Committee chair explains tough calls
The NCAA tournament selection committee made some definitive statements Sunday with seeding and selections.
• Winning a regular-season title in a respected conference is significant.
• What happens in November and December -- who you play and who you beat -- is still relevant.
• Injuries late in the season are still a major factor.
• Some bracketing procedures had to be abandoned because of the overload of Big East teams and the lateness of Minnesota's surge into the field.
Let's address some of these issues:
Why were Utah State and UTEP put in the field as at-larges despite not having significant nonconference wins?
"We felt they were both outstanding teams," said NCAA tournament selection committee chair Dan Guerrero, UCLA's athletic director. "They had great runs during their season and in fact both of them had significant winning streaks. The committee had high respect for what they did in their conference."
UTEP won Conference USA by two games (15-1) and was 26-6 overall. The Miners lost in the tournament title game to Houston.
Utah State won the WAC by three games over Nevada and New Mexico State and was 27-7 overall. The Aggies lost to NMSU on a neutral court in Reno, Nev., in the tournament title game.
The body of work was a familiar theme a year ago with tourney chair and SEC commissioner Mike Slive. It was once again a talking point for Guerrero. And that's why teams like Virginia Tech and Mississippi State didn't make the field. During Sunday's teleconference, Guerrero pointed out Tech's weak nonconference schedule. The Bulldogs had a dearth of quality wins as well (save Old Dominion) until it won games at the SEC tournament against Florida and Vanderbilt.
Mississippi State played a thrilling overtime game against Kentucky on Sunday in the SEC title game in Nashville, Tenn. The Bulldogs did look the part and passed the "eye test," but the Bulldogs' best work was done in the past week. Guerrero said the committee did watch Sunday's game closely.
"We were all very excited to see them make a run at the end," Guerrero said. "But the strength of schedule for the nonconference wasn't that strong. Twelve wins were against teams below 110 [in the RPI]."
Conversely, a team like Wake Forest was rewarded for quality wins in the nonconference, according to Guerrero. Wake won at Gonzaga and beat Richmond and Xavier at home. The unbalanced conference schedule is ultimately an issue for the committee as it attempts to evaluate teams.
Minnesota was also given credit for its body of work, in beating Butler in Anaheim, Calif., in November and then taking out the best teams in the Big Ten: Ohio State, Wisconsin, at Illinois and then Michigan State and Purdue in the Big Ten tournament. Guerrero noted that the Gophers beat the class of the conference.
Injuries did play a significant role in deciding some teams' fates.
Guerrero was honest in describing how the committee looked at Purdue and the reasoning for dropping the Boilermakers to a No. 4 seed. Purdue star Robbie Hummel was out for the season with an ACL tear. Since he's been out, the Boilermakers have lost to Michigan State and Minnesota and beat non-NCAA teams Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern. Purdue was once in line to be a possible No. 1.
"After Robbie went down, we had to evaluate Purdue's performance and we felt that they weren't the same team without him," Guerrero said. "We had to look at the integrity of the bracket. Purdue did slip. Purdue is a fantastic team. But the seed obviously was impacted negatively."
The injury to Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku was also discussed. Onuaku is expected to play despite his quad injury. But the Orange did lose their final two games and that might have had a role in lowering Syracuse to the fourth No. 1. Guerrero did mention how teams finished was a factor for the committee. The committee officially got rid of the last 10-12 games as criteria, but each member could evaluate how teams were playing going into the tournament. And that's why teams like Kansas (No. 1 overall), Kentucky (the second No. 1 seed) and Duke (the third No. 1 seed) were given more credit for winning their respective conference regular-season and tournament titles.
Guerrero also addressed why the committee had to punt on a few bracketing procedures. Under the rules of bracketing, teams from the same conference can't meet until the regional final unless there are nine teams from that conference. The Big East had eight and Marquette (No. 6 seed) and West Virginia (2) could meet in a Sweet 16 in Syracuse, while Villanova (2) and Notre Dame (6) could meet in a Sweet 16 in Houston.
"The committee did everything it could to separate those teams as much as possible," Guerrero said of the Big East teams. "But it was very challenging and we made every effort to avoid a rematch. We also looked at teams that may have only played once in their regular season [in unbalanced schedules]."
Notre Dame played Villanova only once in the Big East. Marquette drew West Virginia once as well.
Minnesota was also put in Milwaukee as an 11-seed, which allows the Gophers to be essentially the home team against No. 6 Xavier. Guerrero said the committee couldn't avoid doing this when the final bracketing was put together. At that late stage, there are certain locations for teams that are unavoidable without moving too many teams around.
Ultimately, Guerrero said the bracket was completed late Saturday night but then New Mexico State's upset win over Utah State in the WAC final "threw a monkey wrench in there." The committee was told to sleep on the field overnight.
"We scrubbed the seed list into the afternoon," Guerrero said. "We came into the room [Sunday] and scrubbed the at-large field and then went over any issues we had left."
The committee doesn't project out, so that means any potential advantage Texas A&M could have as a 6-seed in Houston playing No. 1 Duke in the Sweet 16, or any potential advantage No. 7 BYU could have playing a virtual home game in Salt Lake City in the Sweet 16, is moot. The committee doesn't even project if these teams get out of the first round.
One thing is certain: A thorough analysis of the bracket was done and at least three of the four No. 1 seeds were the most consistent all season long in Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse. And if the seeds hold out, a coaching rematch of the 2008 national title game between KU's Bill Self and former Memphis head coach John Calipari could be the capper, with Kansas and Kentucky meeting in Indianapolis. That would be a whole lot of blue in Lucas Oil Stadium and it would be one heck of a show.
The same goes for this entire tournament. As always, should be quite a show.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.