It's time to get your bracket ready and jump into the office pool. With Selection Sunday behind us, the 68 teams that will vie for the NCAA men's basketball championship are no longer a matter of speculative argument, and the tournament itself kicks off with two play-in games Tuesday night. And while there's little dispute over the merits of top seeds Kentucky, Syracuse, North Carolina, and Michigan State, many fans across the country are furious, as some fans inevitably are every year, that their teams were left out. As you get ready to ink in your bracket, a look at the 2012 Final Four Tournament's biggest snubs and surprises:
1. Seton Hall Pirates
"No one's arguing the Pirates should be a single-digit seed," says Eamon Brennan at ESPN. But they're certainly more deserving than other tournament squads. Many of the weaker teams that received berths don't have a single win against a Top 50 team. Seton Hall, with a 20-12 record, beat four such squads. Furthermore, says Mike Rutherford at SB Nation, the Pirates only had one non-conference loss, to Northwestern, and put forth an impressive showing in the Big East Tournament.
2. Drexel Dragons
Drexel "should be absolutely furious that they got left out of the tourney," says Austin Green at Bleacher Report. The Dragons (27-6) may not have had the most difficult schedule, but they posted impressive road wins against Cleveland State and Old Dominion. They've also gone an astonishing 25-2 since December, including a 19-game winning streak that ended with a three-point loss to Virginia Commonwealth University at the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament championship. Snubbing the squad after their monster season to include Iona — "Iona?!!!" — is just plain offensive, says Michael Bradley at The Philly Post.
3. Washington Huskies
The Huskies (21-10) won the Pac-12 conference regular season title, says Ron Musselman at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and are now the first regular season champ of a major conference to ever miss the tournament entirely. The overall weakness of the conference might have hurt the Huskies, says Brennan, but the team did put forth valiant efforts against both Duke and Marquette, resulting in narrow losses. The skill they showed in those games should count for something. Besides, "if you've seen this team play, you know it can make a deep tournament run."
1. Iona Gaels
Iona's inclusion is "the most hotly contested," says Rutherford. After their poor conference tournament performance — typically a major factor in a team's Final Four tournament berth — everyone assumed the Gaels' "dreams were dashed." And while Iona (25-7) was the highest-scoring team in the nation, says Green, they also had one of the easiest schedules, failing to beat a single team ranked in the Top 50. They may be able to put points on the board, but "they weren't tournament-worthy this year."
2. Colorado State Rams
The Rams (20-11) lost six of their nine games against Top 50 teams, with two of those matches (against Southern Miss and Duke) "blowout losses," says Green. Worse, the squad is ranked 300th in the country when it comes to rebounding — certainly not a playoff-worthy metric. "More deserving terms got left out" to make room for the Rams.
3. UNC's cake walk
"The top half of the Midwest bracket appears to be the weakest in the tournament," says Rutherford. That's good news for top-ranked University of North Carolina, as the Tar Heels should have the easiest ride of any tournament team to the Elite Eight. "There's no one they'll face before the regional final who is capable of throwing them off the road to New Orleans," where the championship will be played on April 2.