One of the reliable, compelling annual features to March is the discussion that centers around a handful of debatable team résumés for the NCAA Tournament. Slumping programs from major conferences often get tossed aside way too easily by fans, as if a team losing five of its last seven or eight of its last 11 will sway the selection committee.
Here's your reminder that, for a decade-plus now, the selection committee no longer takes end-of-season performance into account when seeding and selecting. Body of work is the criterion. Nevertheless, when seemingly once-good teams hit long slides, an army of dissenters emerges from the tall grass to shout down their chances.
So let's talk real quick about Arizona State. Because while most will pay attention to Trae Young and Oklahoma's crater job (the Sooners were one-and-done in the ) over the past two months of the season, it seems no team has gone Jekyll to Hyde like Bobby Hurley's club.
The Sun Devils made a mess of themselves again on Wednesday, losing their Pac-12 Tournament opener to Colorado. The Buffaloes won convincingly, 97-85. But ASU didn't go down without a fight -- literally. Things got testy between the teams near the end, to the point where Colorado coach trying to cool tempers.
The loss spirals the Sun Devils to a 20-11 record. Will they get in? Should they get in? This is a team that owns a neutral-court win over Xavier and road -- a ROAD! -- win at Kansas. Both of those teams could wind up as No. 1 seeds. There's also a neutral-court win over projected tourney team Kansas State, plus a road victory over a Utah team that's still in the conversation.
It's really hard to have wins like that and not make the field. Arizona State has decided it's willing to try, though. Those victories could win the day for ASU in the selection committee's room. CBS Sports bracketology expert Jerry Palm thinks that winds up being the case.
"I think they have beaten too many good teams -- two current No. 1s among them -- and teams they are competing with to be left out entirely," Palm said after ASU's loss to Colorado. "Have them at 10 or 11. They could land in Dayton."
A First Four spot would be fitting, I think. But if Arizona State doesn't get in, I wouldn't be shocked. And if that happens, it will wind up being one of the biggest falls from glory in selection committee history. ASU was 12-0 and ranked third in the country at Christmas. In fact, the Sun Devils spent four weeks as a top-five team this season. Then Pac-12 play changed ASU's course; it's gone 8-11 since Dec. 30 and compiled multiple losses to teams that won't be considered for the NIT.
The RPI swings have flung as high as No. 3 to as low as 66 -- which is where Arizona State sits as of Wednesday night. Regardless of RPI's reputation, once a team dips into the 60s in that metric, the waters are officially murky and making the field morphs into an uncertainty.
With two Quadrant 3 losses and only three (very nice) Quadrant 1 wins, Arizona State is a flailing dilemma for committee members. Winning at home vs. UCLA and USC (both Q2 wins) have become vital to Arizona State's case as well. In fact, either of those teams making a Pac-12 title game run would of course help the Sun Devils' team sheet. USC is a 35 RPI, UCLA a 36. A deep Pac-12 tourney run could push them to Quadrant 1 status and give Arizona State one more win in the top echelon.
Still, as I've said more and more this season, the sheer number of losses has to matter. Eleven is a lot, and nine of them are to teams not projected to make the field. That's as many as just about any other bubble team out there. What a weird résumé.
Then, of course, is the final impression. ASU lost before it could even peel off one win against a team not near the tournament field. Allowing Colorado to put 97 on the board is detrimental. This comes after Arizona State had lost four of its previous five, the only win over a terrible Cal team. The committee will not explicitly take into account end-of-season performance as a means of voting yay or nay on Arizona State, but it's impossible to think that ASU's plunge in every ratings ledger won't drive a real discussion over whether this team is among the 36 best at-large candidates.
Yes, that is what the committee will be debating: Arizona State's body of work (i.e. its best accomplishments) vs. whether it's one of the best at-large teams. Your answer to that might not be what the committee votes for.
We've got four or five truly fascinating, unusual at-large dossiers up for discussion this season. Arizona State's is the most intriguing to me, because none of the teams near the cut line can match the heights of ASU's achievements this season, not even Oklahoma. But like the Sooners, the Sun Devils could ultimately be picked for the NCAA Tournament -- but that doesn't mean they're better than the teams they beat out.