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Archive for Sunday, March 15, 2009

Picking field not easy

March 15, 2009

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Mike Slive hears the outside world constantly debate NCAA Tournament selections.

People argue whether the Big East deserves two, or perhaps, three No. 1 seeds. They want to know how much this weekend’s conference tourneys may affect the bracket. Some contend greater emphasis should be placed on the final 12 games while others suggest signature wins simply should be the standard.

Slive, the ultimate insider, ignores the noise. As this year’s committee chairman, his job is separating those minute slivers and producing a 65-team bracket that reflects the best of the best.

In some ways, the job has never been tougher.

“Just looking at the coaches and media polls throughout the season, we have seen a revolving door, not only at the top, but throughout the Top 25,” Slive said during a conference call with reporters. “It’s shaping up to be a memorable championship from start to finish. It is also shaping up to be a stressful week for the committee.”

Indeed.

By this evening, the 10-member committee must select all 34 at-large teams and put together a bracket that is geographically and competitively balanced.

Fortunately for the committee, Slive knows his way around these discussions.

Four previous selection weekends have taught him how to decipher the nuances about standards, formulas, rules and principles the committee relies upon — even the unexpected. Slive, the SEC commissioner, was in the meeting room last year when word came that a tornado ripped through Atlanta, forcing the conference tournament to find a new site and revise the schedule.

He was there, too, when Georgia surprised everyone by winning the tourney and knocking out an unidentified team from the board just hours before the bracket was released.

Clearly, Slive would like the process to be more simplistic. He has repeatedly said the committee will base its choices on four factors: who teams played, where they played, who was injured and how they played.

The problem is that it can’t be so simple.

The 10 voting members must assess things like whether Oklahoma, which lost two games without the injured Blake Griffin, then its opening-round game in the Big 12 tournament with Griffin, deserves a No. 1 seed. Or how to seed Marquette, which has struggled since starting guard Dominic James went down because of a season-ending foot injury.

But the complexity of the discussions change when teams such as Ohio State, Notre Dame, Georgetown or Davidson — all of whom were ranked during this season but struggled late — are considered.

Suddenly, road wins and strength of schedule and victories over Top 50 teams become significant factors.

The committee also has to make contingency plans when a team such as Cleveland State, the Horizon League champ, sneaks in. Or, heaven forbid, they have to revise the pairings because a team like Georgia makes it in Sunday afternoon.

To Slive, it’s just part of the business.

“I think one of the things the committee has to do is we have to take what happened during the season as the basis for our decision-making,” he said.

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