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Sunday's tourneys skew seeding

3/16/2004

Apparently, "60 Minutes" is more important than the NCAA Tournament, even though CBS paid $6 billion for the rights to show college basketball's crowning event.

The NCAA Tournament selection committee showed far too many inconsistencies in using conference tournaments to determine seeding: The biggest being it didn't even care about the results of either the Big Ten or Big 12 title games Sunday.

Wisconsin won the Big Ten tournament title game. Yet the Badgers were seeded as a No. 6 in East Rutherford, one spot below Illinois, a No. 5 in Atlanta. Not only did Wisconsin win the Big Ten crown, it beat the Illini to do so. The Badgers also split with the Illini during the regular season.

So, how could the Badgers not be seeded ahead of Illinois? Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby, the selection committee chair, didn't answer this question specifically Sunday, but did say it's hard to wait for the end of the Big Ten title game when it doesn't finish until 30 minutes before the selection show on CBS.

OK, so how about starting these games earlier? Or, better yet, airing the selection show after "60 Minutes" in prime time? I'm no network executive, but there are worse reality shows on at 8 p.m. ET.

Not taking into account who wins title games in conferences like the Big 12 and Big Ten just doesn't wash. The selection committee should, and could, dictate when the game times of these tournaments begin. And, if getting the games finished in time to discuss the champion's seeding is so much of a concern, the Big Ten shouldn't start the games so late (3 p.m. ET) on Sunday.

But seeding the Badgers behind the Illini wasn't the only slap at the Big Ten tournament champs, who finished one game behind regular-season champion Illinois in the standings. Wisconsin got stuck in by far the hardest bracket. The Badgers must play Richmond in the first round, a team that won at Kansas, Colorado and Xavier. And if the Badgers beat Richmond, they'll likely draw No. 3 seed Pittsburgh, which by losing in the Big East tournament final to Connecticut became the toughest third seed in the bracket.

If the Badgers were to get past Pittsburgh, they would have to play Oklahoma State. So, by winning the Big Ten tournament, the Badgers get rewarded by playing Richmond, Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State. That's essentially trying to get past two teams that could have argued for a No. 1 seed.

Sure, the Badgers are playing in Milwaukee, but the Badgers have to play the toughest slate of teams if they can advance.

So, the Big Ten tournament champ gets penalized because of the time of the game. Yet, Xavier and Maryland are rewarded for winning their respective conference tournaments with quantum leaps in their seeding.

The Musketeers and Terps deserved the seeds they received. But it still doesn't jive that both teams went from the bubble to seeds near the Badgers by winning conference tournaments, while Wisconsin was a solid NCAA team all season and its conference title didn't do anything to improve its seeding.

It's all in the tournaments' timing, I guess. The ACC tournament champ cut down its nets in Greensboro, N.C., about the same time the Badgers were tipping off in Indianapolis.

Same goes for the Big 12 tournament, which also didn't end until less than an hour before the selection show. But in the case of Oklahoma State, it was awarded a No. 2 seed in East Rutherford before it ever took the court against Texas. It's safe to assume the Cowboys wouldn't have dropped to a No. 3 seed had they lost. Pittsburgh was already filling that spot in the same bracket after losing in the Big East tournament title game the night before.

It's just hard to figure out how the selection committee weighs the conference tournaments -- top to bottom.

Look at the No. 1 seeds. Saint Joseph's didn't drop despite a blowout loss to Xavier. Stanford stayed behind Duke despite winning the Pac-10 title a day before Duke lost its title game. Only Kentucky's seed is simple to explain, as the Wildcats blew through the SEC en route to the overall top seed in the 65-team field.

At the bottom of the bracket, the last at-large teams were each treated differently after losing in their respective tournaments. Utah State -- winners of 17 of 18 Big West regular-season games and 25 overall -- dropped out of the field after losing to Cal State-Northridge in the Big West tournament semifinals. UTEP also shared a regular-season title, but got into the Dance after losing to Nevada in the WAC title game.

So, the question becomes: Do the conference tournaments matter or not?

The answer changes depending on the day of the week, or time of day.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.