Selection Sunday is the moment of truth for college basketball teams hoping to make it to the big dance. But for a few unlucky teams each year, it becomes Rejection Sunday as they watch the NCAA men’s tournament bracket unveiling together only to hear Greg Gumbel call out other teams’ names.
This year’s Selection Sunday was no exception, with many bubble teams anxiously awaiting their fate. Some had surged into tournament contention in March, while others stumbled into Selection Sunday with a string of losses. Some teams had demanding schedules and barely made it above .500, while others had impressive records but lacked quality wins to secure a spot in the tournament. Regardless of their circumstances, they all hoped for a shot at March Madness, but only a few were lucky enough to see their dreams come true.
Rutgers (19-14, 10-10, NET: 40, KenPom: 35)
Despite being projected to make the NCAA tournament in almost every mock bracket, the Scarlet Knights’ unusual profile made them vulnerable to exclusion. Their non-conference schedule lacked challenges, and their performance in the Big Ten season showed they could beat any team and lose to anyone.
On the one hand, Rutgers had impressive wins against Purdue and Penn State and pushed Purdue again into the Big Ten quarterfinals. They also beat Indiana and Maryland. On the other hand, their 2-4 record in Quadrant 3 games was the worst among bubble teams, and they suffered embarrassing losses to last-place Minnesota, Nebraska, Temple, and Seton Hall. The Scarlet Knights’ inconsistency ultimately cost them a spot in the tournament, leaving them to wonder what might have been.
Clemson (23-10, 14-6, NET: 57, KenPom: 64)
Clemson’s résumé had much going for it as a bubble team, including an above-.500 record in Quadrant 1 and 2 games and impressive wins against Penn State, Pittsburgh, Duke, and NC State. They also had a solid 14-6 record in a down ACC.
However, their non-conference schedule ranked a lowly 334th, and their numerous losses in Quadrant 3 or 4 games were their undoing.
The selection committee has always been critical of weak non-conference schedules, and Clemson’s certainly fit that bill. But their losses to 28-loss Louisville, South Carolina, Boston College, and Loyola Chicago sealed their fate. It’s tough to make the NCAA tournament with hideous defeats on your résumé, even with impressive wins. Unfortunately for Clemson, their lack of consistency and poor scheduling decisions cost them a spot in the tournament this year.
North Carolina (20-13, 11-9, NET: 46, KenPom: 47)
North Carolina made painful history on Selection Sunday by becoming the first team to miss the NCAA tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 after being ranked as the AP preseason No. 1 team. Despite having four returning starters from last year’s national runner-up team, the Tar Heels never found their form this season. They struggled in Quadrant 1 games, only managing two wins, with one coming against a struggling Ohio State team that finished second-to-last in the Big Ten.
Even a solid performance in the ACC quarterfinals was needed to secure North Carolina’s spot in the tournament. The Tar Heels fell to Virginia in a defensive battle, and disappointment was evident on their faces as they realized their fate. For a team with such high expectations, missing the tournament was a tough pill to swallow and a reminder that success in college basketball is never guaranteed.
Vanderbilt (20-14, 11-7, NET: 81, KenPom: 80)
According to Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings, Vanderbilt has been the 30th-best team in the country since February 1st. The Commodores finished the season strong, winning 10 of their last 12 games, including victories over Kentucky, Mississippi State, Auburn, and Tennessee. If Selection Sunday were based on the 68 teams playing the best at the end of the season, Vanderbilt would be a lock. However, the committee evaluates the entire body of work, which includes Vanderbilt’s early season losses to Grambling and Southern Miss. These losses, combined with their low NET ranking of 81 and KenPom ranking of 80, worked against them.
Ultimately, Vanderbilt was in a similar position to the 2022 Texas A&M Aggies. Like the Aggies, the Commodores hit their stride too late in the season. Despite their impressive finish, Vanderbilt’s early season struggles proved too challenging to overcome in the eyes of the selection committee.
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