Time to seed the field again Will NCAAs favor big-league also-rans or minor champs?

March 10, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Kentucky is No. 1 and Central Florida is No. 64.

In between, there are a mess of decisions for the nine-man committee that selects the 34 at-large teams for the NCAA tournament and seeds the entire field. In a weekend of debate, they will sift through reams of computer printouts, fit in the Big West champion at the end, announce the 64-team field tonight (6: 30, Chs. 13, 9), and await the complaints.

One burning question, especially for Clemson, Minnesota and Providence, is whether any conference deserves six bids. The mid-majors and minor conferences have been saying nay since last year's first round. That's when Manhattan, to most a shocking recipient of an at-large bid, knocked off Oklahoma, and five Big Ten teams flopped.

Bob Frederick, the Kansas athletic director who chairs the basketball committee, said it takes greater notice of little guys who don't survive conference tournaments and earn one of the 30 automatic bids.

"I think the committee determined two or three years ago that we should make sure we don't neglect the importance of winning a conference in the regular season," Frederick said. "We definitely look more closely at regular-season champions than we used to."

Besides No. 1 Kentucky, only two teams went unbeaten in

conference play this season, and both lost in their conference tournaments. Wisconsin-Green Bay (25-3) and Davidson (25-4) bring similar records but different circumstances to the selection process.

Wisconsin-Green Bay lost in the first week of December to Kentucky and Marquette, and didn't fall again until the semifinals of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament. The RPI the ratings percentage index, a strength of schedule-driven computer program lists the Phoenix among the nation's top 20 teams, and it could be a No. 6 seed.

Davidson, the first team to go unbeaten in the Southern Conference in 21 years, wasn't hurt much by early losses to North Carolina State and Michigan, but it may rue a December defeat to UNC-Wilmington.

Davidson has an RPI in the 60s, below Arkansas-Little Rock, Iona and Mount St. Mary's, other regular-season champions who lost in tournaments. The computer program is hardly foolproof it places the Atlantic Coast Conference above the Big East and it's important to know that the RPI is just one of 17 factors weighed by the committee.

Ask Virginia Tech, No. 36 last year but relegated to the National Invitation Tournament.

The committee considers the impact of injuries and academic additions or dismissals, but it doesn't weigh suspensions.

It doesn't care that Louisville's Samaki Walker, Maryland's Duane Simpkins and Villanova's Kerry Kittles missed games because of possible NCAA violations, but it did notice that two of George Washington's three nonconference losses came before freshman point guard Shawnta Rogers became eligible.

A team's record in its last 10 games is as important as any factor.

Georgia was 11-7 at the end of January, but likely played its way in with an 8-2 finish. Four straight losses in January had Oklahoma tagged as the nation's biggest disappointment, but a season-ending upset of Kansas made the Sooners 7-3 down the stretch. Temple was 12-11 on Feb. 13, but took a seven-game win streak into the Atlantic 10 championship game against UMass. Minnesota finished with wins over Penn State, Iowa and Illinois.

Arkansas won only four of its last nine and lost top scorer Jesse Pate and top rebounder Sunday Adebayo over questionable junior-college transcripts. Coach Nolan Richardson said the Razorbacks' 11-1 record over the past two NCAA tournaments should count for something, but Frederick said it won't.

The what-have-you-done-for-me-lately factor also carries weight in the seeding process. In mid-January, Penn State's 13-0 start had it eyeing a No. 2 seed, but the Nittany Lions lost five of six before yesterday's win over Ohio State, and will get a tougher first-round assignment.

Atop the draw, Kentucky is viewed as a lock for the top seed in the Midwest Regional, and it should play Central Florida, which upset its way through the Trans America tournament despite an RPI of 230.

Massachusetts is expected to be No. 1 in the East, but the Minutemen have played there three of the past four years, while New England rival Connecticut has stayed in the East only once in the past five years.

If Massachusetts were moved to the Southeast, it would set up the possibility of the Minutemen meeting Kentucky in the national title game April 1. A shift away from first- and second-round games in Providence, R.I., would be just fine with coach John Calipari.

"It may not be all that bad," Calipari said. "When you're away, people don't know who you are. You can walk the streets. The hardest thing is when you stay home. The tickets, the distractions, everyone going crazy."

It is March Madness, isn't it?

Selection Sunday

When: 6: 30 p.m. today

TV: Chs. 13, 9

& PROJECTED TOP 16 SEEDS

East ......................... Midwest

1. UMass ..................... 1. Kentucky

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