It has been repeated so many times over the years that it has become almost gospel--how a team has done in its last 12 games goes a long way in determining its chances of gaining one of 34 at-large berths in the NCAA Tournament and/or how it will be seeded in the tourney.
However, those last 12 games no longer factor in the selection process nearly as much as in the past. In fact, teams' records in their last 12 games were removed last year from the information sheets that the committee receives on each team. The committee felt too much emphasis was being placed on the last 12 games by the media and that this created a misconception that it was the primary criteria for selecting and seeding.
"Certainly an 11-1 team in one situation versus a 7-5 team in another situation could be evaluated completely differently based on what the quality of competition was," said selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA. "So we didn't want to make that just an absolute item or criteria. That being said, we all know how teams are finishing. That information is readily available to us. I believe each committee member can weigh how a team finishes as strongly as they want. In terms of how they do in the tournament in a general sense, that isn't a factor for us to evaluate at this point in time. It's really drilling down on those 34 best teams, those who we feel merit being placed in the pool, and of course how they do in the tournament is unknown."
Guerrero and the selection committee convened Wednesday in Indianapolis and will basically stay sequestered until they determine the field of 65 and the brackets on Sunday. A total of 31 teams gain automatic berths on the basis of winning their conference tournaments or, in Cornell's case, winning the Ivy League regular-season title.
It is the committee's charge to determine the other 34 participants. Some might make the case that there aren't 34 deserving teams in a season that has been marked by parity in some people's eyes but mediocrity for others. Guerrero, though, says that does not have an impact on the difficulty of finding the right 34 teams.
"The issue of quality of teams is always a subjective question," Guerrero said. "Comparing one year to the next really isn't a factor for us. We believe that any team in the field has pros and cons. They have strengths that we'll need to be able to assess and certainly every team might have some weaknesses as well. There's no perfect team out there. Every team has some blemishes. Our charge is to pick the 34 best. It's the 34 best that are in the field this year. Of all the 300 plus teams we have to assess and evaluate, we know there are a number of teams out there that have had excellent seasons. And I believe that the field of teams we have to select from will be very representative of the quality that you see throughout the country."
A recurring criticism of the selection committee is that it tends to give lower seeds to teams from non-BCS conferences. That could certainly be an issue when this year's brackets are announced as six of the 25 teams in this week's version of The List are from the non-power conferences. However, Guerrero insists the so-called "mid-majors" won't get demerits just because they play in conferences that aren't as visible.
"Every team is viewed independently," Guerrero said. "We look at the merits of their respective seasons in comparison to the other teams that are in the field. That's how we seed. We don't seed by conference affiliation. We don't select by conference affiliation. So we'll go about our business measuring one team against another."
One of the most difficult challenges the committee will have in determining seeds is Purdue. The Boilermakers shared the Big Ten regular-season title with Michigan State and Ohio State and could make a strong case for a No. 1 seed if they win the conference tournament.
Yet Purdue is without its best player after junior forward Robbie Hummel suffered a season-ending knee injury last month. Guerrero won't talk about specific teams but said injuries are taken into account as the committee determines the brackets.
"We look at all of the games with the player, without a player," Guerrero said. "The committee members are very cognizant of what those situations are throughout the country. We track injuries of that type in our conference monitoring reports and we make certain that everyone is aware of when a situation like that occurs. It's very likely that a team can be just as strong or perform in a manner that doesn't require us to make any changes in terms of where we thought a team might be but it is something we will discuss at great length in our meetings."
All in all, the committee will have plenty to discuss between now and Sunday.
"As trite as this sounds, there's a lot of parity across the country, a lot of teams that look alike," Guerrero said. "We will need to dig deep with all the nitty gritty, all the information that we've been able to garner over the course of the season, both by watching games in person, on television, and of course by talking to each other. We know that in the end we'll be very pleased with the decisions that we make. We know that it will fuel a lot of discussion among the fan base throughout the country, and that's good. That's great for college basketball."
Butler Finishes Horizon Season Unblemished
Butler will carry as much momentum into the NCAA Tournament as its 20-game winning streak is the longest in school history and the longest current one in the nation. The Bulldogs became the first Horizon League team ever to go through the regular season undefeated and also win the conference tournament as it whipped Wright State in the final.
Butler was also the only team in the country this season to finish unbeaten in conference play. Overall, the Bulldogs are 28-4.
That is a far cry from early in the season when Butler looked like an underachiever, particularly after a lackluster loss to Georgetown at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8. However, the Bulldogs called a team meeting after that game and their season turned around.
"It's fueling what we have going now and it's going to continue to move that forward," sophomore guard Ronald Nored told the Indianapolis Star.
"I think one of the defining moments of our team was losing to Georgetown, and playing a game where we lost by seven and didn't play very well," coach Brad Stevens said. "And coming back and beating Ohio State and playing pretty darn well in that game and then playing well enough to beat Xavier. Even though we went to UAB and lost, I thought we really established a resolve about us and a resiliency about us that was really important."
Butler became the fourth team to go through a Horizon League season unbeaten, joining Loyola (1980), Xavier (1995) and Wisconsin-Green Bay (1996). However, the other three teams lost in the conference tournament.
Despite its history-making feat, Butler does not project to be any higher than a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs did not post any high-quality road victories and the Horizon League was down this season. However, don't try selling that idea to Wright State coach Brad Brownell.
"I could see a 4 or 5 seed for them," he said. "You look at what they've done with this winning streak. I don't know many teams in this country who could go through our league unbeaten."
Northern Iowa Thinking Big
Northern Iowa is another mid-major that will enter the NCAAs on a roll. The Panthers are 28-4 after winning the regular-season and tournament titles in the Missouri Valley Conference. They gave up an average of just 44 points in three games in the conference tournament.
This will be Northern Iowa's fifth NCAA appearances in seven years. However, the Panthers have yet to advance past the second round.
"Winning the tournament gives us momentum and that helps as we go into practices getting ready," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. "Now, our guys get to decide as a team what their goals are, and there are a couple still out there that we have not gotten. So there is a lot of motivation."
A motivated Northern Iowa team could be dangerous in the NCAAs, says Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, whose Shockers lost in the conference tournament final.
"They're well-schooled," Marshall said. "They're tough. They're not super athletic, but they're always in the right position, and they're very, very physical and strong. They're going to give somebody in the NCAA Tournament an ‘L,' and some fits on the floor."
Wofford Headed to NCAA Tournament for First Time
Wofford, a college with an enrollment of just 1,450 located in Spartanburg, S.C., has been getting plenty of attention in recent days. That is what happens when a school wins its first conference title and trip to the NCAAs, which is what the Terriers did when they beat Appalachian State in the championship game of the Southern Conference tournament.
Coach Mike Young has been getting interview requests from national media outlets throughout the week. It could make it tough to keep his team focused on basketball but Young is trying his best.
"It's been fast and furious," Young told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. "I'm sure it will intensify. That's part of it. We'll handle it. But we have a lot of work to do. We can't lose sight of what we're doing here. We've got a basketball team to take care of.”
At the same time, Young wants his players and student body to savor the moment of Wofford getting its rare moment in the sun. Thus, the team and student body will have a party at a campus auditorium on Sunday to watch the tournament selections on television.
"It's been a long road, a long journey from mid-October until now," Young said. “We'll have at least three days to prepare (for the first-round NCAA opponent), which is ample time. We're going to enjoy this."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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