Shock permeated the Galen Center.
A day after USC fell to top-seeded Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament title game, the Trojans gathered Sunday in the Founder’s Club of their home arena to watch the NCAA tournament selection show.
But the viewing party devolved into confusion as the 68-team field was announced in alphabetical order and an at-large berth for UCLA was followed by a bid for Virginia Tech.
Trojans coaches, players and athletics officials were stunned by the realization that USC was left out.
After watching the selection show, Jordan McLaughlin walked alone to a practice court with a basketball in hand. The senior captain had no comment.
“I don't think anyone saw this coming,” coach Andy Enfield said. “We thought because of our numbers and the season we had that we deserve to be in.”
The Trojans (23-11), who finished second in the Pac-12 before making a run to the conference tournament championship game, were among the “first four” teams that did not make the cut.
UCLA (21-11), which tied for third in the Pac-12, and Arizona State (20-11), which tied for eighth and lost in the first round of the conference tournament, were among the teams picked for the “first four” play-in games.
“No matter what we or some of the other teams did in the Pac-12 or the conference tournament, [it] did not obviously matter,” Enfield said. “We’re very disappointed.”
“We don't understand it,” he added. “Arizona State deserves to be in the tournament, but just to compare that, how is the second-place team not in?”
Arizona (27-7) earned the Pac-12’s automatic bid after winning the conference tournament and is the No. 4 seed in the South Regional.
With an RPI of 34, the Trojans become the highest-ranked major conference team to be left out of the tournament since it was expanded to 68 teams in 2011.
Bruce Rasmussen, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said there was “intense discussion” about the Trojans, but that their only victories over teams selected to the tournament were against New Mexico State (28-5) and Cal State Fullerton (20-11).
“When when you look at Southern Cal’s resume, they had a lot of wins,” Rasmussen said. “But when we’re trying to determine who should be in the tournament, we had a lot of teams that were in that area. … We looked at how teams did against tournament-caliber teams, either teams that are in the tournament or teams that we feel are tournament-caliber teams.”
UCLA defeated USC twice, won at Arizona, plus knocked off Kentucky (23-10) during nonconference play. Arizona State defeated USC by two points in Tempe, Ariz., but posted an 8-10 record in conference. However, the Sun Devils’ resume also included nonconference victories over Xavier (28-5) and Kansas (27-7), both No. 1 seeds.
“If all that matters is the quality of your best win or two on your schedule, then we should set the field in December after the out-of-conference is complete,” Enfield said. “It basically discredited our entire league schedule.”
Rasmussen denied that three teams on the bubble — USC, Oklahoma State and Louisville — were left out of the tournament because of their involvement in the FBI’s investigation into bribery and corruption in college basketball.
“Had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Rasmussen said. “There was no discussion at all in the committee about that.”
The Trojans, ranked among the preseason top 10, were chosen as the No. 1 overall seed in the National Invitational Tournament and will host UNC Asheville on Tuesday.