Ponies Left Out of Dance
It was almost unthinkable. Not in the “a jumbo jet disappears for a week and no one knows where it is” kind of unthinkable, but when I sat down to watch the NCAA selection show on Sunday afternoon, I was curious where SMU would play and against whom. It honestly didn’t cross my mind that the Mustangs name wouldn’t be announced. After all, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion since late January that SMU would make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. Undefeated at home, at that point, wins over ranked teams, heck the Ponies even cracked the top 25 a couple of times.
But when the field was announced, March Sadness descended on Moody Coliseum. The players and fans felt the same way I did, “they must have left one name out, surely there’s a mistake.” Not that SMU was a shoe-in like a Michigan or Wichita State, but a 23-9 record, 2 wins over UConn, a split with Cincinnati and Memphis – all ranked teams – and only a three point loss to Virginia (the top seed in the East Regional) seemed to be plenty enough to get in. Just a week ago the experts and media were speculating whether SMU would be an 8 or 9 seed in the tournament. Even dropping their final 3 games didn’t seem to be enough to push the Mustangs from an 8 or 9 to an observer. But that’s what happened. There are 64 teams in the tournament. In the final Associated Press poll Louisville was #5, Cincinnati was #13, Memphis #19, UConn #21 and SMU #25. One would think being in the final top 25 would get you into the field of 64.
Apparently the NCAA selection committee didn’t value the new American Athletic Conference. While four teams from the conference did make the field, five was asking too much. All you need as evidence that the AAC isn’t considered a “major” conference is the fact that Louisville, the defending national champion, and a team many consider one of the top teams in the country this season, is a 4th seed in the tournament. That means the experts think there are at least 12 teams in the country better than them. At the NCAA prom, teams such as, Milwaukee, North Carolina Central, Mercer and Albany will go to the dance while the Mustangs sit on the sidelines with the other “geeks” who don’t get asked to dance. That is part of the beauty of March Madness, it starts before the first shot is made. Arguments over who got in and who didn’t began 30 seconds after the last team was announced.
While the committee says it doesn’t rank conferences and doesn’t consider late season losses worse than early season ones, all I can say is that’s bull. The Big 10, Big 12 and ACC always send at least half their conference to the tournament. Wichita State had to go undefeated to be a one seed. Stephen F. Austin plays in the Southland Conference, all they’ve done this year is go 31-2 and win 28 straight games and they’re just a 12 seed. Last year they were left out altogether after going 27-5. Conferences definitely matter. Larry Bird and Indiana State are historic freaks. The committee doesn’t believe anyone outside of 6 conferences has a chance to win it all.
And so Larry Brown says his Mustangs will try to toughen up their non-conference schedule and not lose 3 in a row to end the season next year. Maybe then, the all-powerful Oz will grant them a pass into the tournament and a chance to show the big boys what they’re made of.