Selection insights and tournament story lines

Utah State and Air Force in? Cincinnati out? Andy Katz provides insight into the selection process, and tells you what to watch for when the tournament tips off Thursday.

Updated: March 13, 2006, 12:17 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Even though it ended in a loss, Utah State's performance against Nevada in overtime in the WAC tournament title game was the final impression needed to push the Aggies into the field of 65 in one of the more surprising selections of the year, ESPN.com has learned.

The selection committee watched Utah State and, after seeing the Aggies nearly pull off the upset at Nevada on Saturday night, was convinced the Aggies should be in the field, a source with knowledge of the selection process confirmed.

Some of the more interesting decisions went down like this, according to the source:

• If South Carolina had beaten Florida in the SEC tournament title game, then one team would have been eliminated -- either Bradley or Air Force.

• One of the main reasons Air Force got in the field was that the Falcons were the No. 2 team in the Mountain West, ranked as the No. 8 conference.

• One of the last teams not to make the field was another mid-major: Western Kentucky. The committee looked strongly at the Hilltoppers, regular-season champs of the Sun Belt. Western Kentucky, which lost to South Alabama in the conference title game, had an RPI of 55, a strength of schedule of 116, a 1-2 record against the top 50, a non-conference SOS (strength of schedule) of 29, and a 7-4 road record. Meanwhile, the NIT placed Western Kentucky as a 6-seed in the South region.

• Duke earned the No. 1 spot overall because it played in the ACC tournament title game while Connecticut and Villanova failed to reach the Big East tourney title game.

• George Washington slid down to a No. 8 because of the knee injury to starting forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

• The biggest discussion point was over Missouri Valley teams.

• Boston College was one of the more perplexing placements as a No. 4 in Salt Lake City in the Minneapolis region. The Eagles play No. 13 Pacific with the other two teams being No. 5 Nevada against No. 12 Montana. BC, which played Sunday in the ACC tournament title game, will have to travel Monday night to Salt Lake City to play Thursday. The Eagles are the only Eastern time zone team among the other four teams.

• The team that seemed to move the most around the board was Pitt, which settled at No. 5 in the Oakland region.

• Cincinnati was off the board by late in the week. The Bearcats didn't get out of the first round of the Big East tournament after Syracuse's Gerry McNamara beat them with a 3-pointer with a half second left.

The Bearcats' omission may have been the most alarming. The reaction from interim head coach Andy Kennedy came swiftly Sunday night.

"I'm in shock," he told ESPN.com. "We got screwed big time. We had a strength of schedule of five, an RPI of 40 and we were 8-8 in the Big East. So, do you mean to tell me that if Gerry McNamara doesn't hit that 3-pointer that we're in?"

Kennedy said the Bearcats' players were "devastated." He said he told them in practice the last few days that "Everything would be good."

"If I were a head coach in the Big East, this should be considered a somber day," Kennedy said. "The selection committee wouldn't allow nine teams from one league. Seton Hall [which did get in] beat us and maybe that's how they justify it. I'm in a state of disbelief."

The committee is on record as saying it doesn't count teams from one conference.

"This is a crazy ending to what has been an unbelievable year," Kennedy said of a season that started with head coach Bob Huggins being ousted. "This is not the ending that was appropriate."

Here are some storylines to follow in the first week:

• Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said the Orange are better prepared for this year's tournament after winning the Big East. The Orange lost to Vermont in the first round last season?

• Will Gonzaga get past the second round?

• Which mid-majors will get through to the Sweet 16? There is always at least one.

• How will Connecticut respond after losing in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament?

• Which mid-major coaches will pull a Bruce Pearl and play their way to a big-time job?

• How much longer can departing Indiana coach Mike Davis keep his run going with the Hoosiers?

• What will be Allan Ray's effectiveness for Villanova this weekend after being cleared to play?

These are just a few questions. More are sure to follow in the coming days.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com