FGCU's NCAA seeding puzzles its conference, and its opponent

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FILE - Florida Gulf Coast head coach Karl Smesko draws a play against Michigan during the third quarter of a college basketball game in the first round of the women's NCAA basketball tournament at the University of Texas-San Antonio Convocation Center in San Antonio, Texas, March 21, 2021. Florida Gulf Coasts women earned only a No. 12 seed for the NCAA Tournament, and both their conference and their opponent are puzzled as to why. (AP Photo/Michael Thomas, File)

Florida Gulf Coast is a No. 12 seed in the women's NCAA Tournament, something that few outside of the committee that put the bracket together seem to understand.

And the Eagles’ conference wants answers.

ASUN Commissioner Ted Gumbart said Thursday that his league will ask how the Eagles merited such a low seed and evidently wouldn’t have made the field had they stumbled in their conference title game. FGCU was a nationally ranked team for most of the season, a winner at LSU in November and enters the tournament tied with South Carolina for the country’s best record at 29-2.

“The integrity of the bracket has to be fair to everybody,” Gumbart said. “And obviously the committee thinks it’s right. The committee puts out what it believes to be the best bracket. So, the question is, how do we find out the metric that pushed FGCU to 12, and find a way to adjust it?

“I don’t know that answer. We will follow up and get that answer and try to address it because there’s absolutely got to be a better way to put teams where they need to be.”

Gumbart makes no secret that he’s biased; FGCU is from his conference.

Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks has no such biases, just more confusion on this issue. His fifth-seeded Hokies will face FGCU at Maryland on Friday in a first-round game, and Brooks doesn’t understand the Eagles are just a 12, either.

“First and foremost, I would love to go behind the scenes to try to figure out how they came up with the fact that Florida Gulf Coast is a 12 seed,” Brooks said Thursday. “They’re not. I don’t understand how you can be ranked in both polls — as a matter of fact, they were ranked ahead of us in one poll, and they’re a 12 seed.”

It’s not new phenomenon for mid-major conferences to argue they don’t get a fair shake when it comes to seeding or at-large bids. It’s also not new for quality teams from those conferences, like FGCU, to struggle getting games against high majors because those schools simply don’t want to take the risk of losing to a school from a conference like the ASUN.

“I’m surprised where we’re seeded,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said.

This is the eighth NCAA Tournament trip for FGCU under Smesko. The Eagles began transitioning to Division I in 2007, won the league then known as the Atlantic Sun in 2011 but wasn’t eligible for the NCAA Tournament because it wasn’t a full Division I member.

Bellarmine endured a similar fate this season, when it won the ASUN men’s title but wasn’t eligible for the NCAA Tournament as it fully moves into Division I. Regular-season champion Jacksonville State went instead.

FGCU's women's team has been seeded 11, 12 or 13 in seven of its eight NCAA trips. They beat No. 5 Missouri in the 2018 first round and topped No. 10 Oklahoma State as a No. 7 seed in the 2015 first round.

“In women’s basketball, the group that has controlled the schedules will not play on the road, and they won’t play teams that will jeopardize their ability to get into the tournament,” Gumbart said. “It is an absolute cornering of the market in scheduling. And if you can corner the market, you do. I’m not blaming the big schools, but I’m saying the system has to account for that.”

FGCU finished the season ranked No. 23 in the AP Top 25 women’s poll, which is not part of the NCAA’s selection formula.

But the poll seemed to have most of the other teams in the nation pegged closely to how the committee ranked clubs. South Carolina, Stanford, N.C. State and Louisville held the top four spots in the AP poll; each got a No. 1 seed for the tournament. UConn, Texas, Baylor and Iowa were next; each got a No. 2 seed. LSU, Iowa State, Indiana and Michigan were next; each got a No. 3 seed.

“We look at the entire body of work,” women's NCAA Tournament director Nina King said on Selection Sunday.

Gumbart's public concerns came two days after Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams questioned the men's selection committee's decision-making process. After an opening round NIT win, Williams began his postgame news conference with a statement lasting nearly eight minutes in which he said after analyzing the data that it didn't add up to him why the Aggies didn't receive a bid after a strong finish before losing to Tennessee in the SEC championship game.

The women's tournament expanded to 68 teams and is playing its inaugural First Four. The seeding of those teams is further concerning to Gumbart.

The last four teams to get at-large berths into the women’s field — Dayton, DePaul, Missouri State and Florida State — all headed to the play-in round as No. 11 seeds, one spot ahead of FGCU. The Eagles were a 12 seed after winning their conference, indicating that if they lost that final and finished 28-3 they weren’t making the field.

“We’re not going to win by telling them they’re wrong,” Gumbart said. “We got to come in and say, ‘All right, you applied the current criteria under the guidelines. Help us reevaluate the guidelines so that a team that’s in a FGCU mold has a fair chance to get an at-large bid and an accurate seed.’ Because right now, it’s not fair.”


More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25