NCAA Tournament Snubs: Duke, Louisville, Seton Hall Among Teams Left Off Bracket

NCAA Tournament Snubs: Duke, Louisville, Seton Hall Among Teams Left Off Bracket article feature image
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Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike Krzyzewski

The 2021 NCAA Tournament bracket is set, with fantastic matchups ready to tip-off in Indianapolis later this week. Weeks of deliberating by the seeding committee resulted in this year’s 68-team field for a tournament we haven’t enjoyed for two years due to COVID-19. 

There was high anxiety today for all “bubble teams,” as those with questionable resumes waited to hear their name called. As a result of teams like Georgetown (Big East) and Oregon State (Pac-12) surprising with conference-tournament wins, the number of available spots shrunk over the past two days.

No matter how great a job the committee does in seeding, there are always several teams with legitimate gripes about being left out of the field. Here is a look at the best bubble teams that have been left on the outside looking into this year’s 2021 NCAA Tournament. 

Colorado State

  • (17-6, 14-4)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 58
  • NET: 51
  • SOS: 113
  • NC SOS: 167
  • Vs. Q1: 2-4
  • Good Wins: at San Diego State (70-67); at Utah State (84-76)
  • Bad Losses: None

One of the biggest gripes for not making the NCAA Tournament belongs to Colorado State. The Rams are one of the four standby teams if a team withdraws due to COVID, but head coach Niko Medved is no doubt certainly disappointed.

The Rams are the only team in the Mountain West that defeated each of the other top-four teams in the conference. Their compelling argument over Utah State? No bad losses. 

Colorado State earned true road wins at San Diego State and Utah State, overcoming a 36-10 deficit against the Aztecs for the biggest comeback in school and conference history.

The Rams have no bad losses, with their biggest blemish being an 85-82 Quad II road loss at Nevada in the last game of the regular season. Medved guided his team through a lengthy COVID-19 pause to start the season but still rallied for a 14-4 conference record and third-place finish in the Mountain West.

The good news?  Everyone should return next year for a Colorado State team that is definitely a preseason top-25 program. 

Western Kentucky

  • (20-7, 11-3)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 73
  • NET: 81
  • SOS: 128
  • NC SOS: 46
  • Vs. Q1: 1-3
  • Good Wins: at Alabama (73-71)
  • Bad Losses: LA Tech (63-58); Rhode Island (68-65); at Charlotte (75-71)

That was a costly overtime loss in the Conference USA Tournament final by the Hilltoppers.

Western Kentucky tallied an impressive 73-71 win at Alabama, but that was not enough to overcome three Q3 losses. Unfortunately, the Louisiana Tech home loss looks worse now, with the Bulldogs early exit from the conference tournament.

Western Kentucky is a case study for the age-old debate on whether regular-season success should outweigh the conference-tournament result. The Hilltoppers were 11-3 and won the East Division of CUSA, and the win over Alabama, plus a neutral court win over Memphis, provided a foundation for a strong argument.

With star-power in future NBA player Charles Bassey and stud guard Taveion Hollingsworth, the Hilltoppers have a case as one of the biggest snubs in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. 

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Saint Louis

  • (14-6, 6-4)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 36
  • NET: 45
  • SOS: 119
  • NC SOS: 221
  • Vs. Q1: 2-3
  • Good Wins: Saint Bonaventure (70-59); LSU (84-81)
  • Bad Losses: Dayton (76-71); at LaSalle (82-75)

That loss at LaSalle was a killer for Saints Louis.

The Billikens were crippled by COVID-19, with no games played from Dec. 23 to Jan. 26. It was at that point they suffered their two bad losses to Dayton and LaSalle. Head coach Travis Ford had his team playing so well that they remained ranked in the top 25 throughout that monthlong pause. 

Saint Louis needed a strong showing in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and a blowout 71-53 loss to the Bonnies wasn’t good enough. The home win over an LSU team that made the SEC championship game was impressive, but the Billikens’ lack of ability to regain their pre-COVID pause form was ultimately their downfall.

Saint Louis is one of the standby teams, as well as one of the most talented teams that failed to make this year’s tournament. 

Mississippi

  • (16-11 10-8)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 48
  • NET: 53
  • SOS: 73
  • NC SOS: 272
  • Vs. Q1: 3-5
  • Good Wins: Tennessee (52-50); at Missouri (60-53); at Auburn (86-84)
  • Bad Losses: Mississippi State (66-56); Georgia (78-74)

A 10-8 record and a sixth-place finish in the SEC would normally garner an NCAA Tournament berth, but it only earned the Rebels a standby designation in this year’s tournament.

Their uninspiring non-conference strength of schedule that ranked just 272nd included a disappointing 65-62 road loss at Dayton. Even a win against an Auburn team with star point guard Sharife Cooper wasn’t enough. The Rebels basically lost an NCAA Tournament bid with their 76-73 loss to LSU in the SEC Tournament.

Kermit Davis is a fantastic coach and senior Devonte Shuler (15.3 points per game) was incredible, but the Rebels just didn’t do enough to separate from a bunch of bubble teams. A 3-5 record vs. Q1 opponents is good, but those Q3 home losses to rival Mississippi State and Georgia killed the Rebels chances. 

