It's easy to mistake numbers for science.
The NCAA tournament selection process -- in particular, this final week of agony before the conference tournaments crown their champions and Selection Sunday makes its glorious return -- is inherently awash in numbers. The Ratings Percentage Index is the big one, the figure that structures and underwrites everything the committee does in the room between now and Sunday (whether the NCAA always likes to admit it or not).
But as the RPI is sliced and diced to create other categories -- from strength of schedule to top-50 wins to bad losses to conference strength to, well, you name it -- it can give a casual fan the general impression that tournament selection is a matter of rigorous data collection and analysis. Add in the selection committee's usual excellence in selecting the field, the typical predictive success of bracketologists like our own Joe Lunardi (and countless others) and the forgiving nature of the 68-team bracket, and it's easy to think the committee constructs the tournament in academic fashion. Team X meets A criteria? They're in. Team Y doesn't? They're out!
To the contrary: Tournament selection is much more like art. There is no golden ratio or Fibonacci Sequence to apply here, no one set of obvious and elegant rules that governs what the committee chooses to do when it gets down to the last three or four of the 37 at-large selections. This is partly because the committee uses a flawed metric in its deliberations (the RPI is outdated and mostly dumb but, well, let's not go down that road again). But it's mostly because the committee comprises living, breathing humans, all with their own preferences and tendencies and post-lunch food comas and specious arguments and powers of persuasion. The RPI can make the committee room seem like a distant, calculating being unto itself, a hoops HAL 9000. In reality, it's more like "12 Angry Men."
That's from the introduction to a feature yours truly wrote today. NCAA tournament selection is always subjective, but the more you look at the ugliness of many bubble teams' résumés this season, the more you realize that the 2012 process is destined to be determined by the committee's distinct preferences.
Also, it has fun little rollover coding that reveals the team behind each blind profile (oh, the suspense!) as well as polls you can use to vote on each subset of teams. Click, read, vote, enjoy.