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Selection Committee

March 20, 2003 Columns No Comments

A Look at the Selection Process from Sunday

by Phil Kasiecki

Sunday was not the best of days for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. While they had a difficult job trying to determine the teams and seeds in a very wide-open year, that isn’t an excuse for some of the apparent logic shown, if you can call it that.

To start, let’s look at the teams that got in, or did not get in. The teams with the biggest complaints are Boston College, Seton Hall, Texas Tech, and UNLV. All four have cases to be in the field of 65 in looking at who did get in. While Tennessee has been mentioned as a snub, the Volunteers had a low RPI (60), lost in their first SEC Tournament game, and finished the regular season 4-6 in their last ten games and 17-11 overall.

The committee has said that important factors are road record, last ten games, RPI rating, and strength of schedule. That said, let’s look at each school.

Boston College (18-11) has a relatively shaky profile. The Eagles were 2-6 against teams that made the NCAA Tournament, and also had a loss to Northeastern. But they were co-champions in the East Division of the Big East at 10-6 and entered the Big East Tournament having won 9 of 11. They were also road warriors all season long in posting an 8-3 record on the road in the regular season, including a win over North Carolina State, which just made it in. The Eagles’ RPI is 49, aided in part by a lack of wins over top 50 teams.

Seton Hall (17-12) also went 10-6 in Big East play, which helped negate a very slow start that included no quality wins in non-conference play. In fact, the Pirates did not beat an eventual NCAA Tournament team until their 78-72 win over Notre Dame in early February, which was part of a nine-game winning streak that also featured an upset of Pittsburgh. They would drop their final two games of the regular season, including a 32-point thrashing at the hands of Pittsburgh. The Pirates were 3-7 on the road and have an RPI of 42 – the second-best RPI of a team not in the NCAA Tournament.

Texas Tech (18-12) might have a better profile, as they have wins over Oklahoma State and Texas on their resume. They also have several close losses against the Big 12’s best, including three by a combined 19 points against Oklahoma, two of which went to overtime. But the Red Raiders, whose RPI is 48, went 6-10 in conference play and were 6-6 on the road.

UNLV (21-10) has the highest RPI of a team not in the NCAA Tournament at 40. While their schedule was not full of cupcakes, they didn’t consistently knock off elite teams, either. They went 4-6 against eventual NCAA Tournament teams, but went 6-5 on the road and were 7-3 in their last 10 games.

These four teams were all left out, relegated to the NIT instead.

Auburn (20-11) got in with an RPI of 36, but a cupcake non-conference schedule that included a win over a non-Division I teams and double-digit losses to Western Kentucky (89-70) and Western Michigan (72-54), the latter coming at home. They went 4-8 against NCAA Tournament teams, but take away the wins over mid-major conference champions and the record falls to 2-7 (wins over Alabama and LSU, both at home). The Tigers enter the tournament 4-6 in their last ten games.

North Carolina State (18-12) finished with an RPI of 53 – lower than all four snubs previously discussed and lowest of all at-large teams – went 2-7 against NCAA Tournament teams, 3-7 on the road, and split their final ten games. They did make the ACC Tournament final, beating regular season champion Wake Forest along the way.

This is just the start of it, as a look throughout the brackets will find some questionable seeds, as well as other issues. Let’s start with the number one seeds.

How did Texas not only get a No. 1 seed, but also get to take on the play-in winner (UNC-Asheville)? The Longhorns are an excellent team and had a terrific season, but they did not even make the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament and were not a clear favorite for one of the top seeds entering the last week. Meanwhile, Oklahoma entered the last week with slim hopes of a No. 1 seed, but won the Big 12 Tournament and got one, and Pittsburgh was in contention, won the Big East Tournament, and wound up with a No. 2 seed.

Apparently, the significance of conference tournaments varied depending on the team. Not only did the conference tournament result apparently mean nothing for Texas and Pittsburgh, and plenty for Oklahoma and North Carolina State, but it also apparently meant nothing for slumping Florida, the No. 2 seed in the South. The Gators lost in their first game in the SEC Tournament and enter the NCAA Tournament having lost three straight games. Granted, those three games were a heart-breaker at Georgia, one that came down to the wire against Kentucky and a close loss to one of the nation’s hottest teams in LSU, but a deserving No. 2 seed should win at least one of those games.

Elsewhere, many lower seeds look questionable, but there is no sense going through a detailed analysis. Part of it is due to the fact that teams across America beat up on each other this season, and this year’s tournament is clearly the most wide-open in recent memory. As such, there are some high seeds that might look very vulnerable and some No. 5, 6 and 7 seeds that could certainly make a deep run in the tournament. So while some lower seeds might look questionable, in the end it’s partly a product of how very little this season is clear-cut.

Additionally, reasonable people can disagree about the West region being loaded at the top and Arizona being the No. 1 seed there. Every year, there is a region that is loaded and one that is weak, but that doesn’t change the fact that upsets occur and sometimes a team that looked to have an easy road gets knocked off early.

One point of contention as soon as the brackets came out was the placement of Arizona and Kentucky, the consensus top two teams this season. If everything holds to form, the two teams will meet in the national semifinal, as opposed to the national championship game. Committee chairman Jim Livengood, the athletic director at Arizona, said that the committee is not supposed to look ahead and thus where these two teams would meet if things held to form was not a consideration. This is an interesting response if we look back a few years.

Think back to when Kenyon Martin was injured during the 2000 Conference USA Tournament. The consensus Player of the Year was done for the season, a season in which his Cincinnati team looked like a clear No. 1 seed based on its season. But when the question came up as to the seeding Cincinnati would get without Martin, it was said that the committee has to be forward-looking in terms of seeding, and as such, Martin’s injury would most assuredly affect their seeding. The Bearcats wound up as a No. 2 seed after looking like a lock for a No. 1 all along.

So which is it? Is the committee supposed to be forward-looking or not? It isn’t very clear.

CBS showed the selection committee’s meeting room in Indianapolis during their coverage of Championship Week. The room had committee members seated at a table whose landscape was dotted by laptop computers – that’s right, the committee members were not at games, or watching them on CBS or ESPN and its affiliates. They were busy trying to crunch numbers. And anyone who watches basketball games knows that numbers seldom tell the whole story.

As if the aforementioned mistakes were not bad enough, the committee made a colossal mistake with Brigham Young. They placed the Cougars in the South Region as the No. 12 seed, where they would play in a Sunday regional final if they made it that far. The Mormon Church-run school is not allowed to play on Sunday, and the Cougars would not buck the rules in this case, leaving the NCAA in a quandary.

The quandary was not one that the committee had no readily available remedy for. The committee could have simply moved BYU to the Midwest region, where they would play on Saturday if they made it to the regional final. Instead, they are sticking to their original bracket and planning to improvise if necessary.

Should Brigham Young advance to the Sweet 16, they will be moved to the Midwest region, and the team from the corresponding pod in the Midwest region (one team from Wisconsin, Weber State, Dayton, and Tulsa) will be moved into the South region. The committee could have made this change immediately – they could have simply swapped Brigham Young with Weber State, the No. 12 seed in the Midwest – but they opted not to.

History also shows that this could come to fruition. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, 23 No. 12 seeds have won a first round game, and 12 of those teams went on to advance to the Sweet 16 with another win.

All in all, the committee did not do a great job. Questions with teams who did/did not get in, questionable seedings, an apparently inconsistent application of what is said to be important in the criteria considered, an inconsistent message about being forward-looking, and the mistake with BYU are simply too much for this writer to say that they did well with this.


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