Bob Boldon sat on The Convo’s press row table Monday and smirked.
About 30 minutes earlier, he received an answer for Ohio’s fate in the NCAA Tournament. The result surprised the coach in two ways:
1. The Bobcats were not selected. Boldon, the players and many inside the Mid-American Conference believed Ohio had done enough. The selection committee thought differently, and the Bobcats were placed in the “Last Four Out” category for the four teams closest to earning a bid.
2. The selections were accidentally leaked two hours early. ESPN was supposed to air the bracket with a selection show at 7 p.m., but the selections were accidentally aired at 5 p.m.
Why was Boldon upbeat about the Bobcats not making the big tournament? Well, he wasn’t necessarily happy about it, but the mood was his way of expressing his belief that the selection committee got it wrong.
Boldon thought it was laughable that Ohio, which tied a program record with 27 wins and finished No. 34 in RPI, wasn’t selected. The leaked bracket — and the embarrassment that came with it for the NCAA — added more embarrassment to the process.
“It’s disappointing because there’s a lot of metrics that make you think this team is good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament,“ Boldon said. “It’s disappointing that they didn’t get to do that, for whatever reason it is that we will never truly know.”
It hasn’t been long since Ohio was one of the teams placed in the “Last Four Out” category of the bracket.
The Bobcats finished in the same spot in 2016, but that came with less of a surprise. Ohio finished No. 51 in RPI, and the MAC was tabbed the 11th-best conference in the nation. The Bobcats didn’t play in a conference competitive enough for two bids in the NCAA Tournament.
That made sense to Boldon.
This year, not so much. Ohio finished 16 spots higher in the RPI. The MAC finished as the eighth-best conference in the NCAA, but it spent the majority of the year as the No. 7 conference.
The RPI suggested Ohio’s competition was stiffer, and the Bobcats adjusted with it. Boldon thought that was enough. He wasn’t, and now he’s confused.
“They tell you RPI isn’t the end all be all,“ Boldon said, “but it sure matters when you beat teams with a good RPI, somehow.”
That may ultimately be what bit Ohio the most. The Bobcats defeated Lamar (No. 62 RPI) and Purdue (No. 89) in their undefeated nonconference schedule that, at its conclusion, made Ohio one of two teams with a perfect record.
Other than Purdue, the Bobcats didn’t play another Power 5 school. That wasn’t on purpose, though — Ohio had a deal to play Vanderbilt this season, but the Commodores broke the contract before the season and declined to play the Bobcats.
Ohio likely would have beaten Vanderbilt, who finished No. 209 in RPI but played in the SEC, which was the fifth-best conference in the nation. To add salt on the wound? The Commodores also defeated Tennessee, who made an at-large bid over Ohio, on Feb. 28.
It may not have been the difference for an NCAA Tournament bid for the Bobcats, but it would have helped. It showed how Ohio struggles to attract teams from quality conferences on its schedule, and with the Bobcats’ high finish this year, that’s unlikely to change.
“It’s difficult to upgrade that,“ Boldon said. “There’s not a lot of people that are real excited about playing us.”
The most upsetting part may be that the MAC still received two bids for the NCAA Tournament. Buffalo received an automatic bid when it won the MAC Championship, and Central Michigan, who lost in the semifinal round of the MAC Tournament, received a bid over Ohio. The Bobcats had more overall wins than the Chippewas and made the MAC Tournament Championship Game.
Sue Guevara, coach of Central Michigan, felt sympathy for the Bobcats. Guevara led Central Michigan to its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but she believed that Ohio deserved to go with it this year.
Sympathies won’t change anything for Ohio, though. Boldon is less bitter now that the Bobcats will continue their season in the WNIT. Ohio should play at least one more home game at The Convo, and Boldon will never complain about that.
But he still believes it was an embarrassing day for the NCAA. The early leak of the brackets wouldn’t have changed that.
“That,” Boldon said with a smile, “would never happen in men’s basketball.”