DAYTON, Ohio -- The NCAA tournament selection committee is criticized regardless of what it does, regardless of the year. But committee members would eliminate some of the complaints -- and perhaps a lopsided game or two -- by asking themselves one very simple question before rewarding a school an at-large bid on future Selection Sundays.
Did this team from this lackluster league beat any good teams?
If the answer is yes, then continue the conversation.
If the answer is no, scrap that team and move on.
Had committee members followed that rule last weekend, the first night of the First Four here at the University of Dayton Arena would've been different and perhaps even competitive. As it was, Clemson jumped to an early 18-point lead on UAB and cruised to a 70-52 victory that suggests the Blazers were nothing more than what most believed them to be all along, i.e., an OK outfit with a trumped-up RPI whose best win through 30 games was a 68-65 victory against another First Four team.
In other words, the only thing the Blazers proved in four months of basketball is that they can beat other average and bad teams. Clemson's body of work wasn't much better, I admit, but the Tigers were at least competitive in a power conference and in possession of a victory against a team good enough to be seeded in the main bracket.
They entered Selection Sunday with a blowout of Florida State (a No. 10 seed in this NCAA tournament), two victories against one bubble team (Boston College) and one against another (Virginia Tech). They played North Carolina (a No. 2 seed in this NCAA tournament) to a one-possession game last month, and took that same UNC team to overtime last week.
Again, that's not great. But it's at least a résumé that showed Clemson can compete with practically anybody and beat a school good enough to be seeded in the main bracket. Nothing on UAB's résumé suggested either of those things, which is probably why committee chair Gene Smith, the Ohio State athletic director, offered no good or logical reasons when he was asked last Sunday why the Blazers received an at-large bid.
"I couldn't point to one thing," Smith said. "But ... they're a very good ballclub. We all know that."
No, Gene, we don't.
That's why we were all surprised that UAB made the field.
Smith's comments about UAB reminded me of what happens to ... well, me when I get caught on a radio station talking about a team a little off my radar. "So, Gary. What do you think about the job Cliff Reed is doing at Bethune-Cookman?" In times like those, I keep it vague. "Doing a nice job. Kids are playing hard for him. He's got this headed in the right direction." I don't mean to give away radio secrets, but when you hear people answer questions in the vaguest way possible, that means they don't have good answers, which brings me back to Smith.
Question to Smith: Why was UAB included?
Answer from Smith: They're a very good ballclub.
If UAB had one thing of note on its résumé besides a misleading RPI, my guess is that Smith would've cited it. But the best two things anybody could say about the Blazers on Selection Sunday was that they beat a fellow First Four team at home by three points back in December, and that they won a regular-season title in a lackluster league.
Consequently, Smith avoided specifics.
And I don't blame him.
I mean, what's a man to say?
And that's why future committee members would be wise to never again put themselves in a similar situation, and the best way to do that would be to always ask whether the team they're considering has beaten anybody. If the answer is no, it might be time to look elsewhere. Because UAB was the only at-large team that entered this NCAA tournament with zero wins against schools in the main bracket, and on Tuesday night it showed.