Committee chair talks SEC tournament and other hot topics
The tornado-altering SEC tournament in Atlanta made the NCAA tournament selection committee adjust the way it considered the results of that conference tournament as well as force it to have a number of contingency plans as Georgia advanced to Sunday's final and ultimately won the championship.
Selection committee chair Tom O'Connor, the athletic director at George Mason, told ESPN.com Sunday night that the results from the tournament were judged differently.
"Everything was disrupted in that tournament," O'Connor said. "Kentucky was standing around waiting to play, had to go back to the locker rooms and then back to the hotel. We knew what the scores were but we had put them in the tournament."
O'Connor said that Kentucky's loss to Georgia in the Saturday afternoon quarterfinal, which was made up after Friday night's game was postponed, had no bearing on the Wildcats' admission into the field. Kentucky received an 11-seed in the South region.
"They were in the tournament," O'Connor said. "Not a lock but solidly in. They were one of the strong teams at that point [Saturday morning], but the loss didn't affect them because of the odd situation."
O'Connor said a formal vote on the selection of the at-large teams at that point hadn't been taken as of tip time for Kentucky.
As for Georgia, O'Connor said that the committee didn't watch Sunday's final against Arkansas. There are no televisions in the conference room at the downtown Indianapolis hotel where the committee meets. O'Connor said that NCAA staff members were giving the committee updates, and at least one staffer was checking ESPN.com for real-time scores.
"We were so focused on making it right," O'Connor said, explaining why they weren't watching the game.
O'Connor said 10 moves were made on the bracket to accommodate Georgia's inclusion in the bracket, but no team was moved more than one line. He said that the at-large team that was moved out because of Georgia's victory, a team that he declined to name, would have been seeded higher than the No. 14 seed that the Bulldogs received. As for getting a 14, a low number for a team from a major conference, O'Connor said that the Bulldogs were about a 103 on the RPI and, "If you took away the brand identity, then that would be the most fair seed."
O'Connor wanted to credit Georgia and the job Dennis Felton did in getting the Bulldogs to the title. But he still said that the tournament had to be judged with a different eye. He also said that a conference can't change on the fly how it's going to determine its automatic qualifier. He said conferences have to let the committee know by Sept. 1 of the academic year how they want their automatic qualifier determined. That's why the SEC wanted to finish the conference tournament. But O'Connor said that had the SEC chosen to ask for a waiver over the weekend to change the AQ to the regular season champ and cancel the tournament, then the committee would have endorsed the idea. But he said it never came to that.
O'Connor said that some of the eight contingency plans the committee was working on Sunday had to do with the No. 1 seed line with the Kansas-Texas Big 12 result and of course Illinois, which wouldn't have been in the field, playing Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament title game.
As for a few other hot topics, O'Connor said:
• Arizona State being out: "The reality check was that their strength of schedule was extremely way up there. If ASU had been selected it would have been the highest RPI ever put in the NCAA [as an at-large]. They were also 2-7 vs. the top of the Pac-10. We were cognizant that they beat Arizona twice, but in the final analysis we didn't feel they were one of the 34 best at-large teams."
• Kent State as a No. 9: "Kent deserved it. They're a good basketball team. They won the regular season and the conference tournament."
• Temple seeded at No. 12, behind Saint Joseph's as a No. 11, despite beating the Hawks twice: "Overall, Saint Joe's had eight wins against the top 100. It was how they did against the rest of the field versus Temple."
• Ohio State being left out: "We looked very seriously at them. But the road record really hurt them. Only one road win against the top 100."
• On Oregon being in: "They had three really good wins against the top 100 on the road. Where you play is important. Quite frankly, the strength of schedule was pretty good."
• On Virginia Tech being out: "The one stat that became apparent was that they had one win against the field as a whole and had four losses against teams below [RPI top] 100. They didn't measure as one of the 34 teams. They're one of the top 65, but our charge is the top 34 at-large."
• On Syracuse being out: "At the end of the day, they were really good, but we thought they weren't one of the 34 best at-large."
• On Illinois State being out: "The committee doesn't get into scoring differential into one game [losing large to Drake in the MVC final]. Illinois State had four losses below [RPI top] 100 and the strength of schedule in the 70s. That's a factor in the process."
• On South Alabama as a 10-seed playing in Birmingham against No. 7 Butler, and No. 10 Davidson playing in Raleigh playing No. 7 Gonzaga: "We only protect the first four lines."
That means they didn't look at a home-court advantage for lower-seeded teams playing higher-seeded teams in state.
On Baylor getting in as a No. 11: "It wasn't close. They did it all on the court."
On Tennessee being a No. 2 in No. 1 overall North Carolina's East bracket: "The first eight teams in the country were really strong teams, and we looked at them as teams that could win the national championship. We're projecting and seeing any of them going to the Final Four. We tried to balance the top four lines in each region, and it made geographic sense to have Tennessee in Charlotte [as a No. 2]."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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