Davidson, Syracuse most heavily debated teams in two mock brackets

INDIANAPOLIS -- My time in voluntary captivity --- two consecutive 12-plus hour days in a windowless conference room at the NCAA's headquarters -- while participating in mock NCAA Tournament bracketing procedures, left me with a number of probable predictions.

On Wednesday, 20 members of the United States Basketball Writers Association came up with a mock bracket. The following day, 20 broadcast journalists came up with their own field of 65.

That doesn't mean those brackets will resemble the official one in March, especially with a month of the season remaining, but it was a worthwhile exercise.

And after back-to-back days of bracketing and debating (observed by selection committee chairman Tom O'Connor and veteran NCAA staffers Greg Shaheen and David Worlock), here are some of the most compelling discussions that took place during the two sessions that will likely keep the 10-member selection committee churning until the final minutes of the deadline on March 16:

" The selection committee will likely have a relatively easy time settling on the No. 1 seeds.

Barring some sort of collapse, expect for Memphis, Kansas and UCLA to be on the first line. The winner of the ACC, and for now that's Duke over North Carolina, will grab a No. 1 seed as well.

And those top seeds are likely to be rewarded with some close trips, which always helps the home fans, the first weekend: UCLA could be in Anaheim for the first and second rounds; Memphis in Little Rock, Ark.; Kansas in Omaha, Neb.; and Duke or North Carolina -- in Raleigh, N.C.

The voting on both days for the four No. 1 seeds wasn't even close, save the discussion about Duke and North Carolina. The only hitch Wednesday was this: ignoring the Duke-UNC result was impossible. So, with that known, Duke ended up with a No. 1 seed, while North Carolina was the top vote getter on the second line.

" The recurring theme was to make sure we had the 34 best teams in the at-large field. And throughout the day, Shaheen and Worlock made sure to throw various curveballs by setting up conference tournament title games with a few teams that weren't expected to make the field.

Keep in mind that the way the committee selects teams through a series of electronic, private votes, and only the chair can see how each member voted. If a member's school is in a group of schools being voted on or if the member is a conference commissioner, like Mike Slive of the SEC, the person can't participate in the vote.

If a discussion is taking place on one of those teams, members with ties to them have to leave the room.
Committee members, who have a conflict of interests, can only answer specific factual questions about the team or teams.
In March, that means Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway can only answer which games Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins were suspended for and when they returned. The reason players miss games -- injury, academic suspension or violation of team rules -- is irrelevant.

" Our most interesting debate, which could be repeated next month, was about Davidson.

In our scenario, on both days, Davidson lost in the Southern Conference tournament after completing the regular-season league schedule undefeated.

Davidson coach Bob McKillop played arguably one of the toughest nonconference schedules for a lower-profile conference favorite. He played tough teams in his state -- like Duke, North Carolina, NC State and Charlotte -- and played UCLA in Anaheim. Davidson lost them all. The Wildcats also played a road game at Western Michigan and lost that game.

This question was asked repeatedly: Should a team like Davidson be applauded for playing these games, all of which were relatively competitively close losses, or penalized for not winning them? Going through the conference slate undefeated seemed to push Davidson into the at-large field, albeit in one of the last spots, for the writers.

But the broadcast media, for the most part, had a hard time rewarding losing. Asked again if Davidson was one of the 34 best teams, the answers were mixed. And when the vote was taken, the Wildcats were left out of the field. That means one thing for Davidson going into the Southern Conference tournament: It needs to win.

" Syracuse will once again be a team that generates plenty of discussion. The Orange are playing short-handed after Eric Devendorf went down earlier in the season with a knee injury. Inconsistencies will put them in a tough spot yet again after the Orange were left out of the field a year ago. The writers had Syracuse out. The broadcast media had Syracuse in. This was once again a question of whether or not Syracuse was one of the 34-best teams in the field. For the writers, the answer was yes -- a sentiment likely based on the fact that Syracuse's near win at Georgetown was fresh in people's minds.

" This is, of course, a snapshot of the first three-plus months of the season, and injuries this month are hard to gauge. Arizona just lost Nic Wise for a month, and it remains to be seen how that will affect the Wildcats. But one certainty already exists: Arizona went 1-3 without Jerryd Bayless and played one of the nation's toughest nonconference schedules. That was enough to convince both groups that the Wildcats were one of the best 16 teams in the field.

Other teams to watch with interesting story lines that could hold up:

" Butler: Brand identity isn't supposed to happen. But it may actually occur with a team like Butler, in a lower-profile conference. Butler's wins in the Great Alaska Shootout, the win over Ohio State in Indianapolis, and its strong road record -- save two conference losses -- locked the Bulldogs in the top 16 teams.

