I just had to go on a mini-rant about a few NCAA things. If you disagree with me please let me know in the comments and hopefully we can discuss these things rationally, unlike what the talking heads and print media seem to be doing.
1) The Claim: Washington got a tough draw. My Answer: Bull. MSU is rated 60th by KenPom, and for all this hype about their shot blocking prowess they are only 59th in Defensive Efficiency. Do you want to know who is insanely better than that? WSU! 31st by ranking and 6th by Defense. Oh and USC (27th, 19th), and ASU (12th, 36th). Heck, even Stanford has better numbers. UW swept all of those teams in the regular season. Wazzu took care of MSU on a neutral floor by double digits.
Okay, so MSU definitely isn't that great a team by the season-long numbers. What's your argument then? That they won the SEC tournament by beating good teams en route to four straight victories? I didn't see Georgia do anything special in the tournament last year after doing exactly that. All teams that won their conference tournaments are on a roll right now, what are you going to do? All the other 13 seeds have similar accomplishments, although not against as good of teams. Please note however that the SEC received exactly TWO at large bids this year, same as that other noted power conference the Atlantic 10.
So what can you then argue? That MSU is the best of the #13 seeds? Fine, I'll agree with that, tough luck. You couldn't have a rematch against Portland State but in some ways they could be more dangerous in the tournament anyways (catching fire from 3). Akron or Cleveland State could have been better matchups. But in general UW can't complain about their bracket position. The Committee pairs up the "worst" #1 seed with the "best" #2, and everyone is assuming Memphis is the best #2 which means UConn is the worst #1 seed. If UW can make the Sweet 16 (which I believe is their minimum expectation) then they have the most favorable matchup of any of the #4 seeds.
2) The Claim: St. Mary's got snubbed. My Answer: Maybe, but not for the reasons the majority of people are claiming. The reason I hear most often is "mid-major snub" especially in relation to Arizona making it in. I will address Arizona later, but let's just see if St. Mary's is really a tournament team first.
Starting with Ken Pomeroy again, St. Mary's is 61st, right behind Miss. St. as it turns out. Teams below them that made the tournament as an at large: ZERO. As a side note, by looking at the rankings right around them you can almost fill out the NIT bracket - Auburn 53, VA Tech 57, Tulsa 58, South Carolina 63, Northwestern 66, Creighton 67, UNLV 69, Niagara 70, Davidson 72, Nebraska 73, etc. Anyways, teams above them that had a realistic shot of making the tournament but didn't: San Diego State, Tulsa, VA Tech, Kentucky, Auburn, Baylor, UAB, Kansas State and New Mexico.
So just by Pomeroy's statistics St. Mary's didn't deserve to be in. Let's look at some more traditional numbers. RPI 48th, SOS 159, 2-3 against RPI Top 50 (beating Utah State and San Diego State). Those numbers are okay, typical bubble team numbers. Their best win was against an #11 seed in the tournament. I think the main thing to take away here is that they didn't schedule very many good teams and didn't do particularly well against the ones they did. Some of that was without Patty Mills, I get that. But he didn't convince the committee that he was back from his injury, and I think that ended up being the difference. They got absolutely creamed by Gonzaga in their conference tournament just a few days ago - if Mills was healthy, then apparently they're just not that good a team; and if he wasn't fully recovered, is he really going to get all better by Thursday?
I know that the NIT committee isn't composed of the same people as the NCAA one, but I believe they have similar ideals for selection and seeding. St. Mary's wasn't considered by them to even be in the "next four out" since they got a #2 seed. We don't even know if they were the top #2, and it is conceivable that the committee thought they were the eighth best team not in the NCAA's. Look at the #1 seeds and tell me if you think their profile is any less deserving than St. Mary's:
Auburn: RPI 63, SOS 59, 2-4 against Top 50 (beating Florida and LSU)
Creighton: RPI 40, SOS 111, 2-2 against Top 50 (beating Dayton and Illinois State)
San Diego State: RPI 35, SOS 35, 2-6 against Top 50 (beating Utah and BYU)
Florida: RPI 52, SOS 94, 1-5 vs. Top 50 (beating only UW)
Combining RPI-type and KenPom numbers, you could easily argue that San Diego State (34 KP) or Auburn (53 KP) deserved inclusion ahead of St. Mary's (61 KP). Actually strictly by the numbers there is no way San Diego State should feel less snubbed than St. Mary's. Which brings me to:
3) The Claim: Arizona didn't deserve to be in. My Answer: I agree, but here's why they were included. 39 KP, 62 RPI, 36 SOS, 6-10 (!) against Top 50, meaning half their games were against Top 50 RPI and maybe you can start to see why they only got 19 wins total. The only legitimate beef with the numbers is their lack of road wins, which I didn't go into with the other teams because this is already long enough as it is. I understand that road wins are important, and in fact it is on this point that I personally agree with those who say Arizona shouldn't have made it. But evidently that wasn't that big a deal to The Committee, perhaps deciding that the games in the tournament are either neutral or semi-road, or perhaps deciding that the overall schedule and results compensated for no notable road victories.
Just by the numbers, San Diego State is the only team that can top Arizona. I am willing to hear arguments about that of course, but really it's not that big of a shock that they were included. We heard MANY times this year about "body of work" and perhaps that's why the late faltering / tiring of the Wildcats was considered less important. I cannot emphasize this enough: The selection has nothing to do with major conference bias or name recognition, something which multiple articles regarding the selection procedure have addressed. For reference, check here. Actually, I recommend everyone read that article (by the excellent Andy Katz) even if you are only curious rather than angry with me for my arguments!