NCAA tinkers with its formula

`Pod' system designed so that teams, fans travel less in tourney

March 10, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made an interesting analogy last week when talking about the NCAA basketball tournament's new format for seeding its first- and second-round games.

"It's kind of like somebody showing you something in a showroom," Krzyzewski said. `They'll say, `Look at how easy it works' and then you take it home and it doesn't work as easily. In concept, it sounds good."

Krzyzewski and the other 64 coaches who will lead their teams into this year's tournament will get to see how the brackets look tonight at 6, when the selections and pairings are announced.

The tournament will begin with what is essentially a play-in game between the 64th and 65th teams on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. It will be followed by opening-round games Thursday and Friday at eight sites, including MCI Center.

While the basic formula remains the same as last season, there's an interesting twist this year.

Introduced after last summer's NCAA meetings, the "pod" system was implemented so that teams and their fans will have less distance to travel the first weekend of the tournament. Though the reasons for doing it were simple, understanding the system is a bit more complex.

North Carolina State athletic director Lee Fowler, the chairman of the selection committee, recalled the feeling when the system was finalized.

"There was a lot of excitement in the room, seeing in how it relieves some situations where we can move some people around," Fowler said during a recent national teleconference. "It is something we feel is going to be real good for the tournament."

There will be four teams in each of 16 different pods to start, and teams from the same pod that win their first two games will advance together to the Sweet 16 site. While some teams might start out playing at what is essentially the East, they could advance to the Sweet 16 in the South Regional.

And you thought college football's Bowl Championship Series was confusing.

One thing is certain: The three most consistent teams in college basketball this season will be given No. 1 seeds.

Top-ranked Kansas, which became the first team in Big 12 history to go 16-0 in conference play, is a virtual lock to be the top seed in the Midwest Regional. The Jayhawks will likely open up in St. Louis, a four-hour drive from their campus.

Maryland and Duke, ranked second and third, respectively, in last week's poll, will be also be top seeds, despite both teams struggling yesterday. The Terrapins will likely start in Washington, but could either stay in the East or move to the South after the first weekend. Duke will likely open in Greenville, S.C., and will stay in the South or go to the East.

After winning the Conference USA tournament yesterday, Cincinnati will likely be the top seed in the West. Oklahoma also could be given the top seed in the West, if the Sooners were to upset Kansas in today's Big 12 tournament championship in Kansas City, Mo.

Where teams are seeded will be determined by their respective RPI, or Rating Percentage Index, a formula derived largely from taking into account a team's strength of schedule, overall record, road record as well as its record against other teams in the tournament.

Where teams are sent is another matter.

"We're owed to stay home one time," Maryland coach Gary Williams said last week, alluding to the fact that his Terps went to their first-ever Final Four last season through the West, playing first in Boise, Idaho, and later in Anaheim, Calif. "Our fans shouldn't have to travel that far every year."

Fowler said that the NCAA took the fans - particularly the families of the players - into account when coming up with the pod system. In fact, it was the fact that the Boise bracket last year was called "The Beltway Invitational" because it also included George Mason and Georgetown that led to the new alignment.

"That may have been the straw that made us take a look at it," said Fowler.

But playing closer to home presents its own set of problems. One Maryland fan groused before Sunday's regular-season finale at Cole Field House that only 175 tickets for the games at MCI Center were made available to season-ticket holders; the rest were sold to the general public.

"If you play closer to home, it does cause more distractions because you have more fans hanging around," said Kansas coach Roy Williams.

Most coaches whose teams didn't earn automatic bids by winning conference tournaments don't really care where they wind up - as long as it isn't in the NIT.

John Calipari, whose Memphis Tigers entered last week's Conference USA tournament squarely on the proverbial bubble and then lost to Houston in the opening round, would take Sacramento, Calif., just as easily as St. Louis. The Tigers lost their last four games while playing without injured star forward Kelly Wise.

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