When the NCAA tournament bracket was unveiled on Sunday evening, there was one pleasant surprise.
The committee actually awarded a deserving mid-major instead of allowing bubble teams from the big conferences to gobble up all the available spots.
Belmont defied projections that it would be one of top teams left out of the NCAA tournament, snagging one of this year’s final at-large bids. The Ohio Valley Conference co-champs are an 11 seed in the East Region and will meet fellow bubble team Temple in the First Four.
The inclusion of Belmont bucks a troubling trend that has emerged in recent years. The committee has valued the number of top 50 or quadrant 1 wins above all else, inherently hindering mid-majors and favoring power-conference teams who have many more opportunities in those types of games.
Of the 36 NCAA tournament bids awarded to at-large teams in 2018, all but three went to programs hailing from the five football power leagues, the Big East and the American Athletic Conference. Same with the year before. And the year before that.
This March, teams from outside college basketball’s top seven leagues landed four at-large bids, incremental progress, albeit not cause for celebration. Joining Belmont in the field were Gonzaga, Nevada and VCU.
Of course, not every bubble team received good news on Sunday like Belmont. Here’s a look at the five biggest snubs from this year’s NCAA tournament:
1. TCU (20-13, 7-11, NET 52, KenPom 48)
Q1 record: 3-9
Q2 record: 6-4
Best wins: Iowa State (2), Florida, Baylor, Texas (2)
Q3, Q4 losses: 0
TCU would have been a poster child for power-conference mediocrity had it landed one of the final at-large bids. The Horned Frogs had numerous opportunities to notch meaningful victories and capitalized just enough times to remain NCAA tournament relevant. They swept two games from Iowa State, won single games against Baylor and Florida and avoided damaging losses, but overall they went 7-11 in the Big 12 and 3-9 in Quadrant 1 games. Ultimately, not holding a second-half lead against Dean Wade-less Kansas State in the Big 12 quarterfinals might have doomed TCU to the NIT. The Horned Frogs badly needed a conference tournament run to solidify their shaky resume.
NCAA basketball tradition of cutting down the nets
NCAA basketball tradition of cutting down the nets
CHAPEL HILL, NC- CIRCA 1968: Rusty Clark #43 of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after the win in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by North Carolina/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI- CIRCA 1978: Magic Johnson #33 of the Michigan State University Spartans cuts the net down after a win at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Michigan State/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
MARCH 7, 1982: Matt Doherty #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down a piece of the net on March 7, 1982 after Carolina defeated Virginia in ACC Conference Tournament final 47-45. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - CIRCA 1981-1984: Hakeem Olajuwon, #34 center of the University of Houston Cougars football team cuts down the net after a game at Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston, Texas. (Photo by University of Houston/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NC- CIRCA 1990: Rick Fox, #44 forward of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after a win at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by North Carolina/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
APR 1991: MIKE KRZYZEWSKI, HEAD COACH OF DUKE BASKETBALL, CUTS DOWN THE NET AFTER WINNING THE NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. DUKE BEAT KANSAS 72-65 AT THE HOOSIER DOME, INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA. Mandatory Credit: ALLSPORT USA/ALLSPORT
NEW YORK CITY, NY - CIRCA 1992-1996: Kerry Kittles, #30 guard of the Villanova University Wildcats cuts down the net during the BIG EAST Conference men's basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. (Photo by BIG EAST Conference/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
11 Mar 1995: UCLA GUARD TYUS EDNEY CUTS DOWN THE NET IN CELEBRATION OF THE BRUINS'' PAC-10 CHAMPIONSHIP AFTER A VICTORY OVER OREGON STATE AT PAULEY PAVILION IN LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA.
23 Mar 1996: Tony Delk of Kentucky cuts down the net after defeating Wake Forest 83-63 in the NCAA Midwest regional final at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Delk was voted the regional''s outstanding player as Kentucky advances to the FinalFour.
31 Mar 1996: Head Coach Pat Summitt of Tennessee and her son Tyler celebrate while cutting down the net after the Lady Volunteers defeat Georgia in the championship game of the NCAA Women''s Final Four played at Charlotte Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carol
ST. PETERBURG, FL - MARCH 22: Head coach Tubby Smith of University of Kentucky Wildcats celebrates cutting down the basketball net after winning the 1998 NCAA South Regionals Final game against Duke University Blue Devils at Tropicana Field on March 22, 1998 in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Wildcates won 86-84. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice: Copyright 1998 ( Photo by: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
26 Mar 2000: Coach Billy Donovan of the Florida Gators cuts down the net after the NCAA East Regional Game against the Oklahoma Cowboys at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. The Gators defeated the Cowboys 77-65. Mandatory Credit: David Leeds /Allsport
25 Mar 2001: Arizona Wildcats center #3 Loren Woods sticks out his tongue while cutting down the net after defeating Illinois during the NCAA Midwest Regional final at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Ronald Martinez/ALLSPORT
24 Mar 2002: Head coach Roy Williams cuts down a piece of the net after they beat Oregon during the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The Kansas Jayhawks beat the Oregon Ducks 104-86 to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta, Georgia. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Elsa/ Getty Images.
