Gene Smith explains selection decisions
After releasing a controversial men's tournament bracket, the NCAA selection committee chair cited different factors Sunday for why one team was in and then some of those very same factors for why other teams were out.
Ultimately, said chairman Gene Smith, the athletic director at Ohio State, the factor that mattered was whether a team received enough votes to move on to the next phase in the selection process.
The most controversial picks were Conference USA regular-season champ UAB, which beat one team in the field, VCU, another perplexing pick considering the Rams didn't finish in the top two in the Colonial Athletic Association.
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In defending the selection of UAB, which lost in the quarterfinals of the C-USA tournament to East Carolina, Smith said that the committee was impressed by "their road wins, who they beat, their RPI and a lot of different factors."
UAB was 31 in the RPI, won nine road games and beat no team in the top 50 in the RPI.
Smith qualified his point by saying there wasn't one factor that is ruled over the other. But then he delivered a telling nugget that served to explain his thinking.
"I couldn't point to one thing," Smith said on a conference call with the media Sunday night. "But they have a great résumé. They're a very good ballclub. We all know that."
Smith said that some committee members did put stock in UAB winning the regular-season title in Conference USA.
Conversely, tying for a conference title, like Saint Mary's did, didn't hold as much weight out of the WCC. Neither did having the second-most wins in the SEC and winning a division title like Alabama. Smith said neither Saint Mary's nor Alabama had enough votes to get a selection.
Smith's refrain on VCU was similar to his on UAB. VCU, with an RPI of 51, lost in the CAA title game to Old Dominion.
"Virginia Commonwealth is a tough team," Smith said. "They play solid. Great ballclub. If you watch them play, one of those teams that a lot of people don't want to play."
Smith then went on to say that it's about the body of work to get a team a spot. The Rams' win total (23), wins against top 50 (three, UCLA in New York, at Old Dominion, and George Mason in the CAA tournament), and their road record (8-6) was worthy enough to get them into the field.
And as for why Colorado, with its three wins over Kansas State, or Alabama or Virginia Tech didn't make the field? The common answer was that none of them had enough votes to get into the field and that "we just didn't have enough slots to for them to be in."
Smith was quick to point out that he's not in favor of expanding the field from the new 68 to 96, which was discussed last year.
Smith also revealed a few other tourney-specific tidbits Sunday night:
• For seeding purposes, the committee used information from Florida State and Georgetown that key players Chris Singleton (broken right foot) and Chris Wright (broken left nonshooting hand) would play in the NCAA tournament after being out the last part of February and through their respective conference tournaments with injuries. Both players have said they plan on playing in the NCAAs.
• Having five games to observe BYU without dismissed forward Brandon Davies (violation of BYU honor code) was critical to evaluating the Cougars. The Cougars lost to New Mexico and beat Wyoming at home without Davies and then beat TCU and New Mexico and lost to San Diego State in the MWC tournament, without him, too. BYU was seeded No. 3 in the Southeast.
• The committee waited on all four of the conference finals Sunday (Atlantic 10, SEC, ACC and Big Ten) before finishing the bracket. But there was no plan to automatically put the winner of the ACC tournament as a No. 1 seed. Duke did get a No. 1 while North Carolina received a No. 2. However, Kentucky was seeded at No. 4 after beating Florida in the SEC tournament title game Sunday and the Gators were seeded as a No. 2.
• Alabama's conference affiliation didn't factor into the decision to leave out the Tide. "We look at the individual teams and not the conference," he said.
• The toughest thing for the committee was selecting the last teams in the field and ultimately figuring out how to seed a record 11 Big East teams. But Smith said the committee did look at trying to put Big East teams in the same region that played only once during the Big East regular season instead of twice. Big East teams play only three teams twice in the 18-game schedule.
Maybe the most telling revelation into how little the committee looks at matchups came when a reporter asked Smith if he was aware that former Arizona walk-on/assistant and second-year Memphis head coach Josh Pastner would coach his first NCAA tournament game against Arizona.
"That's amazing," Smith said. "As you well know, I was at Arizona State University for five years and I know him and I never thought about that until you just told me. That's interesting. No, there's no conspiracy there, my man."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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