggle with, is to make the most true ranking of teams 1-29 given the limitations you have with travel,” Scerbo said. “It works out every year at the end of the day, but that’s something as a committee we will take heat on — first-round teams playing a first-round opponent, playing a tougher team than they should. That’s the hardest part.”

This stems from the NCAA’s tight budget with non-revenue sports and reducing the number of flights necessary to carry out the event. While the NCAA didn’t provide a seed list of those 29 teams, there are a couple matchups that highlight difficult bracketing.

Michigan and Notre Dame both made the field but could only drive to one place — Northwestern. The best unseeded team opposite of Northwestern should be a team like Denver, Duke, James Madison or Princeton and that team should play Michigan, who was likely near the No. 20 position in the committee’s seed list.

The most glaring instance is Duke. The only places the Blue Devils could travel are North Carolina and Maryland. The committee protected the No. 1 seed, but not the No. 2 seed. Duke is much better than a “15 seed” but in essence that’s how they’re slotted in because, well, money. It’s not fair to Duke and it’s certainly not fair to Maryland.

Another example is Vermont and Denver. Vermont was among the final four or five RPI teams in the field and should, in theory, play one of the seeded teams in the first round. Instead, the Catamounts play unseeded Denver at third-seeded Boston College. It’s possible Denver is the approximate No. 14 in the committee’s list, but Vermont is certainly not close to being the No. 19 team and was placed in this pod because it’s close to campus. Vermont was likely to play the No. 8 seed, but that’s Stony Brook and both are in the America East. It’s still surprising they weren’t sent to Princeton and UMass sent to Chestnut Hill.

Nevertheless, some will opine that the frugality applies to teams that didn’t make it in, like Arizona State, who surely would have required a flight. While that might be in the back of mind, the committee was consistent with what the primary criteria were: RPI first, significant wins second, and the rest were to rank and as they saw fit.

In the end, the committee had seven consensus seeds and came really close to getting a consensus on all 29 teams in the field. For that, they get a B.

BRACKETOLOGY BREAKDOWN

For the second time in a row, we went 28-for-29, as UMass was included in place of Arizona State. The top five seeds were correctly predicted, as were seed Nos. 7 and 8. The only miss was Loyola in place of Rutgers at No. 6. As for specific slotting, we got USC playing at North Carolina, the entire Northwestern pod and three-fourths of the Florida pod.