- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
Before we even get to the bracket, let's look at how the committee explained its selections.
Gary Walters, the Princeton athletic director and selection committee chairman, made a few bold statements in a post-selection conference call.
Unbalanced scheduling is common in the high-majors (save the Pac-10), yet that's the reason some teams -- like Syracuse and Kansas State -- didn't get into the field. Syracuse didn't have enough wins over NCAA Tournament teams among its 10 conference victories. Kansas State was poor against the stronger South Division teams (although the Wildcats ended up 4-3 against the other division), and that was noted among the 10 wins the Wildcats earned this season. Unbalanced scheduling hurt those teams, but a true round-robin, and going 10-8 in the Pac-10, actually helped Stanford, according to Walters.
Drexel was done in more by the way it played in the Colonial than by how it performed out of conference. The committee celebrated the Dragons' nonconference road wins -- like Syracuse, Villanova and Creighton -- but going 1-5 against the top teams in the CAA (Old Dominion, VCU and Hofstra) essentially eliminated the Dragons.
Not all Sunday games are created equal. The committee had one spot open Sunday, and it was going to go to NC State, if it won the ACC tournament with a win over North Carolina, or to Arkansas. NC State lost, so the Hogs were in -- even though they were losing to Florida in the SEC tournament final while the selection committee was making its decisions. Walters also said that Kansas was a No. 1 seed even before the Big 12 game was finished -- so if the Jayhawks had lost, then they still would have been a No. 1 seed. Their tournament win prevented Texas from possibly moving up from the third line to a No. 2 seed.
Conference tournaments do matter, however. Walters said UCLA's inability to get to the Pac-10 tournament final, something the other four No. 1 candidates did, eliminated the Bruins from consideration for a No. 1 seed.
The toughest call of the day apparently was eliminating Syracuse, in large part because of the human element. Walters said that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is a personal friend, and he was hoping he would remain so after the Orange didn't get a bid. Overall, Walters said this was the toughest field to put together in his five seasons on the selection committee, essentially with 104 teams winning 20 or more games this season after a previous high of 78 teams accomplishing the feat last season. That put more teams in the bubble pool, according to Walters.
Now, on to the interpretation of the bracket:
Hot No. 10: Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said earlier Sunday that he wasn't sure whether the Yellow Jackets were going to get a bid. But he said that if they did, he was convinced they could win a few games because Tech's younger players are in a groove. As a No. 10 seed, Georgia Tech might not be the favorite against seventh-seeded UNLV on Friday in Chicago, but it certainly could be a hot choice to get to the Sweet 16 with a struggling second-seeded Wisconsin potentially on deck in round 2.
Marquee 8-9 matchups: This has been the year of high-profile teams playing their way down in the seeding process. Just look at the 8-9 matchups: Arizona doesn't have eighth-seeded talent, but it played its way down to that seed and draws No. 9 Purdue in New Orleans. Marquette, which looked like a Big East title contender earlier in the season, slid to a No. 8 and will play No. 9 Michigan State in Winston-Salem (one of those inadvertent coaching story lines that pits teacher against pupil as Tom Izzo faces off against Tom Crean). Kentucky, one of the most recognizable names, dropped to a No. 8 and drew No. 9 Villanova in Chicago. You conceivably could have Florida playing Arizona, Kentucky against Kansas and Marquette against North Carolina in the second round. There's nothing wrong with these second-round games -- it is just jarring for traditionalists to see these games in so early in the tournament.
Hot coach: Gregg Marshall, Winthrop. New Mexico is very interested in Marshall. If Marshall gets past Notre Dame in an 11-6 matchup and gets past Oregon in a potential second-round game (or even if his team just plays a great second game), then hiring Marshall out of the region suddenly is much more palatable.
Hottest shooter: Bryce Taylor, Oregon. No one is coming into the tournament with more steam than Taylor, who scored 32 points and had a perfect game in the Ducks' Pac-10 tourney final win over USC, going 11-for-11, 7-of-7 on 3s, 3-of-3 at the line. If Taylor continues his incendiary play, look for the Ducks to get to the Elite 8 and possibly give Florida a rough game. Remember, Taylor is the third and sometimes fourth or fifth option on this team behind guards Aaron Brooks and Tajuan Porter and wings Malik Hairston and Maarty Leunen.
Coach in the most bizarre position: Larry Reynolds, Long Beach State. According to his representation, Reynolds doesn't have a deal beyond this season and could be out with the 49ers -- yet he won the Big West and is coaching a dangerous team as a No. 12 seed against fifth-seeded Tennessee in Columbus, Ohio.
Home cookin': The selection committee says it protects the top four seeds in the first two rounds, but there were a few interesting seed-location designations. Illinois, as a No. 12, will play No. 5 Virginia Tech in Columbus (a Big Ten city), and No. 6 Louisville could meet third-seeded Texas A&M in Lexington in the second round.
UCLA's path to the Final Four: For the second straight season, the Bruins don't have to leave the state. UCLA played in San Diego and then Oakland en route to Indianapolis in 2006. This season, UCLA is slated to play in Sacramento and San Jose as a No. 2 seed.
Well, yes, there is one other: Greg Oden. The Ohio State center might not go against another comparable post player until the Final Four unless Stanford's Brook Lopez can lead the Cardinal to the Elite 8 (a monster assignment considering the Cardinal would have to get past Louisville, Texas A&M and possibly Memphis).
First-year bonus: Weber State's Randy Rahe and Wright State's Brad Brownell should get a salary bump after leading their teams to the Big Dance in their first year at each school.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.