Buzz Williams is a heck of a basketball coach, but you might not want to be with him on a hung jury if you’re the one who sees the facts differently than the others.
Williams had a tough time accepting Texas A&M being left out of the 68-team NCAA men’s tournament. An emotional Williams on Tuesday night read an eight-minute, prepared statement, saying the omission “defied logic.”
Williams spent much of the 48 hours after the bracket was revealed compiling nine pages of documents that he said showed “at the end of the day, our record, resume and strength of conference screams that we belong in the NCAA tournament.”
You have to admire Williams’ conviction and gumption, but it was all for naught. He could have compiled 100 pages of data and talked for an hour — it wouldn’t have changed a thing.
The bottom line is the NCAA tournament’s 12-member selection committee saw things differently. It’s just as easy to say they were right and Williams was wrong, because there is no standard for determining the 36 at-large bids. They don’t take the 36 highest ranked teams left in the NCAA NET rankings minus automatic qualifiers or go by the Pomeroy college basketball ratings. The committee used the barometers they felt worthy in picking the 36 best teams. It was their opinion, an eye test if you will, which is a staple of sports.
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Williams believes his eyes and knowledge were best in deciding the Aggies deserved to be in the NCAA tournament, but that’s not his job. Besides, he’s extremely biased. That’s partially why there are 12 selection committee members. Their decision to leave out A&M wasn’t a vendetta against the Aggies. One, two or three members didn’t decide A&M’s fate. There had to be at least seven who think A&M didn’t do enough to make the field.
Williams even did research on the committee, whose members are well versed in college athletics. They are veteran athletics directors and conference commissioners. The Power Five conferences are represented, and three other members are selected from the seven highest-ranked nonpower conferences based on basketball success. Ironically, the men’s and women’s basketball committees were increased from 10 to 12 this season by the NCAA to provide more voices and strengthen the selection process. The men’s group this season has five rookies, but the other seven had served on a combined 21 selection committees before this year.
The committee gave 30 of the at-large bids to the Power Five conferences plus the Big East. If anything, the smaller conferences should be griping such as the Atlantic 10 Conference, which had only two teams make the tournament with league member Dayton the first team out. Oklahoma and SMU were next on the list of left-out teams. The committee rated A&M the fourth team out or the 40th best at-large team.
The bottom line is A&M was a bubble team. The Aggies’ resume had warts, which included an eight-game losing streak, a bad home loss to Missouri and a weak nonconference schedule. A&M’s strengths were capped by three victories at the SEC tournament, but the Aggies probably wouldn’t have made the NIT had it lost to Florida in the first round of the SEC tournament, so their chances at reaching the Big Dance were always precarious at best. ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi didn’t put A&M in the field until Saturday night several hours after it had beaten Arkansas. He added that things could change Sunday, and they did when Richmond beat Davidson to win the Atlantic 10, taking an at-large bid away from someone. Aggie fans should have been concerned, unless they spent four days listening to the SEC Network gush about the conference’s great teams.
The Aggies went to Tampa, Florida, knowing they had to win two games to have a decent shot of making the NCAA field with three wins probably putting them in. But if they wanted to take their fate out of the selection committee’s hands, they had to win the tournament. They didn’t.
Go ahead and blame the committee. They are highly paid athletics directors and commissioners who have dealt with fans questioning their decisions their entire lives. They wouldn’t have a job without the ability to handle that.
Is the system badly flawed? Probably not or they’d have been a movement for change beyond a disgruntled coach or two. Williams has been coaching three decades and has made eight NCAA tournaments. He knew the process. Deserving teams not making the tournament are nothing new, nor is it confined to men’s basketball.
How about the 2015 A&M baseball team that didn’t get a national seed despite having better metric numbers than TCU, which was the No. 7 seed and beat A&M in the super regionals? Aggie fans still complain about that because the program hasn’t been good enough to overcome it.
A&M also felt shortchanged by the final 2020 College Football Playoff rankings when Notre Dame was fourth and A&M fifth. A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher handled the snub perfectly. He campaigned hard for his team after the regular-season ending victory over Tennessee, but once A&M didn’t make the CFP, he moved forward and took the program with him.
“It’s like having a bad play,” Fisher said after the final poll was announced. “You get disappointed for a minute, and then you play the next play. You move on. That’s life. We’ve had a great opportunity.”
A&M then beat North Carolina in the Orange Bowl, beat Alabama last year and has stockpiled enough talent for much more success. A&M hasn’t won a conference championship in almost 25 years and the last national title came in 1939, but Fisher has changed expectations.
Williams is trying to do the same. The Aggies have never advanced past the Sweet 16 in 14 NCAA tournament appearances. Who knows? With a little luck and the way this team has been playing, maybe this could have been the year. Maybe that’s why Williams sounded like he was taking his basketball and going home over the committee’s decision.
His reaction seemed surprising. Coaches are typically prepared to handle the best or worst in every situation. Williams would’ve been better served to follow Fisher’s lead. Don’t finger point, pour your disappointment into making the program better.
At least that’s my opinion, which I value just as much as Williams values his.
Robert Cessna’s email address is [email protected].