Commentary

Upsets create questions for committee

Originally Published: March 12, 2009
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- What if you're one of the 10 members of the selection committee and you're sitting in an Indianapolis hotel room as three of the four potential No. 1 seeds lose?

What if the fourth -- in this case, North Carolina -- has to play its ACC tournament quarterfinal game Friday against Virginia Tech without conference player of the year Ty Lawson (jammed toe)? What if UNC loses Friday?

[+] EnlargePittsburgh loses
AP Photo/Julie JacobsonPitt and other top-ranked teams have an anxious few days ahead of them after Thursday's flurry of upsets.

You chill. You don't panic. You continue to work on selecting the field. And you don't worry about seeding. According to a representative of the NCAA staff, final tweaking of the seeding can always be done Sunday.

It may have to be after the most turbulent day for top seeds in conference tournament history as Oklahoma, Pitt and Connecticut all fell Thursday (for UConn, it was actually early Friday morning).

Besides Oklahoma's loss to Oklahoma State, the Big 12 delivered another potential blow to the No. 2 and No. 3 seed lines when Kansas lost to Baylor.

Oklahoma can no longer say it lost games only when player-of-the-year favorite Blake Griffin was out of the lineup. The Sooners have now lost two with Griffin -- at Missouri and to the Cowboys in Oklahoma City. Kansas won the Big 12 but wasn't going to get a No. 1 seed. A No. 2 was within reach but may be lost after KU's quarterfinal loss to the Bears on Thursday.

The Big East saved the most mayhem for later in the day as Pitt lost to West Virginia, and then hours later Connecticut lost to Syracuse in an epic game that lasted six overtimes.

But all may not be lost with these results -- at least for some of the No. 1s like Pitt and Connecticut.

"I don't think the topic of seeding is in the front of their mind right now,'' said Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, whose five-year term on the men's basketball selection committee -- including one year as the chair -- ended two seasons ago. "They can go further into selection weekend before the topic of No. 1 seeds comes into play.''

Littlepage said the fact that three other potential No. 1 seeds lost may not hurt the overall group.

"The fact that so many teams lost may balance it all out,'' Littlepage said. "It's a season-long body of work, and in many cases an unexpected early loss in a tournament doesn't necessarily mean a team has lost the edge it had.''

One former chair of the selection committee who was contacted Thursday night said that "no one event happens in isolation from other events.'' But he said that "this year's [conference] tourneys will have a heavier bearing on selection and seeding than in the past because there is parity at literally every seeding quadrant.''

Still, the most intriguing seeding quadrant will be the top line after Thursday's events.

Pitt's body of work will work in its favor because of a sweep of Connecticut, a true nonconference win at Florida State, and one of the best nonconference schedules in the country.

Connecticut didn't lose on the road until the last game of the regular season at Pitt. UConn knocked off outright Big East champ Louisville on the road and beat Gonzaga in Seattle. North Carolina, regardless of what happens here in Atlanta, won the ACC outright with a sweep of Duke, and the ACC is arguably one of the nation's top two conferences. Meanwhile, Oklahoma didn't win the Big 12, and its best nonconference wins came against Mountain West champ Utah (in Norman) and Purdue, a top-three Big Ten team (in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden).

That means Oklahoma is the most likely to drop off the No. 1 line.

"Obviously, I'd keep an eye on Michigan State,'' Littlepage said. "Memphis is hard to get a read on right now. Michigan State has a chance to move up if it advances in its conference after putting together a great résumé.''

The Big Ten outright champ, Michigan State did struggle in its nonconference games against marquee opponents -- losing to Maryland by 18 and to North Carolina by 35. But there were wins over Kansas at home and Texas in Houston.

Louisville could be in play if it wins the Big East tournament after claiming the outright title. But the Cardinals will play Villanova in the semifinals and, if they win, either West Virginia or Syracuse (avoiding Pitt and Connecticut). Louisville's nonconference résumé is weak with a home loss to UNLV and neutral-site losses to Western Kentucky and Minnesota. Not having to go to Pitt, Connecticut or Marquette and losing to the Huskies may keep the Cards on the No. 2 line.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari sees his Memphis squad as a No. 1 seed if it wins C-USA.

So the biggest question may be how the committee judges Memphis. The Tigers have won 23 straight games, including wins at Tennessee and over Gonzaga in Spokane. When the Tigers lost their three nonconference games -- to Syracuse, at Georgetown and to Xavier in Puerto Rico -- they hadn't moved freshman Tyreke Evans to the point.

"Something you're not taking into account that the committee will is who we chose to play, and then we chose to play them -- Gonzaga and Tennessee -- in the middle of the conference season,'' Memphis coach John Calipari said by phone from the Conference USA tournament after the Tigers beat Tulane 51-41 in a quarterfinal game.

"We haven't lost since I put Tyreke at the point,'' Calipari said. "If they choose not to put us on the 1-line, there must be a pretty good reason.''

Calipari said he went into the locker room after the Tulane game and told his team that Oklahoma and Pitt had lost. But he wasn't pleased with the way the Tigers played against the Green Wave. So he reminded the Tigers that they have to win C-USA to get a No. 1 seed.

What would a No. 1 mean to Calipari a year after losing the title game to Kansas in overtime and then seeing freshman Derrick Rose, junior Chris Douglas-Roberts and senior Joey Dorsey depart for the NBA?

"For a non-BCS league team to get a No. 1 seed two years in a row shows what this program is about,'' Calipari said. "That's why kids want to come here.''

The Tigers have to beat Houston in Friday's semifinals and then either Tulsa or UAB in the final Saturday to have a shot at a No. 1. Calipari knows he has no margin for error. Oklahoma's loss -- more than Pitt's or Connecticut's Thursday -- has given the Tigers a chance.

"The seeding is what it's all about,'' Calipari said. "It's the biggest predictor of where you may finish in the tournament.''

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com