Parity produces seeds of controversy NCAA wrestles with boost in number of bubble teams

February 22, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

The bubble is getting bigger, and so is the debate over the major conferences and ones with smaller profiles.

Bob Frederick, the chairman of the nine-man committee that oversees the 64-team men's basketball tournament, talked yesterday about what a headache the process of selecting at-large teams and seeding the field has become. Amid the talk of RPIs, the nitty-gritty and the importance of finishing strong, looms the issue of set-asides for the major conferences.

Last year, the committee selected six teams from the Big Ten, and all but one were bounced out in the first round.

The committee drew scorn for awarding an at-large berth to Manhattan, then looked good when the Jaspers beat Oklahoma. The smaller conferences also can draw ammunition from major upsets last year by Old Dominion and Weber State, but Arkansas-Little Rock and Drexel still had better take care of business in their conference tournaments next month.

If those teams don't win then, it appears that they simply don't have the strength of schedule or enough significant wins to replace the fifth- or sixth-place team from a major conference in the chase for the 34 at-large bids. Not when the pool of candidates continues to grow.

"It appears this year's [pool] could be larger than ever, but we say that every year," said Frederick, the Kansas athletic director. "That's a reflection of parity. It's going to be harder to collect and seed the field. I think there are 50-70 teams in that category [on the bubble.]"

The fight will intensify should a Wisconsin-Green Bay or Santa Clara, mid-major teams with solid enough credentials to warrant at-large bids, lose in their tournaments.

The selection committee could come down to weighing a Clemson, which has a high ratings percentage index -- or RPI, a statistical formula used by the committee -- but could finish with a losing record in the ACC, against regular-season champions from lesser conferences that didn't survive postseason tournaments.

"I think the committee determined two, three years ago that we should make sure we don't neglect the importance of winning a conference in the regular season," Frederick said.

"I think seven of the first nine tournaments that were played last year, the regular-season champion didn't win."

And what of finishing below .500 in conference play?

"It is certainly not one of our principles that you have to be .500 or better in your conference," Frederick said. "If you're in a large conference and there are two weak teams, it's possible there would be a larger number of .500 or above teams. But if everyone is fairly even, you'll have fewer teams .500 or above."

The committee will sequester itself March 7, and begin in earnest the process that will conclude a few minutes before the field is announced March 10. The committee has changed some of its procedures so as to more quickly identify the obvious at-large choices.

It also must haggle over whether to place Kentucky and Massachusetts in the same half of the draw. NCAA rules make Kentucky a near lock for the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, and many are taking for granted that UMass will stay in the East if it remains unbeaten, but those two regions meet in the semifinals.

Marching orders

Sweet 16

Mock top four seeds and regions

East .. .. .. .. Midwest .. .. .. Southeast .. .. .. West

Massachusetts .. Kentucky . .. .. Villanova .. .. .. Kansas

Wake Forest . .. Connecticut . .. Cincinnati . .. .. Purdue

Georgetown .. .. Penn State .. .. North Carolina ... Arizona

Iowa State .. .. UCLA .. .. .. .. Texas .. ... .. .. Tech Utah

One and done

Conferences that will get just one bid

Big Sky .. .. .. Ivy ... .. .. .. Northeast .. .. .. Southern

Big South ... .. Mid-Continent .. Ohio ... ... .. .. Valley Southland

Big West . .. .. Mid-Eastern . .. Patriot . .. .. .. Southwestern

Colonial . .. .. North Atlantic

Giant killers

Teams that could cost the major conferences at-large bids, if they don't get their conference's automatic bid. This week's RPI in parentheses

Wisconsin-Green Bay (17) .. .. .. Iona (51)

ASanta Clara (24) .. .. . .. .. .. Charleston (62) -- ineligible

Bradley (30) ... .. .. . .. .. .. for Trans America title

Eastern Michigan (35) .. .. .. .. Arkansas-Little Rock (66)

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