" Connecticut: The Huskies' road win at Indiana, without Dyson and Wiggins, and the home wins over Louisville and Pitt generated enough chatter to keep the Huskies in the top 16.

" Drake: This was a tough one. There was plenty of talk about the Bulldogs. Both days, in our mythical world, Drake didn't win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. Creighton did. So, Drake was thrown into the at-large pool. The Bulldogs' impressive undefeated Valley record was debated because the conference isn't as strong as in years past. One person in the room said Drake scheduled its nonconference slate like a team picked to finish at the bottom of the MVC. The one loss was at St. Mary's. The rest of the slate lacked a signature win. Drake still got into the field, but its seeding took a hit. The writers had Drake as a No. 5 seed; the broadcast media with a 6 seed.

" Xavier: Sean Miller's schedule is hard to ignore. The constant slate of big-time games for the Musketeers will certainly help Xavier in the seeding process. Xavier is a lock for a top-four seed thanks to its strength of schedule. The problem for Xavier will actually be in bracketing and trying to avoid a first or second-round repeat matchup, which the committee tries to avert. Xavier played Tennessee, Indiana and Kansas State, which made bracketing tough.

" Indiana: The Hoosiers have a gaudy record and one loss in the Big Ten. But the Hoosiers have lost their three biggest games -- Xavier, Connecticut and Wisconsin. That didn't hurt in selection, but it did certainly affect voting in seeding. Indiana was a No. 6 in the writers' bracket and No. 5 in the broadcast media's.

" Pitt: The Panthers' ability to win games without two injured starters (Mike Cook and Levance Fields) was met with plenty of praise. They never were in doubt of being voted out of the bracket. But there was a wide gap in the view of their seed. Pitt was voted as a No. 3 by the writers and a No. 7 by the broadcast media.

" Dayton: The Flyers will be one of the teams the committee discusses at length. Questions will be asked about how the team looked prior to injuries to Chris Little and Chris Wright, and how it did after their returns (Little is back and Wright is due to come soon). The Flyers at full strength had a road win at Louisville and a home win over Pitt (which was missing Cook and Fields got hurt in that game). How Dayton finishes in the Atlantic 10 will be critical to its chances of making the field. But there were plenty of times when Dayton caused a halt in the voting process for a little discussion.

" USC: Few teams have as strong a résumé as USC. Yes, the Trojans may not jump out at you as a lock, but good losses aren't ignored. USC played three No. 1 seeds as close as anybody in the country -- winning at UCLA, taking Memphis to overtime in New York and giving Kansas fits at home. No one questioned USC's inclusion. USC slid in at No. 6 in both brackets about as solidly in the field as any at-large team outside of the top four seeds.

A few other points of interest:

" I can't stress enough that conference affiliation never comes up during the selection process. It only gets mentioned during bracketing when it becomes difficult because the first three conference members have to be separated along the first three lines (Nos. 1-3 seeds) and can't meet until the Elite Eight.

" Geographical concerns are paramount for the top four seed in each bracket. But the committee doesn't project past the first weekend. That means Kansas fans shouldn't complain one bit if Michigan State ended up as a No. 4 seed in the Detroit bracket and the teams meet at Ford Field in a Sweet 16 game. The committee won't apologize for these types of situations; it won't move a team just because a matchup might occur if both teams win two games. And, from hours of experience, it's obvious that the committee is under a tough time restraint of finishing the bracket, so moving a team and the dominoes that follow wouldn't be prudent.

" But moving a team a seed or two further down in the bracket will occur to avoid an obvious advantage. Arkansas can play in Little Rock because it's not the Hogs' homecourt. If Arkansas were a No. 9 seed, as was the case in the broadcast media's mock bracket, and Clemson were a No. 8 seed, it wouldn't be fair to put that game in Little Rock. So, in this instance, it was easy to move Arkansas to Anaheim to avoid an unfair edge.

" BYU will unfortunately always be a tough team to bracket because it can only play in a Thursday-Saturday first-and-second round site, which feeds into a Thursday-Saturday regional final. The Cougars choose not to play on Sundays, and that limits their positioning in the bracket and can cause movement of other teams.

" Not sure if the committee did this on purpose, but there isn't supposed to be any communication coming out of the room. My BlackBerry e-mail function had reception in the room, but my cell phone didn't.

Complaints will surely follow the release of the bracket. But going through this process, it's hard to think the committee doesn't exhaust discussion of the teams.

Look, there will always be conspiracy theorists out there. But when a person walks back into the room from a discussion and then a vote takes place on his school and the school didn't make the cut, there is no recourse to change the process. It's over.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.