Saint Mary’s was left on the outside looking in on Selection Sunday, while middling teams from power conferences made the NCAA Tournament. (John Lochner/AP)

NCAA selection committee errs in favor of power conference schools

A topsy-turvy season in college basketball delivered a few more twists when the brackets came out Sunday.

Exhibit A: Oregon and Virginia are No. 1 seeds, while Michigan State is not.

Exhibit B: Monmouth and Valparaiso aren’t part of March Madness, but Michigan and Syracuse are.

As usual, the NCAA selection committee released a 68-team bracket with its fair share of surprises. This year, the debate started right away, when the committee named Pac-12 champion Oregon a top seed in the West, ACC runner-up Virginia a top seed in the Midwest and made Tom Izzo’s Spartans, champs of the Big Ten, a “2.”

They’ll decide it on the court, starting Tuesday with a pair of opening-round games. The main draw begins Thursday at eight sites. The Final Four is April 2 and 4 in Houston.

In a season in which six teams held the top spot in The Associated Press poll — one short of the record — there was no doubt there would be some debate about who belonged in the four top spots. That Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference champions Kansas and North Carolina earned two of the spots wasn’t that surprising. The rest of it raised eyebrows.

The head of the selection committee, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, lauded Oregon’s third-rated strength of schedule (as of Sunday) and No.2 ranking in the RPI, along with its regular-season and tournament titles in the Pac-12. He said Michigan State was the fifth overall seed.

“Very close. It was a vigorous debate,” Castiglione said. “We know how good a team they are. … It was just a close call and the committee felt Michigan State was fifth.”

But there were no easy choices for the committee this season, and the way the big slate of conference tournaments played out only emphasized the way this season has gone. Of the 31 postseason tournaments, top seeds only won 10.

That gave automatic spots to bubble teams (or less) such as Fresno State, Gonzaga and Connecticut, while squeezing out a few
bubble spots — even though there were two more available this season because Louisville (and Rick Pitino) and SMU (and Larry Brown) are both ineligible.

Among those sitting out include Monmouth, which played a killer nonconference schedule but lost too many games to bad teams; St. Mary’s, which won the regular-season title in the West Coast Conference but didn’t play a tough enough schedule; and Valpo, which ranked 49 in the RPI but had only four wins against top 100 teams.

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