When it gets to be NCAA Tournament time, you have winners and losers before the games even begin:
After all the hullabaloo about how the NCAA Tournament selection committee would "stack a region" against UK, the Cats fared well.
Kentucky did not end up with Wisconsin or Virginia or Arizona as its No. 2 seed. The Midwest Region No. 2 seed, Kansas, is a team UK beat by 32 points in the regular season. The Jayhawks are 10-8 this season in games played outside Allen Fieldhouse.
Midwest No. 3 seed Notre Dame is dangerous because of its offensive potency (second in the Pomeroy adjusted offensive efficiency ranking) and three-point shooting prowess (39.2 percent). Notre Dame (29-5) has two wins this season over Duke, two over North Carolina, beat Louisville in the KFC Yum Center and has a win over Michigan State.
The Fighting Irish, however, start four guards and should struggle to defend Kentucky's towering front line.
The No. 4 seed in the Midwest, Maryland, is a tough-minded team with very good guards. Still, from the UK perspective, I'd rather have the Terrapins as No. 4 in Kentucky's region than risk talented but enigmatic North Carolina or the cauldron of emotions that come with facing archrival Louisville.
Bottom line: While anything can happen in a one-and-done tourney, the Cats have a very reasonable path to Indianapolis.
Loser: The team that President Obama picks to win the national championship.
Since he came into office in 2009, the basketball-loving POTUS has filled out a NCAA tourney bracket each year for ESPN. His track record of picking the national champion is not stellar.
2009: Picked North Carolina; North Carolina won it all.
2010: Picked Kansas; Duke won it all.
2011: Picked Kansas; Connecticut won it all.
2012: Picked North Carolina; Kentucky won it all.
2013: Picked Indiana; Louisville won it all.
2014: Picked Michigan State; Connecticut won it all.
Is an "Obama hex" developing? If the President picks the Cats, are they so good they can even overcome that?
Winner: Major-conference mediocrity.
The Big Ten's Indiana (20-13, 5-9 in last 14 games) not only got in the tournament, it was as a No. 10 seed.
Texas (20-13, 8-10 league record) of the Big 12 got in as a No. 11.
Mississippi (20-12, loser of four of last five) of the SEC made it into the First Four as a No. 11.
Most amazingly, UCLA (20-13, 2-8 vs. the RPI Top 50) of the Pac-12 not only got in, it does not have to play in the First Four.
The name for this is rewarding mediocrity.
As CBSSports.com's Gary Parrish noted, every Power-5 conference team with an RPI in the top 58 made the NCAA Tournament — but eight teams from non-Power 5 leagues which had RPI's in the top 58 did NOT make the field.
Loser: Murray State and small-conference excellence.
Not only did Murray (27-5, winner of 25 of its last 26) not make the Dance, the Racers were not especially close. We know that because they are a three seed in the NIT, which uses the NCAA selection committee's data to seed its tournament.
Can't claim to be surprised. By the strength of schedule measurements that have come to be accepted as the criteria for NCAA tourney selection, the Racers' numbers just didn't add up.
Here's the rub. Power-Five schools will not schedule formidable teams from smaller leagues such as a Murray State in pre-conference play because they do not want to risk a loss. Then, as Selection Sunday nears, partisans of Power-Five schools with mediocre records scream that a school such as a Murray State is not deserving of an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney because they didn't play anybody.
I continue to think how teams fare against other programs of similar resources should carry far more weight in evaluating NCAA tourney inclusion than it does.
For a variety of reasons, Murray got off to a very slow start in 2014-15, then found itself and developed into a basketball team that produced a 25-game win streak — in other words, excellence.
In a world of increasingly sophisticated statistical analysis, the metric that seems to have become undervalued in choosing NCAA Tournament teams is ...
... winning some games.