A year ago, we were gazing over a bracket full of questions and puzzled by the selection process. Not this season. The women's NCAA tournament bracket is fair and makes sense.
Of course, that isn't much fun. There's always something to question, observe and further analyze. Here are the most intriguing questions in the 64-team field:
Oklahoma in, Rutgers out
After the NCAA committee's reveal Sunday of the final eight teams under consideration for the last four spots in the bracket, we knew the Sooners and Scarlet Knights were at best one of the last teams in. It turns out Oklahoma was the last team in and the Scarlet Knights were left out.
The Sooners get in with a 16-14 record, the worst winning percentage for an at-large team since 1983, when Monmouth was included at 14-14. The last time a team with just 16 wins made the field as an at-large was in 2005 when Purdue went 16-12. Oklahoma's inclusion was precedent-setting.
In this case, the Sooners -- in the eyes of the committee -- were merely the best of a bad group of teams from which to choose for that last spot in the field. Purdue, USC and West Virginia were the other teams in Sunday's final eight that failed to make the field. None of them, not Rutgers nor Oklahoma, finished the season well. None of them truly exhibited tournament worthiness.
The Sooners won the battle of "best of the worst" and it seems to be solely on scheduling, not winning basketball games. Oklahoma played the second-rated schedule in the country and third-toughest nonconference slate, but other than South Florida, the Sooners beat no one significant. There is a win over Belmont, but the Bruins would not have made this field without winning the OVC tournament. Oklahoma's two wins over West Virginia made the Sooners' case for inclusion stronger than the Mountaineers', but that doesn't make Oklahoma's case strong.
Picking a team that was one loss from a .500 record just because it scheduled well is bad optics.
Yes, Rutgers (20-12) limped through the last month, going 3-9 to finish the season. But the Scarlet Knights scheduled well, too. They have more good wins against that schedule than Oklahoma -- and it wasn't really close.
And that's why Oklahoma's inclusion is the biggest head-scratcher if we are truly talking full body of work. Rutgers beat four other at-large teams -- NC State, Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan. Oklahoma beat one.
The Sooners did play better down the stretch, but they only beat teams at the bottom of the Big 12 and had what appeared to be an unforgiveable loss in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, giving up 90 points to TCU.
Oklahoma got into the field based on what Rutgers turned into the final month, not on what the Sooners achieved themselves.
Big day for mid-majors
Based on seeding, it appears that a few mid-majors would have made the field as at-large teams. South Dakota State as a No. 8, Quinnipiac as a No. 9 and Northern Colorado as No. 10 all fall on seed lines that would indicate they at least would have had a chance.
Each of those teams won their respective conference tournaments and automatic bids, and the committee doesn't compare teams that are not in the at-large pool. So there's no way to know for certain if the Jackrabbits, Bobcats and Bears would have gotten in.
But to have that trio, as well as seventh-seeded Green Bay, in the field is a good indicator that parity in the game is growing. The better seeds this season also give each of them a better shot to win and advance through the tournament.
Applying strength of schedule
Oklahoma got in because of its strength of schedule (SOS) and little more. Baylor wasn't a No. 1 seed, at least in part due to its weaker schedule than the other No. 1 seeds. Consistency prevailed in those cases, and the committee does have a stated goal to be consistent in applying the criteria and principles. But it doesn't always work out that way. Here's the best example from this year's bracket:
Georgia landed in the top 16 seeds and will host games in Athens. South Florida is a No. 6 seed. However, Georgia's SOS was rated 51st and the Bulls' was 24th. That is despite the fact that USF plays in the weaker American Athletic Conference, while the Lady Dogs are in the SEC. An even greater disparity exists in nonconference SOS.
Otherwise, the teams are pretty similar. South Florida is 6-5 against the top 50 and has nine top-100 wins. Georgia is 5-6 versus the top 50, also with nine top-100 wins. The Bulldogs beat three Top 25 opponents to the Bulls' one. That might have been the difference.
It's important to note the committee doesn't compare just two teams in this matter, but it's interesting to see that SOS wasn't necessarily applied the same way as the Oklahoma and Baylor situations. It illustrates that, while important, SOS is one of many criteria the committee is using to evaluate. This is a situation where the seeding discrepancy doesn't seem to fit how similar the résumés are.