Iowa State v Houston
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Iowa State made an impressive late surge into contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but even an authoritative victory over Houston in the Big 12 Tournament Championship Game wasn't enough for the Cyclones. In the end, North Carolina claimed the fourth No. 1 seed despite falling short in the ACC Championship Game against NC State on Saturday.

In a 68-team bracket full of controversial placements, the UNC vs. Iowa State debate is one of the most consequential. Relegated to a No. 2 seed, the Cyclones will be forced to navigate an East regional that is topped by No. 1 overall seed UConn. They could also be pitted in a potential Elite Eight game against a surging No. 3 seed in Illinois, which just won the Big Ten Tournament.

The Huskies are the reigning national champions and have won 21 of 22 games entering the Big Dance. It's a treacherous path for the Cyclones, who tore through the Big 12 Tournament with three straight blowout victories against quality foes.

So why did the Selection Committee seemingly disrespect ISU? It had a lot to do with the Cyclones' strength of schedule — or lack thereof.

"Iowa State, a magnificent team," selection committee chair Charles McClellan said on the CBS Selection Show. "Great wins, great tournament. But we did look at that nonconference strength of schedule. And we talked about this all along. We look at the entirety of the season, from the first game all the way until the last. When we added it all up, we felt like Iowa State was appropriately placed on that two line."

Rigging the system?

Iowa State played the No. 351 nonconference slate, per KenPom. By contrast, North Carolina's nonconference schedule ranked No. 36 as the Tar Heels picked up wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma while falling against UConn, Kentucky and Villanova.

ISU's top nonconference win came against a non-NCAA Tournament team (Iowa), and the Cyclones suffered losses against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M before league play began.

In fact, Kansas was the only Big 12 team to play a nonconference schedule ranked in the top 100 nationally by KenPom. Seven of the conference's 14 squads had a nonconference schedule ranked 300th or lower. That has prompted grumbling from coaches in other leagues that Big 12 schools are "rigging" the system.

Essentially, the criticism is that Big 12 teams inflated their standings in the advanced metrics that the selection committee looks at by blowing out bad teams in November and December instead of challenging themselves against quality foes. In the end, eight Big 12 teams made the field, validating the conference's perception as the nation's best. But at least with the Cyclones, the conference's penchant for light scheduling did have an impact.

What about Tennessee?

McLelland's assessment of the way the committee viewed the battle for the fourth No. 1 seed actually made it seem like Tennessee — not Iowa State — was UNC's closest challenger for the honor. He mentioned "head-to-head with Tennessee" as a factor in the committee's decision on the fourth No. 1 seed. 

The Tar Heels beat the Volunteers 100-92 at home in November. Tennessee went on to have an excellent season, even rising to the projected No. 1 line in Jerry Palm's Bracketology entering the postseason. But after an ugly loss to Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament, the Volunteers went limping into Selection Sunday and ended up as a No. 2 seed.