By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
The mood in the media room in the basement of St. Bonaventure’s Reilly Center went from jovial to dumbfounded in the span of an hour. St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt and captains Marcus Posley, Idris Taqqee and Dion Wright entered with looks of disbelief etched on their faces.
The Bonnies were solidly in most major media outlets’ brackets leading into the NCAA’s Selection Show. However, the selection committee did not send them to any of the eight regional sites, or Dayton for a First Four game.
Instead of going to the big dance, Bonaventure is staying put in Olean. A Wednesday NIT (National Invitational Tournament) game looms against Wagner.
Bona became the first team ever to share a regular season conference title and be ranked in the top 30 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and miss the NCAA tournament.
“We thought we had the resume. I think a lot of other people did too,” Schmidt said, trying to stay composed despite some visible anger. “I’m not in the room, I don’t know what their reasoning was.
“I guess it’s another first. We had a lot of firsts (this year). That was a bad first, if that makes sense.”
Schmidt’s team was 29th in the RPI, yet got overlooked in favor of big-name bubble teams like Michigan (57), Syracuse (71) and Vanderbilt (61) as well as the real shocker in Tulsa (58).
Not only was Tulsa 29 spots behind Bonaventure in the RPI, it finished fifth in the AAC and had just lost by 22 to Memphis in the AAC quarterfinals on Friday. Even Golden Hurricane guard Shaquille Harrison didn’t think the team was getting in, replying to a tweet asking about its chances by saying, “Naw. We out bro. Lost to Memphis by like 30.”
NCAA selection committee chair Joe Castiglione talked for less than a minute about SBU in the teleconference with media members. He argued that its non-conference strength of schedule was outside the top 150, they didn’t have a non-conference win against a team in the top 80 and had five overall losses to teams that aren’t in the tournament.
“They were being compared to teams like Syracuse and VCU,” Castiglione said. “They had losses to each of those teams. You could say it hurt their chances.”
While the Bonnies didn’t end up with the best-looking non-league slate, they did have an away victory at MAC champion Buffalo. They led at halftime in SU’s Carrier Dome before succumbing to the Orange’s zone and depth; freshman center Jordan Tyson was still injured at that point, so the rotation was thinner than it is now, four months later.
A co-championship performance in the seventh best conference in the nation was clearly not weighted as highly by the committee as the experts assumed it would be. In fact, the selectors gave the entire Atlantic 10 a big slap in the face; the eighth-ranked American Athletic Conference got four teams in the field to the A-10’s three. The other two A-10 co-champs, Dayton and VCU, got seven and ten seeds, respectively, while tournament champ St. Joe’s was an eight.
The NCAA loves to run commercials glorifying past moments of mid-majors like VCU and George Mason (both now A-10 members) making Cinderella Final Four runs every March. Today, it reduced the chances of new mid-major memories being made by excluding teams like Bona, Monmouth, Saint Mary’s and Valparaiso in favor of Power Five conference schools who will likely be bounced early.
“It’s all politics, it’s all it is,” Posley said. “It’s tough, but it’s really not in our control.”
Posley and his team learned the hard way that Selection Sunday is far from a level playing field for the little guys who have less money and pull. The way they found out they were being excluded from the tournament, however, may have been the most disheartening aspect of all.
Somehow, the bracket was leaked on Twitter around the time CBS started announcing the selections. At first, there was some dispute as to whether it was legitimate since it was not tweeted out by a well-known basketball media member. By the time most of the Twitterverse had seen it, however, the first half of the bracket was exactly correct- and Bona wasn’t on it.
Schmidt found out about the leak when his agent texted him “Sorry.” At that point, he quietly told SBU President Sister Margaret Carney and didn’t inform anyone else. Team members were on their phones while waiting it out, however, and quickly got wind of their apparent omission.
“It was really disappointing,” said Schmidt, the first A-10 Coach of the Year since the 2008-09 season to miss the NCAAs. “How could it get out of that room? To me, it was very unprofessional. You trust those people in that room to keep it between them.”
The team will now switch its focus to the NIT, a tournament it is the first overall seed in and will be a favorite to win. Posley, always a consummate professional even after one of the biggest disappointments of his life, said the captains will strive to keep leading by example.
“The NIT is special still,” he said. “We’ve just gotta make the best of it.”
“It’s a great opportunity,” Schmidt added. “We’re disappointed, but the NIT is nothing to sneeze at. It’s going to be a great tournament… and our goal is to show the committee they made a mistake.
“You play with that chip on your shoulder. I think our guys will bounce back from this disappointment and be ready to play on Wednesday.”
Bona’s snub is being discussed among the all-time tournament omissions, but there’s still a possibility for another banner to be raised and up to three more home games in the Reilly Center.