Each March, for a handful of unlucky teams, Selection Sunday becomes Rejection Sunday.
They gather together to watch the unveiling of the NCAA tournament bracket only to endure the anguish of their school’s name not popping up.
In a welcome surprise, this year’s biggest snubs didn’t exclusively hail from outside the five football power leagues and the Big East. In fact, the highest-profile bubble team left out of the NCAA tournament was an ACC traditional power many expected to not only make the field of 68 but avoid the First Four.
Louisville was passed over in favor of the likes of UCLA, Wichita State, Drake and Utah State. Joining the Cardinals among the teams snubbed were Colorado State, Saint Louis and Ole Miss.
What had to make being left out of the field even worse for this year’s rejected bubble teams is that Louisville and Colorado State were in the bracket as of Saturday morning. Then bid thieves Georgetown and Oregon State won their conference tournaments, shrinking the number of available spots for bubble teams by two.
One glimmer of hope for this year’s rejected bubble teams is the NCAA’s contingency plan if a team in the field of 68 is impacted by COVID-19 and forced to withdraw. Should that team hail from a multi-bid conference, then the highest ranking of the teams left out of the NCAA tournament would serve as the replacement.
So yes, there’s a slim chance we may yet see Louisville, Colorado State or one of the others in the field of 68. But for now, here’s a look at the five biggest snubs from this year’s NCAA tournament:
1. LOUISVILLE (13-7, 8-5 ACC, NET: 56, KenPom: 54)
Q1 record: 1-6
Q2 record: 6-0
Q3 and Q4 losses: 1 (Miami)
Louisville now surely regrets playing like it was safely in the NCAA tournament field Wednesday during a listless ACC tournament loss to Duke. That outcome is probably the difference between the Cardinals celebrating an NCAA bid on Sunday or turning down an NIT invitation. A 5-1 record against Duke, Georgia Tech, Seton Hall and Western Kentucky highlighted Louisville’s resume, but those were the best teams the Cardinals beat. They went 1-6 in Quadrant 1 games, an eyesore that in the committee’s eyes they were not able to overcome.
2. SAINT LOUIS (14-6, 6-4 A-10, NET: 43, KenPom: 47)
Q1 record: 2-3
Q2 record: 2-1
Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Dayton, La Salle)
At one point this season, Saint Louis was 7-1 with victories over LSU and NC State already in its pocket. Then a rash of positive COVID-19 tests forced the Billikens to pause for more than a month. In its first two games after the hiatus, Saint Louis suffered its two worst losses, at home against Dayton and then on the road at lowly La Salle. The Billikens recovered thereafter, winning seven of 10 games including a split with Atlantic 10 champion St. Bonaventure. Saint Louis’ NCAA tournament hopes hinged on the committee considering the context of those two bad midseason losses. Otherwise, the Billikens were a tourney-caliber team without a tourney-caliber resume.
3. COLORADO STATE (18-6, 14-4 MWC, NET: 51, KenPom: 64)
Q1 record: 2-4
Q2 record: 1-2
Q3 and Q4 losses: 0
When Colorado State reflects on why it missed the NCAA tournament, the Rams will look back at Friday night’s Mountain West semifinal loss to Utah State as a squandered opportunity. In a matchup of Mountain West bubble teams desperate for another win, Colorado State tallied just 50 points and crumbled in the second half. That wasn't the ideal final impression to leave for a Rams team whose margin for error was razor thin. Colorado State’s entire resume was splitting with fellow league powers San Diego State, Boise State and Utah State in the regular season and avoiding any Quadrant 3 or 4 losses.
4. OLE MISS (16-11, 10-8 SEC, NET: 53, KenPom: 48)
Q1 record: 3-5
Q2 record: 4-4
Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Vanderbilt, Georgia)
Once 3-6 in the SEC and seemingly going nowhere, Ole Miss played itself onto the bubble by winning eight of its final 11 games. The Rebels edged Tennessee and Auburn during that hot streak and swept a pair from Missouri. Ole Miss had a big opportunity to boost its resume in the SEC quarterfinals on Friday night, but the Rebels lost a tense, back-and-forth battle to NCAA tournament-bound LSU. That 76-73 loss might ultimately be the difference between Kermit Davis’ team celebrating its second NCAA bid in his three seasons or beginning preparation for the NIT.
5. DUKE (13-11, 9-9 ACC, NET: 49, KenPom: 33)
Q1 record: 2-5
Q2 record: 5-4
Q3 and Q4 losses: 2 (Miami, Notre Dame)
Duke first declared its season over after an ill-timed positive COVID test forced it to withdraw from the ACC tournament. Then the Blue Devils changed their minds and sent word they would play in the NCAA tournament if selected. Either way, it didn’t matter. Their streak of 24 consecutive NCAA bids is over because they didn’t do enough this season to deserve one. Duke achieved little of note in non-league play and then went 9-9 in an ACC loaded with good teams but lacking its usual array of great ones. While Duke boasts a marquee win over Virginia and victories over Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Syracuse, the Blue Devils were still a pedestrian 7-9 in Quadrant 1 and 2 games. They also had Quadrant 3 losses to Miami and Notre Dame dragging them down.
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