As we watched ESPN’s Around the Horn telecast yesterday, we were intrigued by Bill Plaschke’s theory that the FBI investigation into basketball recruiting irregularities may have damaged the chances of bid-worthy teams to be selected for the humongous field. Plaschke mentioned Louisville, Oklahoma State and USC as bid-worthy teams snubbed by the Selection Committee and also—coincidentally?—named in FBI documents.

We decided to test the part of the theory we could prove or disprove: Did those three teams deserve a tournament bid? The results can be found in our ranking table today at www.nemosnumbers.com/basketball-rankings/.

Based upon our Relative Performance Grading system, all three teams had better seasons than Oklahoma and Alabama, but then many teams we haven’t yet ranked would also finish ahead of these two unworthy selections.

Oklahoma State barely slipped past Oklahoma for #35 in our list of 37 teams. They went 4-5 against Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech and TCU. They defeated Kansas twice but lost to Kansas when it mattered (in the conference tournament). In non-conference play, the Cowboys faced three tournament teams—Wichita State, Texas A&M and Arkansas—and lost to all three of them. According to RPG, their playing performance in their victories was subpar. It’s possible that the committee smelled the foul odor of Oklahoma State’s incredibly poor RPI (91). The Cowboys could have replaced Oklahoma in the field, but they’d have been nearly as bad a mistake.

Louisville played the easiest ACC conference schedule but only managed a 9-9 record. They faced Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia, Clemson, NC State and Syracuse just once each, and lost all seven games. In non-conference play they had opportunities for wins against tournament-bound Purdue, Kentucky and Seton Hall and failed all three times. In the RPG rankings they are a smidge ahead of Oklahoma State at #34. Like Oklahoma State, they aren’t any more bid-worthy than Oklahoma and Alabama.

USC also enjoyed an easy conference schedule, facing Arizona and Arizona State just once each. They lost both games. The Trojans also lost twice to cross-town rival UCLA which snagged a lowly #11 seed in the NCAA tournament. Arguably USC’s best win was over Middle Tennessee State, another team ignored by the Selection Committee.

We often find ourselves on the other side of arguments made by Bill Plaschke, an unapologetic homer for everything Southern Californian, but this time Bill was right—USC deserved a bid. After we crunched all the numbers we ranked USC #26, right behind Florida (a #6 seed) and ahead of Texas A&M (a #7 seed), Clemson (a #5 seed), Arkansas, (a #7 seed), Miami (a #6 seed), Creighton, (a #8 seed), Arizona State (a #11 seed), and Butler (a #10 seed).

Our conclusion is that the committee should have invited USC and St. Mary’s instead of Oklahoma and Alabama (or Louisville or Oklahoma State). And, yes, Arizona State is on our bubble as we rank additional teams that made the field. Look for those posts in the coming days.

Note to Bill Plaschke: since St. Mary’s is another California school, you may want to look into a possible conspiracy to keep Californians out of the tournament.