Luck of the draw? Some matchups too good to be true

Despite claims to contrary, intrigue seems to carry weight with committee

Analysis

March 12, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The members of this year's NCAA tournament selection committee claim they don't place teams in the same region for the purpose of story lines. Based on what happened when the brackets were announced last night, it's hard to think that potential matchups were not preconceived.

How do you explain the possibility of another Duke-Kentucky showdown in the East Regional final in Philadelphia, nine years after the Blue Devils and Wildcats met there in the same city and the same round with the winner (Duke in overtime, 104-103) going to the same place -- Minneapolis -- for the Final Four?

How do you explain a potential third meeting -- and rubber match -- this season between the two top seeds in the Midwest Regional, Illinois and Arizona, some three months after the Illini beat the Wildcats at home and four months after the Wildcats beat the Illini at the Maui Invitational?

How do explain the chance of a rematch of last year's championship game between Michigan State and Florida in the South Regional final in Atlanta?

How do you explain what local fans will be talking about for the next few days: the chance that Maryland and Georgia State could meet in the second round of the West Regional in Boise, Idaho, some 16 years after Lefty Driesell was forced to leave College Park.

Committee chairman Mike Tranghese, the commissioner of the Big East, said it was nothing more than the luck of the draw.

"You can believe me or not, and I don't care if you do, but our committee doesn't waste our time on these kinds of things," Tranghese said.

To drive home his point, Tranghese brought up Maryland coach Gary Williams.

"Gary Williams is one of my closest friends," said Tranghese, referring to a possible emotional matchup against Driesell and Georgia State. "Why would I want to do that to him?"

Marquee matchups notwithstanding, Tranghese said that some of the decisions that went down were among the most difficult in his five years on the committee.

The job of the committee wasn't made any easier by the play of potential top seeds down the stretch.

It led to North Carolina being dropped from a near-certain lock of a No. 1 seed to the No. 2 seed in the South after the Tar Heels split their last eight games, bottoming out with a 26-point defeat to Duke in yesterday's ACC tournament final in Atlanta.

"Of the five teams being considered for No. 1 seeds, North Carolina was the only one to lose to a team not in the tournament -- Clemson," said Tranghese.

It led to Florida, which lost to Michigan State in last season's championship game, dropping all the way from a potential No. 1 seed in the South (had the Gators won the SEC tournament) to a No. 3 seed after losing to Mississippi in the tournament's semifinals.

It led to the defending national champion Spartans, upset by Penn State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament last week, moving out of the Midwest to becoming the No. 1 seed in the South, thus allowing the Illini to stay closer to home as the No. 1 seed in the Midwest.

"We were faced with probably the most difficult first-line seeding in my five years," said Tranghese.

Perhaps the most significant statement made by Tranghese and his committee came with the inclusion of 16-14 Georgia.

The Bulldogs became the first at-large team with 14 defeats ever to gain entrance to the field, mostly on the merits of a nonconference schedule ranked the most difficult in the country. It also helped that Georgia finished 9-7 in the SEC, judged to be the toughest league in the nation.

"This committee and future committees will put more emphasis on nonconference schedules," said Tranghese, who saw two of his own Big East teams, Georgetown and Providence, get No. 10 seeds because of weak nonconference schedules. "There are too many teams that are trying to hide behind the fact that they are in power conferences."

While Creighton was the only at-large team picked from a mid-major conference -- again because of its willingness to play tougher out-of-league competition -- Richmond was excluded because three of its losses came against teams with RPIs higher than 180. All three were from the Colonial Athletic Association, the league that the Spiders are leaving.

Unlike last year, injuries to key players didn't play a factor in the seeding of the top teams. Duke remained a No. 1 seed despite losing center Carlos Boozer because the Blue Devils have won their last four games without him. But the ankle injury to star guard Jason Williams in yesterday's ACC tournament final was not taken into consideration because the seedings had already been drawn.

How do the brackets break down? Even before Williams got hurt, it appeared that the Blue Devils had the toughest road to Minneapolis, where coach Mike Krzyzewski won the second of his back-to-back championships in 1992. If the seeds hold, Duke would have to get through UCLA and either Kentucky or Boston College -- an underrated No. 3 seed that played the Blue Devils tough in Durham earlier this season.

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