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Aggies’ 7 Seed A Travesty But Not a Surprise

The tournament selection process isn’t about finding the best teams. It’s about serving agendas and vendettas.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Semifinals - Texas A&M vs Vanderbilt Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the last few weeks of the season, many experts and Aggie fans were highly optimistic about Texas A&M’s chances to snag a top 5 seed. A 6 seed seemed like the floor for most predictions - except one man - Joe Lunardi. Lunardi insisted that the Aggies would be a 7 seed, and many Aggies complained of Lunardi’s bias against Buzz’s squad. Going into Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, Lunardi had adjusted his expectations to a 5 seed, but many A&M fans were asking if Joe Lunardi hates Texas A&M?

When the seeds were finally announced, Lunardi’s earlier prediction seemed especially prescient as the Aggies were indeed a 7 seed and were sent to Des Moines, Iowa to face the Big Ten tournament’s runner-up, 10th seed Penn State. To add to the surprise, should Texas A&M dispatch of the Nittany Lions in their tournament opener, they’ll face the winner of the 2 seed Texas vs. 15 seed Colgate matchup in the second round.

So before we answer the question about Lunardi’s disdain of A&M, let’s play a game, shall we? Rank these teams listed by NET ranking (don’t cheat) in order of their seeding.

Bracket Seeding Comparison

Category Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4 Team 5 Team 6 Team 7 Team 8 Team 9
Category Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4 Team 5 Team 6 Team 7 Team 8 Team 9
Overall Record 26-7 26-8 27-9 19-13 21-12 25-7 22-11 25-7 24-9
Conference Record 14-2 14-6 15-3 9-9 9-9 15-5 12-8 15-5 11-7
NET Rating 11 16 19 20 28 27 30 35 42
KenPom Ranking 11 21 25 23 27 34 30 40 51
Quad 1 Record 2-3 5-6 7-6 10-11 8-11 5-5 6-9 5-5 6-9
Quad 2 Record 7-2 7-2 5-1 2-2 5-0 6-1 6-2 6-0 4-0
Quad 3 Record 11-2 4-0 6-0 1-0 0-0 5-1 4-0 7-1 6-0
Quad 4 Record 5-0 10-0 7-2 6-0 8-1 9-0 6-0 7-1 8-0
StrenOfSched Rank 73 68 53 4 11 78 13 85 54

On the surface, most of these teams look pretty even. Eight of the nine have played at least 10 Quad 1 games, but only one has a winning record against Quad 1. Four of the nine have a NET ranking in the top 20 of college basketball, and six of the nine are in the top 30 of the rankings. Five of the nine have problematic losses against Quad 3 and Quad 4 opponents, but the tricky thing is that those losses are factored into both the NET and KenPom rankings.

So who are these mystery teams?

Team 1 - Saint Mary’s, 5th seed in the West

Team 2 - Duke, 5th seed in the East

Team 3 - Texas A&M, 7th seed in the Midwest

Team 4 - Iowa State, 6th seed in the Midwest

Team 5 - TCU, 6th seed in the West

Team 6 - Virginia, 4th seed in the South

Team 7 - Indiana, 4th seed in the Midwest

Team 8 - Miami, 5th seed in the Midwest

Team 9 - Missouri, 7th seed in the South

Here’s a bit of backstory for the uninitiated. The NCAA created the NET algorithm and associated rankings (as well as its predecessor, the RPI) to try to objectively evaluate the quality of Division 1’s 363 teams. The original RPI algorithm was based solely on result and strength of schedule. However, as analytics improved, it became obvious that other factors should be considered, so the NCAA created the NET algorithm that factored in components such as game location (home vs. neutral site vs. away), margin of victory, and net efficiency (offensive points scored per 100 possessions minus defensive points allowed per 100 possessions).

There are 68 spots in the NCAA tournament field, and 32 of those are given to the winners of each conference tournament. The remaining 36 spots are given to at-large bids. So it would make sense if one were to take those NET rankings and simply select the top 36 remaining teams in order, give them seeds accordingly, and there’s your bracket. But that’s not the NCAA way. Why? Because that’s not dramatic, and if it’s not dramatic then you don’t drive television rankings. So what is an almighty collegiate athletic overlord to do? You get a bunch of people from those member institutions with their own personal agendas, vendettas, and biases together in a room shrouded in a cloak of secrecy and let them decide which teams are worthy and then let them arbitrarily decide the seeding. RATINGS!

Which brings us back to our esteemed ESPN Bracketologist, Mr. Lunardi. Joe Lunardi doesn’t hate Texas A&M. Here’s the dirty secret: Joe Lunardi isn’t actually ranking the teams. He’s making a prediction about how the NCAA’s selection committee will rank the teams. And Lunardi is trying his hardest to remove his personal bias and substitute the personal biases of the committee. And he’s damn good at it. Why? Because he knows college basketball and the people in it very well. He’s extremely connected. So if committee members don’t like the fact that a head coach whose team was deserving of a spot last season called out the committee for their lack of transparency, Joe Lunardi is almost certainly going to know that.

And in fact, Lunardi tried to warn us. He gave us indications over and over again not to get our hopes up, to brace for the committee’s retribution. And when we didn’t pay attention to that, he came out and point blank said it (h/t to Carter Karels of 247). But in our naive optimism, we didn’t listen. I certainly didn’t listen. My answer to anyone who asked was that A&M would be at worst a 6 seed, and that felt too low. So the bitter sting of disappointment when the Aggies were announced on the 7 line was just a hit just a bit deeper on Sunday afternoon.

It seems pretty clear that the NCAA selection committee went out of its way to punish Texas A&M after Buzz Williams called out their lack of transparency last season. Buzz certainly indicated his belief that there was some degree of retribution when asked on Sunday. It feels a bit like that scene from Cool Runnings when John Candy goes before the committee to get his Jamaican bobsled team reinstated for the Olympics. And that’s what makes this all so disappointing. The guys on this phenomenal A&M basketball team were the collateral damage in the confrontation between a coach and the oligarchy of college athletics. The players deserve a better reward for a tremendous season. And while the selection committee didn’t give the Aggies the seeding many believed that they had earned, they did give a gritty, grinding, physical A&M team the proverbial chip on its shoulder and a perfect foil to exercise its frustrations against.

To quote another great sports movie, “Well then I guess there’s only one thing left to do.”