Selection committee's task looking difficult

January, 18, 2010
Late last week in Atlanta, the 10-member NCAA tournament selection committee came to a similar conclusion that has been permeating throughout college basketball this season: a slew of teams look an awful lot alike.

In a season where separation among most of the power six clubs has been negligible -- as well as among the so-called lesser lot that hate the term mid or low-major -- the selection committee could be headed for its most difficult week in the modern era of the 65-team field when it convenes in Indianapolis.

Of course, if you were to play the numbers game and go strictly by power ratings, then you could trim the list of 34 at-large teams rather easily. But that's not how this works. Selection committee members discuss, break down and ultimately vote on the teams they feel are the most deserving of the 34 at-large berths, not just the ones whose numbers meet the criteria.

"Obviously things need to play out," said UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who is the chair of the committee for the 2010 tournament. "But in our discussions, there are a lot, a great number of teams that look alike at this point. We still have a couple of months left [actually, it's under 60 days now to March 14] but if we had to sit down and submit an initial ballot this year, at this point, it looks to be a very challenging year for the committee. I'll be interested to see how this unfolds in March."

Late last week at the NCAA convention, committee members and NCAA staff conducted yet another mock selection exercise. And as expected, there were few consensus teams. The committee has to produce an initial ballot on the first day of their meetings in Indianapolis. That ballot consists of teams that the committee member believes are in the field, even if they were to win their automatic bid from their respective conference.

If you were to do that exercise today how many would you have? It might not be as many as you think.

"It's in the eye of the beholder," Guerrero said. "It can range. Some people think there are absolutes and very deserving, to maybe someone else on a watch list that you didn't have in. That's why we go over this and deliberate all of these teams over the next two months. This is when we really hone in on all the teams across the country."

Guerrero said the meeting in Atlanta was also a chance for the committee members to give updates on the conferences they've been following over the past few months. The committee was also supposed to get rid of the famed "last 12 games" as criteria. But because this season may be so hard to differentiate between teams, expect how teams are playing down the stretch -- or more than anything who they beat and where -- to be factors in who receives bids.

"How you're playing at the end, finishing strong or doing well in the conference tournament might be real important to some people," Guerrero said. "There are a lot of factors that come into play. Who you beat, where you beat them and how you play and with whom are all variables that are still important."

Guerrero is also well aware of the potential scrutiny he is under as the committee chair. Every year there seems to be one issue that is tied to the chair that will cause conspirators to wonder. I've yet to see an example of any real bias. A year ago, SEC commissioner Mike Slive was the chair of the committee in a season when the SEC was having one of its worst seasons. The league probably had only two bids heading into the conference tournament before Mississippi State beat Tennessee in the final for a third bid (joining the Vols and LSU). No one criticized Slive for favoritism because the league earned the bids it received.

The same will likely be true of the Pac-10. As the athletic director of UCLA, Guerrero would only need to be excused from the room if UCLA were discussed. That won't happen unless the Bruins win the conference tournament, since UCLA isn't an at-large candidate. Slive, since he was a commissioner, had to leave the room when SEC teams were discussed.

But there is no reason for bias with the Pac-10. The league has yet to have a team distinguish itself. It didn't perform well in nonconference games and teams are now beating themselves up in league play, with every team having at least two losses with, at most, six games played.

"I believe the committee is going to do what they're asked to do and that's evaluate all of the individual teams," Guerrero said. "In the end, the charge is to pick the best 34 at-large teams and where they come from doesn't matter."

Guerrero said having a conference or teams fall off the radar in a given year is not out of the norm. The SEC had its down cycle a year ago, and it appears it's the Pac-10's turn unless teams can suddenly start long winning streaks. That's my interpretation, not his words.

"When they fall off the radar, they're not selected for the tournament," Guerrero said.

One thing that is certain as it relates to the Pac-10, is that USC is still being tracked. The Trojans are no longer eligible for the NCAA tournament after the school imposed a postseason ban stemming from alleged recruiting violations of former player, O.J. Mayo.

"USC is being tracked just like any other team," Guerrero said. "They have an RPI, a won-loss record and are still in a race for a conference championship."

So if you're about to say that a power six conference has never had one bid then you're correct. But history plays no role in this discussion. If that's all the Pac-10 deserves on selection weekend then that's all it will get. Traditional one-bid leagues haven't received a second because it hasn't been earned. There is still plenty of time to make a case. The committee is hoping stronger statements are made to create the separation they need to make the decisions on bids more concrete.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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