Ohio State is sowing doubt in the NCAA Tournament seeds.
Thanks to the upstart Buckeyes, the 65-team field can't be completed until the end of the Big Ten tournament final this afternoon at the United Center. With a victory over Illinois, the Buckeyes would claim the league's automatic NCAA berth -- and threaten to blow the brackets apart.
Eighth-seeded OSU's run comes amid a rash of surprising results in conference tournaments nationwide that have sent amateur and professional bracketologists into a frenzy. With 21 top-seeded teams eliminated from their respective conference playoffs, the task of selecting and seeding the NCAA Tournament rarely has been so confusing.
With so much uncertainty, today's selection announcement could be as interesting as the tournament itself. The Big Ten final is expected to end just minutes before CBS' nationally televised selection show airs.
"This is going to be a late-night and an early-morning process and probably all day (today)," selection committee chairman Jim Livengood said in a CBS interview.
The 65-team field includes 31 automatic qualifiers: 30 conference tournament champions and the Ivy League regular-season champion.
That leaves 34 at-large berths. If every top-seeded team won its conference tournament, the at-large selection process would be relatively simple. But when a team that would not otherwise merit an at-large invitation snares an automatic berth, it puts the squeeze on teams with marginal resumes.
Consider what happened in the Mountain West Conference. Utah and Brigham Young, both assumed to be tournament locks, lost in the semifinals Friday night. The winner of the UNLV-Colorado State game late Saturday claimed the league's automatic berth. This doesn't mean Utah or BYU won't also be invited, but it raises the possibility that a relatively weak league could place three teams in the field. And that could be bad news for the fourth- or fifth-best teams from major conferences, or second-best teams in mid-majors.
Livengood insisted the committee does not take conference affiliation into account when it is weighing selections.
"We really don't look at conferences per se," Livengood said. "Remember that our charge is to pick the best 34 teams."
The picture became slightly clearer when Southern California, which had a losing record, lost to Oregon in the Pac-10 final Saturday night, and when North Carolina lost to Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals.
But impressive performances by such marginal teams as Texas Tech and North Carolina State could muddy the picture today. The Red Raiders, after upending Texas Friday, took Oklahoma into overtime in the Big 12 semifinals Saturday afternoon. The Wolfpack has reached the ACC final.
With those schools making a late push, teams such as Southern Illinois, Butler, Arizona State, Auburn, Boston College and Gonzaga will sweat out today.
While there's confusion about the at-large selections, there also may be controversy over the coveted No. 1 seeds. Arizona and Texas, both projected as No. 1s, lost in their respective conference quarterfinals.
Livengood said the committee didn't look to punish a school for suffering an upset in its conference playoffs. Nevertheless, an untimely loss could hurt.
|What: The NCAA Tournament field is revealed.When: 5 p.m. today.TV: CBS, channels 5, 13.|
"A team can always lose a No. 1 seed," Livengood said. "But go back to our concept of looking at a season-long process, a body of work if you will. Really, we look at what's happened throughout the whole season. A loss in a conference tournament doesn't necessarily mean a team will lose its seed."
All the confusion has created an opportunity for Illinois to improve to perhaps a No. 3 seed. The Fighting Illini had been projected as no better than a fifth seed when the conference tournaments tipped off. But then the upsets started, and the dominoes starting falling in Illinois' favor.
"Teams around the country are helping us out," Illini guard Dee Brown said.