Jonathan Safir: 2007 Syracuse
Editor’s note: I am admittedly biased with this decision. I did not even consider another alternative as it still bothers me to this day that Syracuse did not make the tournament in 2007 and 2008. I believe they should have been in both years, but 2007 even more so.
Syracuse in 2007 finished 37th on KenPom’s final rankings. Syracuse won 5 of their last 6 entering the conference tourney, including a win vs number 10 Georgetown. The Orange finished the Big East regular season 10-6 with 2 top 25 wins. The only “bad” losses were vs Drexel and at St. Johns.
A 7 man rotation that featured Big East Player of the Year candidate and First teamer in Demetris Nichols. Offensively, the balanced attack featured 7 guys averaging 6.6 points per game or more. Nichols led the team with an 18.9 points per game average. He also led the team with a 113.2 ORtg according to KenPom. While not stifling, this team was certainly above average defensively. Finishing 28th on KenPom’s adjusted defensive rankings, holding teams to a 43.7%eFG (7th best in the nation). These Orangemen also held teams to 40.5% from 2 point attempts (2nd best in the nation), and blocked 18.0% of their opponents shots, which was 4th in the nation. Overall, this Syracuse team was the 309th luckiest team in the nation. In other words, they were extremely unlucky.
Very even, right? Cuse was NIT bound, Marquette was an 8 seed
Ricky Winkeller: 2011 Wichita State
In my mind, the biggest NCAA tournament snub is the team that proved themselves to be the best of the teams left out of the field. This is decided in the NIT. Of course, if the NIT winner is a low seeded team, then can you really say they were the best, or that they just got hot at the right time? This is similar to saying that UConn truly was the best team in 2011 (sorry UConn fans), when in reality they got hot at the right time. As such, I took into account the team that KenPom felt was the best left out of the field. This is based off his Pythag ratings. Even though this is decided after the NIT is completed, it is still a noteworthy statistic because it shows where they stand after the season. Of note, this has happened each of the last 3 years. The 4 teams are 2006 South Carolina, 2010 Dayton, 2011 Wichita State, and 2012 Stanford. 2006 South Carolina is eliminated from the list because of their 15 losses. I don’t care how good you are on paper, if you manage to throw away 15 games, you clearly don’t know how to consistently win and therefore, don’t deserve a tournament bid.
From here, it’s difficult to discern what team is better, so the eye test ends up being used to some degree. It’s important not to punish 11 loss Stanford or 12 loss Dayton because they play in power conferences. However, in 2012, the Pac-12 was not a power conference, and Stanford dropped 8 in conference play. Normally, a bad loss or 2 in conference can be dismissed because anything can happen in conference play, but 8 in a non-power conference? This isn’t even accounting for their inability to win on the road (they lost 6 of 9 on the road in conference, with one of them being to 6-26 USC). Sorry Stanford.
Between Dayton and Wichita State, it really is almost a toss up. If you saw either of those teams play, you know they were both quality, bid-deserving teams. I have to side, however, with Wichita State. If not for a fantastic Missouri State team (which was probably an NCAA tournament snub too), they would have finished at the top of a very good mid-major conference (the MVC). They had one bad loss on the year. It was their second game against in-conference team, Southern Illinois. The significance of it being their SECOND conference game against this team is that, as everyone knows, in conference anything can happen. When you play the same teams year after year, the learning curve for how to beat you becomes pretty minimal. As such, one 3 point loss to a crappy conference opponent can be excused. Dayton also had one bad conference loss to Saint Joseph’s. The same rationale can be given for excusing one bad conference loss.
Dayton, however, ended up 8-8 in conference and had a 1-4 record against the top three teams in teams in their conference, all of which made the NCAA tournament. That means they had 4 other conference losses to middle tier or worse teams. What this means is that we are comparing a middling major, Dayton, with a top tier mid-major, Wichita State. Although I don’t have the numbers to back this up, historically, unless the middling major is on fire (once again, 2011 UConn is an example), a top tier mid-major will perform better than the middling major when it matters. This is because not only have they proven they know how to win, but they are also more likely to be playing good basketball at the right time simply because if they weren’t, they would have too many losses to be a top tier mid major. In the end, Wichita State didn’t necessarily have better wins than Dayton, but they had better losses. Aside from one bad loss (which Dayton matched), they beat who they were supposed to beat, which the most you can ask from an NCAA tournament snub.
Jordan Sperber: 2007 West Virginia
The 2007 West Virginia team is full of familiar names to college basketball fans. The lone contributing seniors for the Mountaineers were 6'5" Frank Young and 7'0" Rob Summers. However, the team had future stars in underclassmen Joe Alexander, Alex Ruoff, and Da'Sean Butler. Joe Mazzulla also saw very minimal minutes. Junior guard Darris Nichols led the team in minutes played and proved to be a tremendously efficient scorer, ranking 6th in the nation in ORtg at 130.2 points per 100 possessions.
Offensively, this Beilein coached team WVU team was significantly different than the offensive rebounding force Bob Huggins has created. The graph belows shows the four factors for WVU from 2003-2007 under Jim Beilein and the four factors for WVU from 2008-2012 under Bob Huggins.
Note: The last data point for the blue line (Beilein) represents the 2007 team being discussed
Beilein's team shot the ball the best of any Mountaineers team and took care of the ball. Those were far and away the two most influential variables for an offense that ranked 13th in the nation. WVU's defense was not quite as solid (ranked 57th nationally). However, 57 is right on par with 2012 Iowa State who defeated UConn in the round of 64 this year.
Of course, the most important thing for a tourney stub is their resume. The Mountaineers were 22-9 with a 9-7 Big East record. Of the nine losses, just two were to teams outside of the KenPom top 50 (@ #67 Providence and @ #113 Cincinnati). West Virginia had four wins against the top 50, with the key victory coming in a February non-conference game against a UCLA team that would eventually make the Final Four.
Hindsight is 20/20, but nevertheless this WVU team did go on to win the NIT.