The NCAA Tournament Snub Myth

Every year we hear that the committee got it wrong. But what about the teams that barely got in, and overperformed?

March Madness is about to kick off again, and with the start of the games we get a fresh round of coverage for who didn’t get in. Yes, “snub” coverage is a cottage industry all to itself, with sports sites quickly scrambling to talk up how wrong the NCAA tournament committee was with their selections.

By the very nature of having humans make the decisions about seeding and who tournament at-large bids, there will be disagreement and dissension. What would the field look like if, say, it adhered strictly to an analytics formula? What would the field look like if fans voted instead (like the way Project FANchise will give fans more power to make play-calling and personnel decisions for a pro football team)?

There’s something else at play — how do the teams that got in instead of the teams that were supposedly snubbed actually perform in the tournament? With their track record, it’s silly to stay on the “snub” storyline. Here’s why:

  • Hofstra, 2006

Generally considered one of the “biggest snubs ever,” a 24-win Hofstra team has one of the best records to miss the tournament. But — and a big but — is the reason they couldn’t pull out a win in the CAA conference tournament. They lost to George Mason, who also lost themselves in the conference tournament, but got the at-large bid that Hofstra, and others analysts, thought they deserved. Of course, George Mason made the most of their at-large bid and 11-seed, going all the way to the Final Four by beating 1-seed UConn in one of the most historic runs in tournament history.

  • Harvard, 2011

Normally, the Ivy League gets one bid to the tournament, but in 2011 a lot was made of Harvard deserving to be in as well as an at-large team (with 23 wins). In the end they got “snubbed” in favor of VCU, another team from the CAA who got an 11-seed at-large bid. How did VCU fare? Like their conference-mate five years before George Mason, VCU took their 11-seed all the way to the Final Four (beating 1-seed Kansas), a huge Cinderella run for a team many said didn’t deserve their spot.

  • Colorado St, 2015

Last year a lot was made of Colorado St. deserving a spot — in fact, SportsGrid asked if the 27-win Rams were “literally the biggest snub in NCAA tournament history.” The team that benefited from the Rams being held out was UCLA, which many saw as an undeserving, and ultimately boring, pick. And yet UCLA, for the 2nd year in a row, won two games and made their way to the Sweet 16.

  • Missouri St., 2006

Another notable name on the all-time “snubbed” lists is Missouri St. out of the Missouri Valley conference, which had a lot of talent for a mid-major in 2006. But instead of Missouri St. as an at-large bid, it was Bradley, who got in as one of the lowest-seeded at-large teams ever, with a 13-seed. Many saw this as a slight to the better and more accomplished Missouri St., and Bradley was expected to lose big to 4-seed Kansas in the first round. But it wasn’t to be. Instead, Bradley made it to the Sweet 16.


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