The 10 Most Controversial NCAA Tournament Snubs in Recent History

Following Selection Sunday, the 68 teams that will take part in the NCAA Tournament in 2018 were set. The teams at the top were really no surprise, as is the case every year, but there are always plenty of teams that get left out all together and leave us scratching our heads. This year, however, there is one very big reason why a prominent and deserving team didn’t get selected to play in the tournament. Let’s take a look back in NCAA Tournament history at the biggest snubs, including one team that was spurned in 2018.

10. Harvard 2011

A ball going through a basketball hoop.
Harvard had a hard time getting to the NCAA tournament.| TuiPhotoengineer/iStock/Getty Images

Back in 2011, Harvard hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since Wyndol Gray was their leading scorer. For those unfamiliar with Gray, he died in 1994 at the age of 71. Suffice it to say, it had been a long time for the Crimson. But things were looking good that year. Harvard finished with a 23-7 record under head coach Tommy Amaker, including 12-3 in the Ivy League.

They were co-champions with Princeton, who beat them in two-of-three regular season meetings. But while Princeton snagged a No. 13 seed in the tournament, Harvard sat on the outside yet again. The good news is that Amaker led the Crimson to the NCAA Tournament the next four straight years.

Next: 2012’s biggest snub

9. Drexel 2012

A ball swishes through the net at a basketball game.
Drexel wasn’t far behind. | Yobro10/iStock/Getty Images

Like Harvard, Drexel hasn’t seen much NCAA Tournament success in their history. At least they had made it in recent years, having lost in the second round back in 1996. But it’s still fairly dubious that the Dragons have failed to make an appearance in the AP top-25 … ever. Things were different in 2011-12, however. Drexel went 29-7 overall, including 16-2 in the CAA.

However, Drexel lost to Virginia Commonwealth in the conference tournament, and it was VCU — who did not win the conference in the regular season — that got the invite to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed.

Next: 2010’s biggest snub

8. Virginia Tech 2010

Two players fighting for the basketball.
Virginia Tech had barely made the cut. |v-lvinst-/iStock/Getty Images

Back in 2010, Virginia Tech looked like a major lock to get into the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies were 25-9 overall and 10-6 in the ACC, finishing in fourth place behind Duke, Maryland, and Florida State. VT had quality victories over several opponents, including ranked teams such as the University of Miami and Wake Forest.

When Selection Sunday came around, it was six teams from the ACC heading to the tournament. The three ahead of Virginia Tech in the conference standings made it, as well as the three teams behind them — including Wake Forest. Georgia Tech made the tournament despite going 7-9 in the ACC, including a loss to the Hokies on their home court.

Next: 2007’s biggest snub

7. Syracuse 2007

Jim Boeheim standing in a basketball court during a game.
Jim Boeheim | Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Jim Boeheim led the Syracuse Orange to an NCAA Championship in 2002-03, but just a handful of years later he was on the outside looking in. In 2007, the Orange had a quality victory over Georgetown, which made a trip to the Final Four that year. They finished 24-11 overall and 10-6 in the Big East, but had to sit and watch Marquette and Villanova were selected for the tournament while they were left out. That came despite Syracuse finishing ahead of both teams in the Big East and having beaten both of them during the regular season.

Next: 2004’s biggest snub

6. Utah State 2004

A red, white and blue colored basketball hoop.
Utah State faced a major snub in 2004. | Chutarat sae-khow/iStock/Getty Images

In 2004, Utah State was ranked as high as No. 19 and finished the regular season ranked No. 25 in the AP poll. They went 25-4 overall, including 17-1 in the Big West Conference. The Aggies finished tied with the Pacific Tigers for the conference championship, and the two teams split their two head-to-head games during the season. But because Pacific won the conference tournament, they earned a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament while Utah State went home empty-handed. How does a team that finishes ranked No. 25 overall not make it into the field of 64?

Next:  1998’s biggest snub

5. Gonzaga 1998

John Stockton speaking at a podium.
John Stockton | Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Back in 1998, Gonzaga was probably most well-known for being the alma mater of John Stockton, the Hall of Fame point guard for the Utah Jazz. They had made just one trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history, so it’s easy to see how the selection committee could’ve overlooked the Bulldogs. That 1997-98 team went 24-10, including 10-4 in the WCC. Gonzaga played just one ranked opponent that year, beating No. 5 Clemson on a neutral court early in the year.

Despite winning the conference title, the University of San Francisco won the conference tournament and received the NCAA invitation. If it’s any consolation to Bulldogs fans, however, they did make the tournament the following season and have been back every year since.

Next: 2008’s biggest snub

4. Arizona State 2008

James Harden gesturing on a basketball court.
James Harden  | Scott Halleran/Getty Images

In 2008, Arizona State went 21-13 behind freshman guard James Harden. They had quality victories over No. 7 Stanford and No. 17 Xavier, and ASU took both head-to-head matchups with their rival, the University of Arizona. Imagine their surprise when the 19-14 (8-10 in the Pac-10) Arizona Wildcats received a No. 10 seed in the tournament while ASU didn’t even make it.

There is a strong case to be made that Arizona draws better ratings, if you want to be a conspiracy theorist about it. No matter what you believe about how it went down, this is one of the biggest snubs in NCAA Tournament history.

Next: 2006’s biggest snub

3. Missouri State 2006

A basketball bouncing on a court.
Not a good year for Missouri State. |

Missouri State holds the unfortunate record of the team with the highest RPI (rating percentage index) to be left out of the NCAA Tournament. Back in 2006, Missouri State finished 22-9 with a 12-6 conference record and an RPI of 21, and somehow they did not get invited to the tournament. What’s even worse? The Missouri Valley Conference had four teams in the tournament that season, and three of them finished behind the Bears in the standings.

Missouri State had at least one victory over all three. Southern Illinois actually received a No. 10 seed. How did the Salukis land a No. 10 while the Bears were completely shut out? We’ll never know.

Next: 2014’s biggest snub

2. SMU 2014

Larry Brown gesturing a "thumbs up" during a basketball game.
Larry Brown | Jim Rogash/Getty Images

This one is a major head-scratcher. Southern Methodist University (SMU) went 27-10 in 2013-14, including 12-6 in the AAC. Coached by the legendary Larry Brown, the Mustangs had quality victories over No. 7 Cincinnati, No. 17 Connecticut, and No. 22 Memphis. SMU actually was ranked in the top-25 for each of the last three weeks of the regular season. But a loss in the conference tournament to Houston doomed them, and the players had to watch at a Selection Sunday rally as they were passed over.

Next: This season’s biggest snub

1. USC 2018

Player with basketball ball in a gym.
Perhaps they had a good reason | Blueskyline/iStock/Getty Images

There is no way to describe what happened to USC this season other than a snub. There are certainly reasons for it, we assume, but nonetheless it’s pretty egregious when you look at the stats. They finished 23-11 this year, including 12-6 and a second-place finish in the Pac-12. Despite that, they did not get invited to the NCAA Tournament while UCLA (21-11, 11-7) and Arizona State (20-11, 8-10) did.

The biggest reason we could suspect that USC got skipped involves a federal investigation in a bribery case. That is pretty much the only reason able answer for why the Trojans won’t be battling in the tournament this year.

All stats courtesy of Sports Reference.