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The Winners and Losers From Selection Sunday

Congrats, Villanova! You’re the no. 1 overall seed, and also have a brutally tough path to the Final Four.

Josh Hart (Getty Images)
Josh Hart (Getty Images)

This is March, and the bracket for the 2017 NCAA tournament has just been revealed. Selection Sunday delivered its share of surprises, unveiling a field with lots of enticing first-round matchups and intriguing late-round hypotheticals. So who won and who lost with the committee’s release? We’ve got you covered.

Loser: Villanova

Congrats! The defending national champions are the no. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament! The selection committee thinks that the Wildcats are the best team in the country! Here is what that means:

  • They’ll potentially have to play Wisconsin, inexplicably slotted as a no. 8 seed, in the second round. The Badgers (25–9) were projected to be a no. 6 seed by the Bracket Matrix and are ranked nine spots higher than any other no. 8 seed in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.
  • If they get past Wisconsin, they’ll likely have to play Virginia (22–10) or Florida (24–8) in the Sweet 16. Both are ranked in the KenPom top 10; the committee apparently thinks the Cavaliers and Gators fall between the 13th and 20th best teams in the country.
  • Even if Villanova gets past those teams, it’s still in a region with Duke, which just won the tourney of the most stacked conference in college basketball. Many considered the Blue Devils to be in the running for a no. 1 seed.

This doesn’t mean Villanova can’t repeat. It’s deserving of that top overall seed, as it went 31–3 and won the Big East’s regular-season and conference titles. But it has been given what appears to be the most difficult region to emerge from, the thing that top overall seeding was hypothetically supposed to prevent.

Winner: Northwestern

Northwestern really wasn’t on the bubble or anything, and it hadn’t been for a few weeks. But as the selection show rolled on, I (and every other alum) grew convinced that it was on the outs, just like it had been for each of the previous 78 years of the NCAA tournament. CBS revealed the seeds for the three other regions before getting to the one the Wildcats were in. It was only right: Northwestern (23–11) was good enough this season that it looked like it would end its near-century-long drought without suspense, so thanks to CBS for waiting to show the school’s name until the last minute.

It’s easy to make fun of Northwestern because the school doesn’t have many fans — the ones that exist are disproportionately represented in the media, and are all annoying nerds. Make fun of us — we deserve it — but reserve a place in your cynical heart for those of us who are just so happy right now.

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Loser: Any Team That Has to Play South Carolina in South Carolina

The selection committee has a tough job in not only picking and seeding the field, but also determining each game’s location. It is supposed to reward the best teams with favorable travel, but it isn’t supposed to create de facto home games for teams that aren’t top seeds. (no. 12 seed California beating no. 5 seed UNLV in San Jose in 2013 — not ideal.)

But that’s what the committee did with 7-seed South Carolina (22–10), placing the Gamecocks in Greenville against 10-seed Marquette (19–12). Poor Golden Eagles: There are literally NCAA tournament games in their arena, but instead will play in somebody else’s home.

Winner: The Person in Your Bracket Pool Who Picks a 12-Seed over a 5-Seed Because He Knows They’re ‘A Thing’

Did you know no. 12 seeds sometimes upset no. 5 seeds? Steve does. Steve didn’t spend much of the year watching college basketball, but he’ll look at this bracket, see that no. 12 designation, and go, “Middle Tennessee State? I like their chances.”

And he’s right! MTSU went 30–4, ranked 48th on KenPom, and would’ve had a reasonable argument for an at-large bid even if it had lost during the Conference USA tournament. Minnesota (24–9) is probably overranked as a no. 5 seed, as it finished fourth in a weak Big Ten. KenPom has the Golden Gophers ranked 33rd, eight spots lower than any other no. 5 seed.

Middle Tennessee State over Minnesota is the clearest upset to me in the field, and Steve’s gonna get it right even if he doesn’t know MTSU’s mascot. (The Blue Raiders, Steve.)

Loser: Mid-majors

Yes, Gonzaga got the no. 1 seed in the West region, but it really would have been hard not to give the Bulldogs that honor after they finished 32–1 and posted a 3–0 record against teams that got top-five seeds.

For nearly every other program not in a power conference, though, things were rough on Selection Sunday. If the American Athletic Conference is seen as something resembling a major league, then the committee gave only two at-large bids to teams that can realistically be called mid-majors: Saint Mary’s (28–4) and VCU (26–8). They play each other in the first round.

Wichita State, which is ranked in KenPom’s top 10, is a no. 10 seed. The Shockers’ worst loss came this season against Illinois State, which went 27–6 and really should have received more at-large consideration. I don’t think Illinois State deserved a spot in the field — it went 1–3 against tourney teams and had some bad losses — but given how Wichita State was seeded, the Redbirds probably weren’t close to making the cut.

Last year, the committee snubbed St. Bonaventure, Saint Mary’s, San Diego State, and Monmouth, all of whom were included in at least 60 Bracket Matrix projections, in favor of Syracuse and Vanderbilt, neither of which was included in more than 60. This is a trend.

The committee puts mid-majors in a close to impossible spot: It asks them to schedule a ton of teams from power leagues, which means giving up valuable home games. It asks them to win those games, and then it asks that the power-conference teams they scheduled remain relevant. Oh, and the committee asks that mid-majors win virtually every other game on their schedules. Got it? Go do that next season, and maybe you’ll be a no. 11 seed.

Winner: Bracketologists

Congrats to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi for predicting 67 of the 68 teams that got in the NCAA tournament field. That’s 98.5 percent! Wow!

Only this was one of the easiest tournament fields to project in recent memory. There was talk about there being a “soft bubble,” and things broke about as expected. Of the 73 bracketologists included in The Bracket Matrix, 72 correctly identified 67 of the 68 teams. Almost half got all 68.

The biggest snub, if we can call it that, was Syracuse, which went 18–14 and would have had the lowest RPI of any team in NCAA tournament history if it had been included in the field. The main reasons the Orange were thought to have a chance were because how formidable the ACC was this season and, well, the fact that Syracuse set the record for having the lowest RPI of any team in NCAA tournament history last March.

The committee made a few seeding mistakes, but it would’ve been hard for it (and for bracketologists) to mess up this field in a significant way.