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 Wednesday, March 8
So just how do they do it?
By Jay Bilas
Special to ESPN.com

 The first member of the 10-person NCAA Tournament Selection Committee should be arriving in Indianapolis on Wednesday. That begins the selection process determining which 64 teams should to be included in the field, seeding them and placing the teams into the brackets we will see on Sunday evening.

To help clear up any questions, here's a brief overview of the process.

Most committee members will arrive in Indianapolis on Thursday, and the committee will meet for the first time around 11 a.m. local time in a large hotel suite that is equipped with numerous television monitors, internet access and fax machines. Anyone trying to call in and reach a committee member must have a special password. Committee members are dressed casually, and they spend all waking hours thinking about nothing but basketball.

On Thursday evening, each committee member will cast two ballots, one listing teams that committee member thinks should absolutely be included in the field of 64 (like Cincinnati, Stanford, Arizona and Duke) and the other listing teams that should be considered. On the ballot for teams to be included in the field, if a team received eight of the 10 votes, it is automatically included into the field. There will only be approximately 10-15 teams that will make the field on the first ballot, and because many conference tournament champs have not yet been decided, some of those teams will be automatic qualifiers.

The first order of business is to select the 64 teams to be included into the Tournament. The teams "to be considered" are placed on what is called the "At-Large Nomination Board." From the At-Large Nomination Board will come the rest of the teams that will receive at-large bids, and the initial list is a long one. There are approximately 75 teams that make that board, and it takes only two votes to be posted.

To get a team off of the At-Large Nomination Board, it takes eight of 10 eligible votes. The committee will discuss additional teams to be considered, then select or remove teams from the board. Because it is so difficult to determine whether a team should be included into the field, it is sometimes easier for the committee to determine which teams should be excluded from consideration and taken off of the At-Large Nomination Board.

The discussion about the teams, and each team's merits, can get quite heated and there are many passionate arguments and positions advanced. With teams that are on the At-Large Nomination Board, their records against each other are factored into decisions whether a particular team should get into the field.

The committee has seemingly endless amounts of data to consult when evaluating a team, but none more important that the Nitty Gritty Report. The Nitty Gritty Report includes information such as each team's non-conference record, conference records, road records, record in the last 10 games, and a breakdown of record against teams ranked in different stages of the RPI.

If most of a team's wins are against teams ranked in the bottom half of the RPI, that can be very revealing. According to committee members I have spoken to, it is not enough simply to play a tough schedule. Teams have to win games, and play their way into the tournament field. Each committee member is assigned a conference to follow, so that each are experts on a particular league and can educate the other members in a meaningful way. However, the Nitty Gritty Report is perhaps the most important piece of paper that the committee will consult during the process.

While picking the 64 team field is a tough task, seeding and bracketing the teams is far more difficult. Once the 64 teams are selected, the Committee will next seed the teams 1 through 64 using an "S-Curve" -- meaning the top No. 1 seed will be matched against the weakest No. 2 seed, etc. The seeding process is very important, as a mistake in seeding can doom a team or give it a cakewalk.

This is the process where each team's merits are pitted against the others and discussed in detail, and the determinations are made of who can really play and who can't, what teams are strong and what teams are fragile, and if one team is better than another.

While the first four seeds are discussed by the media daily, the bottom four seeds are just as important to the committee. Last year, the toughest chore was seeding the middle of the pack, seeds 6 thorough 11 because those 24 teams were difficult to distinguish. The results of the first round bore that out, as every 7-10 game was won by the No. 10 seed and every 8-9 game went to the No. 9 seed. Seeding can change constantly, depending upon results as they come in, but seeding usually does not change drastically.

After the initial seeding is completed (and not always fully completed), the Committee takes on the bracketing, which usually takes place on Saturday and into Sunday. Bracketing is a very difficult task, subject to fairly complex rules involving conference affiliation and region location, and is usually played out in many different scenarios. Many changes are made, experimented with and discussed. The bottom line is, teams are bracketed with an eye on results that are coming in, and with the goal of achieving four equally balanced regions, while trying to keep teams near their fan base.

Quick hits
  • The main goal of the committee is to have a balanced national tournament. Some of the most important factors considered are road performance, how a team finishes over the last 10 games, and the number of games played against teams ranked below the RPI Top 150 (which is essentially the bottom half of Division I).

  • There are several former coaches on the committee, and all bring an innate sense of the teams and their relative strengths and weaknesses. Included on this year's committee are Jack Kvancz, Carroll Williams, Les Robinson, Judy Rose and Lee Fowler. Carroll Williams, in particular, is a very astute judge of teams, and has a great handle on teams from the West region of the country.

  • Prior tournament performance is not considered, and marquee matchups or rematches are not considered. To do so would be far too difficult, and too many other factors make this impractical. There is no favorable treatment of the particular institutions of committee members, and a committee member must leave the room whenever his or her affiliated teams are being discussed. Although conspiracy theorists will not be satisfied by such proclamations, I know too many members of the committee to doubt the integrity of those assertions.

  • Upsets in conference tournaments do not necessarily knock teams out of the field of 64 itself, just off of the At-Large Nomination Board. For example, Rhode Island's win over Temple last year did not knock Cal, DePaul or Xavier out of the field, there was just one fewer spot in the field to be filled off of the Board. However, if Illinois had beaten Michigan State in the final of the Big Ten Tournament, Oklahoma (the last at-large team in last year's field) would probably have gone to the NIT.

  • There are four new members on the committee this year. This fact will make it more challenging, because it can be an overwhelming process. The committee had a mock selection process in February, so the newcomers will be somewhat prepared.

  • The Committee has stated that although the RPI is one of the many tools or indicators that is used in the selection process, it is not the main criteria -- or even relied upon that heavily. In fact, the committee has stated that the RPI is the most overrated statistic in the minds of the public.

    The RPI numbers the media uses are estimates of the NCAA RPI formula based upon the four-factor RPI formula used by the NCAA. The NCAA releases three of the four factors to the public, but not the entire formula. The Collegiate Commissioners Association has asked that the fourth factor remain a secret. The committee does not look at the NCAA RPI numbers until they get to Indianapolis for the selection process.

    The committee does have access to the assorted RPI replications which exist, as well as other information, throughout the course of the season. But the committee does not use the Sagarin Ratings once the selection process begins.

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