I like Gary Parrish. His Poll Attacks articles have been entertaining me for years. I've come to respect his ability to look past the emotional story and empty records of the biggest fad of the media and rank teams on the worthiness of their résumé. That's why it was such a shock for me to read his Wednesday article stumping for including Murray State over a higher rated team from a power conference.
I understand the sentiment: Murray State is more of a "Cinderella Story", and their inclusion already adds a sort of drama that the general public can enjoy. But this is purely an emotional argument, and it's one that Parrish has debunked time and time again in his Top 25 (and One) column. The number of wins isn't how you evaluate a team. Instead, you look at the good wins and bad losses, and Murray State has none of the former and one sub-200 loss (to Houston). His main argument is that this isn't really their fault, because they can't get anyone to schedule them. While this is might be an effective argument to account for a poor RPI number, it isn't quite so effective when looking at KenPom rankings, which are adjusted for strength of opponent.
Looking at KenPom rankings on Selection Sunday, Murray State sits at #73, which wouldn't really put them anywhere near the field. The three teams that are regularly given as the ones that Murray State should get a chance over are Texas (#19), LSU (#43) and Ole Miss (#44). The best win Murray State has is against #60 Illinois State, and they missed a chance to get a win against #26 Xavier, their only Top 50 opponent. Texas has a win against #24 Iowa, and is 3-13 against the Top 50 (1-2 in the nonconference), LSU has a win against #25 West Virginia and is 8-3 against the KenPom Top 50 (1-0 in the nonconference), and Ole Miss has a win against #34 Cincinnati and is 6-8 against the KenPom Top 50 (2-1 in the nonconference). Of these three, Texas probably is the biggest case of underachieving against top competition.
But even if you say that Texas isn't deserving a chance due to its poor showing against the top competition, Murray State doesn't really have any kind of track record to say they would do any better. So the only real argument one has is to say that if Murray State had the same schedule as Texas, would they be able to do at least as well as the Longhorns? Based on their statistics and ratings, I highly doubt. But even if you don't agree, let's turn the question around. If the Longhorns had the same schedule as Murray State, can any of you realistically say that you think Texas would have performed worse than the Racers? Hell no. In fact, given how well Texas was playing at the beginning of the year, I can honestly say that there is a good chance the Longhorns might be undefeated with that schedule and looking at a 2 seed.
I'm not saying that I don't think Murray State should be in the tournament. I would thoroughly enjoy them making it and I think they would have a decent possibility of making a good run. My issue instead is with the idea that because Murray State would make a better story for the fans, that they somehow "deserve" it more than a team that has struggled to stand out against great competition all year. The ability of lower division teams to build up gaudy records against sub-par competition shouldn't be rewarded over a team that was challenged routinely. After all, when John Calipari was at Memphis, it wasn't the fact that he ran through Conference USA undefeated that allowed him to get a high seed, it was instead the fact that they routinely challenged themselves and beat elite teams early in the year, and then blew through their competition to remain sharp until tournament time.
The logical conclusion of Parrish's argument is that it would be better for a middling high major team to join a lower tier conference that they can run through to guarantee a tournament berth than it would be to continue to challenge themselves against higher level competition. Ultimately, we end up rewarding success when success is expected instead of rewarding true accomplishments.