Louisville

  • (13-7, 8-5)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 53
  • NET: 56
  • SOS: 45
  • NC SOS: 111
  • Vs. Q1: 1-6
  • Good Wins: at Duke (80-73 OT); Western Kentucky 75-54
  • Bad Losses: at Miami (78-72)

Louisville not making the NCAA Tournament was unfathomable for most of the season, but it makes perfect sense when you look at the Cardinals profile.

Louisville’s only Q1 win all season was an 80-73 OT win against Duke, a team that also did not make the tournament. The Cardinals’ early one-point home win over Seton Hall looks much less impressive now, and their 75-54 home win over Western Kentucky still does not qualify as a Q1 victory. 

In all fairness to head coach Chris Mack, Louisville battled through two COVID-19 pauses in early December and January. Also, the Cardinals played almost the entire season without 6-foot-11 forward Malik Williams. After averaging 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds as a junior, Williams couldn’t stay healthy and only played in three games this season.

Regardless, the Cardinals’ actual resume is all the committee can use, and head coach Chris Mack’s team is relegated to standby designation.

No matter how you examine it, Louisville is objectively not an NCAA Tournament team this season. 

Seton Hall

  • (14-13, 10-9)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 55
  • NET: 57
  • SOS: 24
  • NC SOS: 53
  • Vs. Q1: 3-8
  • Good Wins: at UConn (80-73); at Penn State (98-92 OT); at Xavier (85-68)
  • Bad Losses: Providence (80-77); at Butler 62-51; at Rhode Island (76-62)

Seton Hall’s profile is similar to Louisville, with few big wins and too many bad losses.

The Pirates’ best resume metrics are their strength-of-schedule numbers, starting the season with games at Louisville, vs. Iona, at Rhode Island, vs. Oregon and at Penn State. But the only Q1 win in that group was the overtime win over Penn State, a non-tournament team.

The Pirates finished fourth in the Big East standings but ended the season losing four in a row. A 11-point road loss to Butler was probably the nail in the tournament coffin.

Even with co-Big East Player of the Year Sandro Mamukelashvili, the Pirates failed to play consistently enough to earn a spot in the 2021 Big Dance. 

Duke

  • (13-11, 9-9)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 36
  • NET: 49
  • SOS: 56
  • NC SOS: 100
  • Vs. Q1: 2-5
  • Good Wins: Virginia 66-65; at North Carolina State (69-53)
  • Bad Losses: Notre Dame (93-89); at Miami (77-75) 

The only reason to put Duke in the NCAA Tournament would have been because of its pedigree.

The Blue Devils win over then-No. 7 Virginia was their only really impressive win all season. It was part of a four-game stretch during which the Blue Devils actually started to look like an NCAA Tournament team. After that run? Three straight losses, including a 91-73 loss at North Carolina, which finished off a season sweep of Duke for the Tar Heels. 

Duke’s defense was among the ACC’s worst all season, allowing 38% from beyond the arc in conference play. The Blue Devils’ losses to perennial powerhouses Louisville and Michigan State look worse than normal, leaving a resume with too many holes and not enough substance. 

Boise State

  • (18-8, 14-6)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 57
  • NET: 50
  • SOS: 97
  • NC SOS: 14
  • Vs. Q1: 2-4
  • Good Wins: at BYU (74-70);; at Colorado State (85-77)
  • Bad Losses: Fresno State (67-64); Nevada (three times)

A loss to Fresno State at home?  Brutal. 

That loss combined with a three-game sweep by Nevada kept the Broncos from dancing in a season filled with high expectations. Boise State was picked second in the Mountain West preseason poll, even receiving four first-place votes. A fourth-place finish was sealed with a three-game losing streak to end the season. 

It’s a shame they are out of the tournament, as Boise State’s 14th-best non-conference strength of schedule included a true road win over BYU and a close road loss at Houston. But a limited overall schedule due to COVID-19 magnified the losses and the end of season home Q4 loss to Fresno State was inexcusable.

Xavier

  • (13-8, 6-7)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 59
  • NET: 58
  • SOS: 86
  • NC SOS: 224
  • Vs. Q1: 1-4
  • Good Wins: Creighton (77-69); 
  • Bad Losses: Neutral to Butler (70-69)

Blowing a 32-16 lead to Butler in the Big East Tournament officially ended Xavier’s slim hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Due to multiple cancellations and an unbalanced schedule, the Musketeers found themselves in third place in the Big East standings as late as Feb. 4. A solid 86th-ranked strength of schedule is bolstered by home wins over Toledo and Oklahoma, but losing four of their last five games (including Butler) gave Xavier the wrong type of momentum at the most critical time of the season.  

Memphis

  • (16-8, 11-4)
  • Action Network Power Rating: 35
  • NET: 52
  • SOS: 123
  • NC SOS: 154
  • Vs. Q1: 0-4
  • Good Wins: None
  • Bad Losses: Tulsa (56-49); at Tulsa (58-57)

Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

When a team has earned zero Q1 wins, it needs to be perfect in Q3/Q4 games to even have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. Memphis failed to do that with a rough 56-49 home loss to Tulsa. The Golden Hurricanes swept the Tigers, which puts a huge blemish on an otherwise solid season. 

In most seasons, a 16-8 overall record and 11-4 conference mark would get a high-profile team like Memphis into March Madness, but there were critical missed opportunities in the early part of the schedule such as a 74-71 neutral court loss to Auburn (sans Sharife Cooper), and consecutive November losses to Western Kentucky and VCU.

In the end? It all comes back to the donut in front of their Q1 profile.

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