DALLAS - MARCH 16: Guard Hollis Price #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners steps down from cutting a piece of the net after winning the finals of the Phillips 66 Big XII Championships against the Missouri Tigers at the American Airlines Center March 16, 2003, in Dallas, Texas. Hollis led the Sooners with 14 points and Oklahoma won 49-47. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - APRIL 8: Ann Strother #43 of the University of Connecticut Huskies helps with the ceremonial cutting of the net after defeating the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers in the NCAA Women's Championship game at the Georgia Dome on April 8, 2003 in Atlanta, Georgia. Connecticut defeated Tennessee 73-68. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 5: Ben Gordon #4 of the UConn Huskies holds a piece of the net in his mouth after cutting it down after defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 82-73 during the National Championship game of the NCAA Men's Final Four Tournament at the Alamodome on April 5, 2004 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS - APRIL 6: Diana Taurasi #3 of the University of Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating theTennessee Lady Vols 70-61 in the National Championship game of the NCAA Women's Final Four Tournament at the New Orleans Arena on April 6, 2004 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ALBUQUERQUE, NM - MARCH 26: Larry O'Bannon #32 of the Louisville Cardinals cuts down the net after the Cardinals' victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers in overtime during the Elite 8 game of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament on March 26, 2005 at The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Cardinals won in overtime 93-85 and will advance to the Final Four. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
DENVER - MARCH 11: Head coach Elaine Elliott of the Utah Utes cuts down the net after her women defeated the Brigham Young University Cougars 84-60 in the championship of the Women's Mountain West Conference Basketball Tournament on March 11, 2006 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Florida's Joakim Noah cuts down the net as the Florida Gators beat the UCLA Bruins 73-57 in the championship game of the Final Four Monday, April 3, 2006 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Harry E. Walker/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
BOSTON - APRIL 04: Head coach Brenda Frese of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates as she cuts down the net after defeating the Duke Blue Devils 78-75 in overtime in the 2006 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Game on April 4, 2006 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - MARCH 11: Head Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes cuts down the net following Ohio St.'s 66-49 win against the Wisconsin Badgers during the Final of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Conference Tournament March 11, 2007 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
ATLANTA - APRIL 02: Joakim Noah #13 of the Florida Gators cuts down the net after his team defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes during the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game at the Georgia Dome on April 2, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND - APRIL 03: Head coach Pat Summitt of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers celebrates after cutting down the net after Tennessee's 59-46 win against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to win the 2007 NCAA Women's Basketball Championship Game at Quicken Loans Arena on April 3, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - MARCH 29: Ty Lawson #5 of the North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after defeating the Louisville Cardinals during the 2008 NCAA Men's East Regional Final at Bobcats Arena on March 29, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated the Cardinals 83-73 to advance to the final four. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - APRIL 08: Head coach Pat Summitt of the Tennessee Lady Volunteers celebrates cutting down the net as her son Tyler holds the trophy after their 64-48 win against the Stanford Cardinal during the National Championsip Game of the 2008 NCAA Women's Final Four at St. Pete Times Forum April 8, 2008 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 13: Da'Sean Butler #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers puts the net around his head after cutting it down after defeating the Georgetown Hoyas in the championship of the 2010 NCAA Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05: Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils cuts down a piece of the net following their 61-59 win against the Butler Bulldogs during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 06: Center Tina Charles #31 of the Connecticut Huskies celebrates while cutting down the net after a 53-47 win against the Stanford Cardinal during the NCAA Women's Final Four Championship game at the Alamodome on April 6, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 26: Kemba Walker #15 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Arizona Wildcats during the west regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Honda Center on March 26, 2011 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall cuts down the net and celebrates with fans after his team defeated Drake University, 81-58, and won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season title at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas, Saturday, February 25, 2012. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MARCH 24: Jared Sullinger #0 of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on after cutting down the net after defeating the Syracuse Orange during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball East Regional Final at TD Garden on March 24, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: Ron Baker #31 of the Wichita State Shockers celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 70-66 during the West Regional Final of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Staples Center on March 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 09: Heather Buck #32 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Louisville Cardinals during the 2013 NCAA Women's Final Four Championship at New Orleans Arena on April 9, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 09: Overhead view of Geno Auriemma, head coach of the Connecticut Huskies, cutting down the net following a victory over the Louisville Cardinals in the National Final game of the 2013 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship at New Orleans Arena on April 9, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 30: Head coach Kevin Ollie of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Michigan State Spartans to win the East Regional Final of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 08: Breanna Stewart #30 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after defeating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 79 to 58 in the NCAA Women's Final Four Championship at Bridgestone Arena on April 8, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - MARCH 8: Ben Moore #00 of the SMU Mustangs cuts down the net after defeating the Tulsa Golden Hurricane and winning the American Athletic Conference regular season championship on March 8, 2015 at Moody Coliseum in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 06: Marshall Plumlee #40 of the Duke Blue Devils cuts down the net after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers during the NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 6, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duke defeated Wisconsin 68-63. