Commentary

Sites, at-large bids the biggest questions

Originally Published: March 9, 2009
By Charlie Creme | Special to ESPN.com

So the bracket is out, and guess what? There's not much to complain about.

Andy Landers
Geoff Burke/US PresswireAndy Landers and Georgia lost five straight in February, but their four RPI top-50 wins likely lifted them to an at-large bid.

No heated arguments. No major criticisms. Still, that doesn't mean that one of the most passionately debated nights of the women's college basketball season won't pass without a few questions and observations. Why did Georgia and VCU receive at-large bids? Why were potential "road games" in the second round for No. 1 seeds Oklahoma and Duke impossible for the committee to avoid?

A look at some of the debates bound to stand out on Selection Monday.

Geography

Members of the selection committee told us both after last season's bracket and during our mock bracket exercise in February that as each new team is discussed (particularly teams on the top four lines), that team is placed in the regional in the nearest geographical proximity. That was why, we were told, Connecticut and Rutgers ended up as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, in the same region last season, as was the case for Oklahoma and Texas A&M as the No. 2 and No. 4 seeds in Oklahoma City in 2008.

However, when it comes to this season's No. 2 seeds, that procedure doesn't appear to have been followed. In fact, it was completely ignored. The committee never reveals its exact S-curve, but had the geographical philosophy been the same as in March 2008, either Baylor or Texas A&M would have needed to join the Sooners in Oklahoma City as the No. 2 seed, while Auburn almost certainly would have landed in Raleigh.

Now, the committee took plenty of heat last year for those same conference/same regional situations. Frankly, that is not a good thing for the tournament, so bravo for avoiding that this time around. It makes for a better tournament this way. However, it does go against all previous explanations of how the process works.

Teams in, teams out

It's hard to quibble too much with how the end of the at-large field fleshed out. Georgia and VCU received at-large bids, while Boston College and South Florida were not included in the 64-team field.

None of those teams exactly played itself into the tournament, so it was a matter of splitting hairs. The question is how those teams were differentiated. In a world where we constantly look for the committee's "message" on certain parts of the process, this one would be best described as mixed. Georgia's inclusion would suggest teams that played and beat some quality opponents despite other issues were rewarded. But then, VCU, which was exactly the opposite, also was included. South Florida's profile was more similar to the Lady Dogs', yet the Bulls were left out.

The difference-maker for Georgia presumably was its four RPI top-50 wins, which offset a paltry win total (18), a bad performance on the road all season (4-9), a terrible loss to Detroit and two horrific stretches -- one early (the Lady Dogs lost five of seven games in December and the first week of January) and one late (a five-game skid in February). Beating two teams -- Auburn and Vanderbilt -- that were top-four seeds must have really helped.

South Florida actually won five games against the RPI top 50, and four of those teams made the field. But the overall quality of those victories aren't as good as beating an Auburn or Vanderbilt.

VCU, on the other hand, beat no one in the top 50 and played only two such opponents. Based on Georgia's inclusion, South Florida should have been included instead of the Rams. Again, this isn't an earth-shatteringly bad decision, just an inconsistent one.

Still, the reality is that the committee's job is not to send messages. The goal is simply to get the best tournament possible in a particular season. To that end, South Florida might have been a slightly better choice this time around.

Big names, top seeds on the road

The number of host schools falling into the 7-through-10-seed lines certainly created a sticky situation for the committee, and we knew some higher-seeded teams would potentially play road games in the second round. Obviously, that's not an ideal situation for the tournament.

But two No. 1 seeds -- Oklahoma and Duke -- and three 2-seeds -- Auburn in Piscataway, Texas A&M in South Bend and Stanford in San Diego -- all could play in hostile environments on Monday and Tuesday. These scenarios have happened before, but not to the extent of this bracket. Still, the only way for the committee to have avoided the frequency of it this season would have meant some heavy moving or manipulation of the seeds relative to the S-curve. The committee is loath to do that, particularly at the 7-through-10-seed lines, as was explained at the mock selection in February. Something then had to give, and that's why there are some unhappy folks in Norman, Durham, Auburn, Palo Alto and College Station, despite their teams' No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

Three Pac-10 teams, two regionals

This one is more of a minor curiosity, but generally, the committee has tried to separate teams from the same leagues even if there are fewer than four from a particular conference in the field. In fact, up until last season, such separation was mandated. A little more flexibility was added in 2008, and that is why California and Arizona State, the second and third teams in the Pac-10, were both placed in the Trenton Regional. They can't meet until the regional final, so the principles and procedures were followed, but it's curious that the committee set the matchups this way when it didn't have to.

Charlie Creme can be reached at cwcreme@yahoo.com.

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Women's College Basketball
Charlie Creme projects the women's NCAA Tournament bracket for ESPN.com.