Tuesday, this here blog space discussed a relatively important occurrence in the history of Northwestern basketball: This week, for the first time since 1969, the Wildcats were ranked in the AP top 25. Naturally, the post finished with questions about NU's tournament status. The Wildcats have never qualified for an NCAA tournament, despite years and years of trying, and so that is the major question. Can NU get enough wins in 2010? Will the Wildcats' 10-win nonconference run see them -- and their RPI -- through to the other side of Big Ten play? Is this really the year?
Northwestern fan blog Sippin On Purple took a math whiz's approach to Northwestern's projected RPI and how many wins the Wildcats need in conference to make the tournament. The end result was somewhere around 10 or 11, with 11 and up being the safe side, and 10 or down being rather sketchy.
After reading that post, current Sporting News columnist and blogger and all-around man-about-Internet Dan Shanoff used the G-chat tubes to float me an interesting idea: Will the selection committee be "rooting" for Northwestern? Is Northwestern's bubble more forgiving than any other's? The following is cropped from our conversation:
The Sippin On Purple guys are discounting a huge factor that has nothing to do with number-crunching: the selection committee will do anything they can, within stretched reason, to put NU in the tournament. I could see them getting in with an RPI in the low 60s, ahead of 10 teams who don't get in with RPIs int he 50s and 40s. The committee has a vested interest in putting NU in the tournament if they can. In other words: Northwestern's bubble isn't the same as everyone else's. /rant
If they're in the 70s ... obviously, no chance. And, yes, the 60s makes it a really tough sell. But there won't be a media person on the planet that will begrudge NU being the last team in, leapfrogging over 10 more qualified bubble teams. (Especially since half the media went to Northwestern.)
The committee will be insulated from criticism when it comes to Northwestern. Anyway. Just a thought.
Like I said, it's an interesting theory. Who won't be rooting for Northwestern to get in the NCAA tournament? (Besides, of course, Illinois fans, provided Illinois is on the bubble come tourney time.)
The only problem is that sometimes the selection committee completely discounts media consensus. Sometimes, the committee just doesn't really seem to care. There are such instances every year. Whether it's Arizona getting in over Creighton last year, or "too many" mid-majors getting at-large bids in years past (former CBS analyst Billy Packer famously railed against the latter), there's always at least one big media complaint, whether right or wrong, about the way the field of 65 is seeded. And every year, with nothing more than the occasional glimpse behind the curtain and the occasional post-selection interview to whet our (fans' and the media's) curiosity, the selection committee goes on doing its thing. It doesn't really seem to care much about you and me.
So sure, maybe Northwestern gets the added emotional benefit of the doubt. Or maybe the selection committee just doesn't care about little old romantic underdog Northwestern. Which is more likely?