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
12 March 2016: Oregon head coach Dana Altman cuts down the remainder of the net and points to the crowd as he celebrates the victory during the men's Pac-12 Basketball Tournament championship game between the Utah Utes and Oregon Ducks at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, NV. Oregon defeated Utah 88-57. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 13: Shonn Miller #32 of the Connecticut Huskies cuts down the net after winning the Final of the 2016 AAC Basketball Tournament against the Memphis Tigers at Amway Center on March 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 25: Nigel Williams-Goss #5 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs cuts down the net after their 83 to 59 win over the Xavier Musketeers during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament West Regional at SAP Center on March 25, 2017 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 25: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks cuts down the net after his teams 74-60 win over the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 25, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Hassani Gravett #2 of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating the Florida Gators with a score of 77 to 70 to win the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 26: Luke Maye #32 of the North Carolina Tar Heels cuts down the net after making the game winning shot and defeating the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 26, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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2. NC STATE (22-11, 9-9, NET 33, KenPom: 32)
Q1 record: 3-9
Q2 record: 5-0
Best wins: Auburn, Syracuse, Clemson (2)
Q3, Q4 losses: 2 (Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest)
To say that North Carolina State scheduled poorly this season is a gross understatement. The Wolfpack's non-conference schedule was dead last out of 353 Division I teams, a product of a remarkable eight games against teams 275th or worse in the NET rankings. Given the committee's longtime emphasis on teams challenging themselves out of conference, NC State left itself vulnerable to being snubbed unless it did something special in the rest of its games. That didn't happen. The Wolfpack went a pedestrian 9-9 in the ACC and beat only two projected NCAA tournament teams — Auburn and Syracuse. The omission of NC State is evidence the committee did not just blindly follow the NET rankings, the new metric that replaced the RPI as the primary tool for gauging the strength of teams. The Wolfpack's No. 33 NET ranking suggested they were good enough to make the field, but close inspection of their resume indicated otherwise.
3. INDIANA (17-15, 8-12, NET 54, KenPom 42)
Q1 record: 6-9
Q2 record: 2-6
Best wins: Michigan State (2), Wisconsin, Louisville Marquette
Q3, Q4 losses: 0
For a team that was only 17-15 overall, Indiana had a decent argument to make the NCAA tournament. The Hoosiers boasted the most Quadrant 1 wins of any bubble team including a season sweep of Big Ten champion Michigan State and three other victories over opponents projected to be seeded seventh or better in the NCAA tournament. Archie Miller’s second season in Bloomington was a year of wild swings as Indiana leaped out of the starting blocks 12-2, then endured a rash of injuries and dropped 12 of its next 13. They nearly salvaged their season with a late winning streak before a crushing loss to Ohio State in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament. Ultimately, the committee decided Indiana’s uneven overall body of work wasn’t good enough even though there was precedent for teams similar to the Hoosiers being selected. Alabama snagged an at-large bid last March with 15 losses, as did Vanderbilt the previous season. Villanova and Georgia also both received at-large bids at 16-14 in 1991 and 2001, respectively.
4. UNC GREENSBORO (28-6, 15-3 NET 60, KenPom 81)
Q1 record: 2-6
Q2 record: 2-0
Best wins: Furman (2), East Tennessee State (2)
Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Some bubble teams on this list had more than a dozen chances against power-conference foes bound for the NCAA tournament. UNC Greensboro, on the other hand, only had two, both on the road against top 10 opponents. The Spartans lost by six to LSU in Baton Rouge and pushed Kentucky for 35 minutes in Lexington. UNC Greensboro’s margin for error for an at-large bid was miniscule after those losses, and the Spartans couldn’t quite do enough to thread that needle. In a top-heavy Southern Conference featuring four of the nation’s best mid-majors, UNC Greensboro went 4-1 against Furman and East Tennessee State but lost to eventual league champ Wofford all three times they played. Only one of their six losses came against a team outside the NET top 15, but they also lacked noteworthy wins.
5. TEXAS (16-16, 8-10, NET 38, KenPom 30)
Q1 record: 5-10
Q2 record: 4-5
Best wins: North Carolina, Purdue, at Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State
Q3, Q4 losses: 1 (Radford)
Never before had a team earned an at-large bid with a .500 record or 16 losses, but Texas had reason to maintain hope of being the first. A ridiculous 19 of Texas’ 32 games came against opponents in the NET top 50 this season and the Longhorns won seven of those, notching victories over North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma. They were also top 40 in the NET and top 30 in KenPom, which compared favorably to other bubble teams. It was always a long shot that Texas would make the NCAA tournament because of the precedent it would set, but the committee had incentive to give the Longhorns a hard look. Including them would have sent the message that the committee rewards a tough non-conference schedule, something that is good for the health of the sport.