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9 Biggest NCAA Tournament Snubs of All Time

by: Esteban On  Monday, March 17, 2014

MSU basketball 2014 ncaa tournament snub -- biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

Every year the NCAA Tournament selection committee has it’s decisions scrutinized and questioned. However, the draw they came up with for the 2014 installment of March Madness has proven to be more controversial than most.

For starters, Louisville is a No. 4 seed—which means the committee thinks they’re no better than 13th in the nation—despite the fact that they are the defending champs and are actually 5th fifth in the polls. Then there’s the fact that 25th ranked SMU was snubbed from the tourney altogether.

Granted, the Mustangs are just 55th in the RPI index, which everyone knows is one of the main tools used by the selection committee to evaluate the field. Still, you would think they could have at least stuck SMU in one of the play-in games. As it is, this is only the second time ever a nationally ranked team got excluded from the field, which is a pretty big burn.

But how does the SMU snub stack up against the other major snubs in NCAA Tournament history? Well, here’s my list of the top nine prior to 2014. Take a look and judge for yourself.


9. Kentucky (2013)

9 2013 kentucky wildcats - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

No one expected the 2012 National Champion Kentucky Wildcats to be the same team in 2012-13, and when they lost Nerlins Noel for the year, the expectations sunk even lower. However, in the end this was, relatively speaking, a good 21-1 basketball team. They finished in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC and, despite a few bad losses, had wins over Florida, Missouri, and Ole Miss, all of whom got invites to the Big Dance. Their RPI ranking of 56 certainly wasn’t great, but in case you haven’t noticed they invite 68 teams to the Tournament these days. So you would have thought that, with KU’s pedigree, they would have earned a spot on the dance card. But no.


8. Hofstra (2006)

8 2006 hofstra - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

The Hofstra Pride certainly didn’t do themselves any favors by finishing third in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2005-06, and their strength of schedule was really weak compared to second-place George Mason, who secured an at-large big.

Here’s the thing, though. The Pride finished with an overall record of 24-6, which included not one but two wins over George Mason in a two week span—one in the penultimate game of the regular season, and one in the CAA tournament. So, for Hofstra, seeing a team they beat twice in two weeks go on to reach the Final Four and become the greatest cinderella story in March Madness history really had to sting.


7. Gonzaga (1998)

7 1998 gonzaga basketball matt santangelo - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

Today Gonzaga is one of the strongest and most consistent programs in college basketball. However, in the late 90s, they were nobody’s on the outside looking in, which explains why going 21-9 and winning their conference’s regular season title wasn’t enough to get them an at-large big when they got upset in the finals of the conference tournament by lowly San Francisco.

Of course, this snub looks worse in hindsight. In 1999 the Zags proved they were snubbed in 1998 by going 24-6 and reaching the Elite Eight.


6. Drexel (2012)

6 drexel 2012 basketball - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

The Drexel Dragons had a weak schedule in 2011-12. There’s no doubt about that. However, this is a team that finished first in its conference (CAA) and won 19 of its last 20 games—the last one coming at the hands of VCU in the CAA tournament final—to go 27-6, and they were No. 64 in the RPI rankings. You’re telling me the committee couldn’t have given them one of the four play-in spots added the previous year? Really?


5. Harvard (2011)

5 harvard 2011 basketball keith wright - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

I know it’s hard to take Ivy League teams seriously all the time, especially since they don’t have a conference tournament like everyone else. But in 2011, the Harvard Crimson weren’t just good for an Ivy League team. They were good, period. With an 18-4 record and pre-tournament RPI ranking of 35—seriously, 35—they really should have gotten an invite. But instead, the committee threw a bone to Conference USA regular season champs UAB.


4. Virginia Tech (2010)

4 virginia tech hokies basketball - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

Complaining about getting left out of the NCAA Tournament was becoming an annual tradition for Hokies fans in the late aughts, and most of the time impartial observers could find pretty good reasons why Virginia Tech should have been excluded. However, in 2010 Hokies fans were actually right to complain. Did they once again have a weak non-conference schedule? Sure. But their conference was the powerhouse ACC, and they finished a solid fourth in the standings with a 10-6 record identical to third-place Florida State. They deserved an invite to the dance.

Of course, they did not get one. Instead of 23-8 Virginia Tech, the selection committee invited Wake Forest, Clemson, and Georgia Tech…all of whom the Hokies beat.


3. Syracuse (2007)

3 jim boeheim syracuse - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

The Syracuse Orange definitely dug themselves a hole early in the 2006-07 season by losing to then-unheralded Wichita State and Drexel. However, the finished strong in their conference, winning five of their last six games in the Big East, including a big one over a Georgetown team that headed to the postseason ranked No. 9 in the country.

Nevertheless, Jim Boeheim and company were snubbed by the selection committee in favor of Big East rivals Marquette and Villanova—both of whom finished below Syracuse in the standings, and both of whom Syracuse beat.


2. Utah State (2004)

2 2004 utah state basketball Cardell Butler - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

The Big West isn’t a powerhouse conference and the Utah State Aggies aren’t a powerhouse program. Moreover, in 2004, the Aggies did not have a particularly strong schedule. Still, they went 17-1 in their conference to finish the regular season in a first place tie with Pacific, the eventual winners of the Big West tournament. And, more importantly, the Aggies sat at No. 41 in the RPI rankings and No. 25 in the polls. So while they were on the bubble, much like the 2014 SMU Mustangs, they should have received an invite.

Obviously, they did not. Instead, the poor Aggies became the first nationally ranked team not to get invited to the NCAA Tournament.

SMU makes it two.


1. Missouri State (2006)

1 blake ahearn missouri state 2006 - biggest ncaa tournament snubs all time

In 2006, the selection committee finally started to show mid-major conferences some much-deserved love when they gave a record three Missouri Valley teams at-large spots in the March Madness field. Combined with the MVC’s automatic bid, that put four teams from the conference in the Big Dance.

So what was the problem? The problem was that the Missouri State Bears were not one of them. Despite finishing in second place in the conference, posting a 20-8 record, and, most importantly, ranking an impressive 21st in the RPI, the selection committee chose two teams tied for fifth place—Northern Iowa (RPI No. 25) and Bradley (RPI No. 33)—over Missouri State.

It made absolutely no sense.