It seems the mid-majors again got the short end of the NCAA Tournament bracket. New Mexico was the only team from a non-BCS conference to get a seed in the top four as the Lobos are the No. 3 seed in the East Regional.
Cases certainly could have been made for Brigham Young, Butler, Temple and Xavier to be in the top 16 and possibly even Northern Iowa. However, Butler and Temple are 5 seeds, Xavier got a 6 seed, Brigham Young is a 7 and Northern Iowa got busted down to a 9 despite a 28-4 record and winning both the regular-season and tournament titles in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Dan Guerrero, chairman of the selection committee, insisted his group has no bias against the mid-majors, though it seems that the BCS schools get the benefit of the doubt each year.
"All teams get a very serious look as we go through the process of seeding," said Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA. "We'll do an initial seed list. We'll put them on the board and then we spend a lot of time scrubbing that list. Don't worry about conference affiliation or anything of that nature. It's simply going down the seed list and when you're comparing one team versus another. We talk through each of those situations. We do that early in the process as we first start to put teams in and then we continue to do that throughout the entire weekend.
"Obviously, the key is to put the best 34 teams out there and to seed them in a manner that we feel is appropriate. And when it's all said and done, the field that we put forward with the seeds, with the teams on their respective lines, is exactly what we thought was best for the tournament. Irrespective of where a team is from, what conference they're from, what geographic area they're from, we don't really think in the context of power conferences, major or non major,"
The committee had challenges on a number of levels while putting the bracket together. The lack of any truly dominant teams this season made it hard to seed the four No. 1s and even determine the top seeds beyond Kansas and Kentucky. Duke and Syracuse wound up getting the other No. 1s, though a strong case could be made that West Virginia deserved a No. 1 after winning the Big East tournament.
"We really deliberated for a considerable amount of time throughout the week relative to the 1s," Guerrero said. "All of the teams that obviously are on the 1 line are very strong, have tremendous résumés. West Virginia also has a tremendous résumé. We deliberated quite a bit on the potential of them being moved up to that particular line. In Duke's case, obviously they won 11 of their last 12 games. All of the teams that are on that line are deserving. They won their conference championship, going through quite a gauntlet with some great teams. The committee felt that there was some value certainly in that kind of a season.
"Syracuse is a fabulous team and obviously had a terrific year. They did lose their last two games. In the end, we just felt that the kind of season that Duke had, having gone through the year winning both the conference, having a great out of conference schedule, and winning the post season tournament, carried the day."
The committee, as usual, spent a long time deliberating over the 34 at-large berths. Upsets in conference tournaments only muddled the picture.
"I knew going in, and I think the committee knew going in, that the whole issue of parity was one that was going to jump up and get us," Guerrero said. "And certainly that was reflective of the teams that were in the mix. We submitted our initial ballots on Wednesday afternoon. We also had our under consideration pool. Our under consideration pool was, frankly, a little bit larger than it normally was. When you have a larger under-consideration pool, you're going to spend more time peeling back the onion, and that's what we did."
Double Bye Spells Doom in Big East?
It was bloody Thursday in the Big East tournament when three of the top four seeds went down as Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Villanova were upset in the quarterfinals. All four received double byes by virtually of finishing in the top four in the conference standings and were playing against teams who had played at least one game in the tournament.
The double-bye system went into effective last season when the Big East expanded the tournament to include all 16 team instead of the top 12. In order to reward the better teams, the conference decided to give byes into the second round of the five-round event to the fifth- to eighth-place teams and double byes into the quarterfinals to the top four.
A number of coaches were against the double-bye system and this year's results are likely to only strengthen their resolve to have changes made at the conference meetings in May. In all, teams with the double bye have gone just 14-14 in the tournament's history.
Associate commissioner Dave Gavitt told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's John Grupp that the Big East considered going to a four-round format with no byes this year. In that format, the top four teams would play the first day, then get a day off if they won and advanced to the quarterfinals while the No. 5-8 seeds would open on the second day. Ultimately, conference officials decided to keep the format the same.
"Part of the reason we decided not to make any kind of move is that we had just changed from 12 (teams) to 16," Gavitt said. "We had played one year with that format. If we changed again, it would have been three different formats in three years. There just wasn't enough overwhelming support."
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is an overwhelming supporter of eliminating the double-bye, though, and made that clear after his Orange was knocked off by Georgteown.
"It's a huge advantage. Huge," Boeheim said of a team not getting a double-bye. "I want everybody to play four games. It's the right way to do it and everybody agreed to it last year, but a couple coaches changed their minds and screwed it up because they were going to be good and didn't want to jeopardize their seeding with an upset loss to a bad team."
Boeheim believes the Big East doesn't want to change the format because of its deal with ESPN, which televises the entire tournament.
"The league is supposed to revisit this in May but they're holding for more TV money if the No. 1 team has to play on Tuesday," Boeheim said. "What's that, a couple hundred thousand dollars per school? What's that mean?
North Carolina Headed to NIT
North Carolina rolled to the national championship last season, winning its six NCAA Tournament games by an average of 20.2 points. This season, the Tar Heels find themselves as a No. 4 seed in the NIT with a 16-16 record.
North Carolina will host William & Mary in a first-round game Tuesday night that won't even be played on its regular home floor. The game has been shifted to Carmichael Auditorium as the Smith Center is undergoing renovations.
However, North Carolina sophomore point guard Larry Drew II is not apologizing for his team participating in the NIT and is peeved that many fans feel the Tar Heels should be beneath playing in the event.
"To those people, honestly, to those people, I would say that they can't have their way all the time," Drew said. "Some people are just so spoiled, man. Especially Carolina fans, just because, you know, the whole tradition. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just the way it is. But to those fans: Yes, we haven't been performing up to the standards of the usual North Carolina basketball team, but we can't be perfect all the time, and we're human, too."
It is not that uncommon for a defending national champion to play in the NIT. Florida did so just two years ago after winning back-to-back titles.
Streak Ends for Arizona
Arizona's streak of 25 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament ended quietly when the Wildcats lost to UCLA in the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 tournament. First-year coach Sean Miller knew it was improbable that he could he could get Arizona into the NCAAs when he took the job last spring after the Wildcats had been three coaches in two years.
"The reason I came was to rebuild our program and hopefully one day get it to the level that everybody has watched with this team," Miller said. "It's not going to take one or two seasons. Any coach who came to Arizona to make the NCAA Tournament for a 26th time is going to find he's going to be a paranoid coach."
Arizona finished 16-15 and was passed over by the NIT. The Wildcats then decided not to play in the CBI. However, Miller thought his team made significant strides, especially with senior guard Nic Wise being its only player with much college experience coming into the season.
"I thought we did well to finish fourth in the conference," Miller said. "It's a step in the right direction."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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