The NCAA Tournament selection committee began gathering at the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis on Wednesday, a day earlier than normal.
With 34 at-large teams to select and a 65-team tournament field to seed, first-year committee chairman Tom O’Connor, the athletic director at George Mason, wanted to make sure the 10 people who will set the stage for March Madness were not rushed into making any wrong decisions.
“First, we’re doing it so we can have more discussion on the selections,” O’Connor said in a conference call. “That’s the most important part of the process because you can’t be seeded or bracketed if you’re not selected.
“The second point of all this is that we’ve been a little rushed in the bracketing process and it gives us a little more time to really go through the nuances. So if we pick up more time in the bracketing, it gives us a little more time to look back and see what we’ve done.”
One of the biggest changes the committee is making beyond convening earlier is looking more closely at a team’s last 12 games of the season. Previously, the committee put a certain amount of weight on how a team did in its final 10 games.
O’Connor thought the scope should be expanded because the number of extra games so many schools have been adding to their schedule in recent years by playing in exempt tournaments.
“You may be looking at a team getting hot and jelling at the right time,” O’Connor said. “Winning in the last 12 games indicates a team is playing its best basketball of the season. Losing in the last 12 games will tell you something as well. We just thought this year that it would give a clearer picture of what’s happening.”
In addition to the final 12 games, committee members will put a certain amount of weight on teams’ road schedules, schedule strength and their standing in the RPI. No word if the committee will take the Pomeroy Ratings into effect, though faithful readers of Basketball Prospectus are likely to think it should.
“Everyone has a different opinion and a different way of looking at it,” O’Connor said. “What we try to do is determine the consensus in the room.”
O’Connor admits one of the traps the committee can fall into is being impulsive when it comes to putting weight on the conference tournaments. Yet, he is quick to remind members to remember to look at a team’s whole body of work rather than just the final few games.
“If two teams played during the regular season and split and then play again, my rule from the playground days say if you win then you continue to play,” O’Connor said. “It could affect your seed, but you’d still have to go back and look at the whole picture because you’d be putting more emphasis on that one game.”
The committee’s emphasis this week has been spending more time together in an effort to make the best possible decisions.
Joining O’Connor on the committee are UCLA AD Dan Guerrero, Connecticut AD Jeff Hathaway, Texas-San Antonio AD Lynn Hickey, Utah AD Christopher Hill, Kent State AD Laing Kennedy, Horizon League commissioner Jonathan LeCrone, UC Riverside AD Stan Morrison, Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive and Ohio State AD Gene Smith.
“We think if we pick up a half-hour here or hour there, we can come up with a better product,” O’Connor said. “Our goal is to select the 34 best teams. That’s of the utmost importance.”
The Third Option
Teams that fail to make the NCAA’s field of 65 Sunday will have an alternative to going to the National Invitation Tournament.
The College Basketball Invitational, organized by the Gazelle Group, which runs several early-season tournaments, will be a 16-team event that will actively pursue teams that would usually fall into the 32-team NIT.
Gazelle Group president Rick Giles believes more post-season competition--which will increase the number of teams still playing to 113--will be good for college basketball.
“Now that there is a little bit of competition, we think it will improve both events,” Giles told the Centre (Pa.) Daily Times. “We’re not trying to replace or displace the NIT. We want both events to thrive and be successful.”
Giles said the CBI is offering a “better financial package.” Furthermore, none of the games will be played on NCAA Tournament dates and the highest-seeded team will be at home in each of the first two rounds.
While the NIT requires teams to have at least a .500 record to be eligible, the CBI will not.
The Very Big East
Louisville coach Rick Pitino says the greatest feat in college basketball, short of a national title, is winning the Big East regular-season title.
“Considering we have 34 teams in our conference, it’s a difficult thing to do because you’re playing against every style of play known to man,” Pitino said. “When you win the Big East, you’ve done something.”
Pitino exaggerates. There are just 16 teams in the Big East; that still makes it the biggest conference in Division I.
Thus, Georgetown becoming the first school in the Big East’s 26-year history to win back-to-back regular-season titles ranks as quite an accomplishment, and the Hoyas relished it.
"It was a great feeling. To be able to win back-to-back, the way that we did it, the type of season we had this year--we had so many ups and downs but we stuck together," senior center Roy Hibbert told the Washington Post.
Said coach John Thompson, “"Winning the regular season is something that's truly special in any league, because it's a marathon, not a sprint. In this league--with so many terrific coaches, so many terrific players, so many terrific traditions--and to be, for the most part, the hunted all year, to plug along and be standing here as the regular season champs is something that I'm extremely proud of. It's something that's special."
Junior forward Tyler Hansbrough will have the highest honor a North Carolina player can receive as his jersey will be the eighth to hang from the Smith Center ceiling along with those of Jack Cobb (no number), Lennie Rosenbluth (10), Phil Ford (12), George Glamack (20), Michael Jordan (23), Antawn Jamison (33) and James Worthy (52).
Hansbrough qualified for the jersey retirement by virtue of being named Sporting News National Player of the Year earlier this week.
“It truly is something special,” Hansbrough, who wears No. 50, told the Raleigh News and Observer. “In fact, it's kind of hard to talk about how it feels to be put in the same category as the players who are up there already.
"Having a jersey retired is pretty much everybody's dream, along with a national championship.”
Said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, “There will never be another one just like him. I am so lucky to be his coach. For the rest of my career, I will be able to look up into that first row and see his jersey, and I know that will bring a big smile to my face.”
Team to Watch
This week’s Team to Watch is Clemson, which finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind North Carolina and Duke in the regular season with its 70-69 win over Virginia Tech this past Sunday. The Tigers have won four of their last five games to improve to 23-8 and take on Duke in the ACC semifinals today.
Clemson, No. 14 in the Pomeroy Ratings, has five players who are scoring in double figures: junior guard K.C. Rivers (14.5), senior guard Cliff Hammonds (11.7), sophomore center Trevor Booker (11.1), senior forward James Mays (10.7) and freshman guard Terrance Oglesby (10.6). Booker is the leading rebounder with 7.5 a game and Hammonds is tops in assists with a 4.0 average.
Rivers also has an outstanding 9.6 turnover rate that ranks 13th in the nation, and his 123.2 offensive rating is 42nd. Mays is 45th in offensive rebounding percentage (13.5) and 67th in steal percentage (4.0).
Clemson is 20th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (89.0) and 31st in adjusted offensive efficiency (114.6).
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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