Committee: many questions, few answers

New tournament system proves to be imperfect

Analysis

NCAA Tournament

March 11, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee has a decidedly tough job, especially when he has to explain the choices his group of athletic directors and conference administrators makes in picking, seeding and placing the 65 teams that will get to participate.

It was no different last night for North Carolina State athletic director Lee Fowler.

Sounding like a beleaguered Enron executive appearing before a Senate subcommittee, Fowler seemed to recollect little of the particulars that resulted in some rather, uh, interesting decisions.

"I can't remember ... " Fowler said on more than one occasion.

Though Fowler and his committee appeared to meet their main objective for this year's tournament - keeping teams closer to home for first- and second-round games than they have in the past - the tournament's new system proved to be an imperfect pod.

How else do you explain shipping Ohio State, which won the Big Ten tournament yesterday after sharing the league's regular-season title with three other teams, to Albuquerque, N.M., while making Illinois, which didn't even reach the final, bus all the way to Chicago?

How else do you explain making No. 6 seed California go across the country to play an opening-round game against No. 11 seed Penn in Pittsburgh, and No. 7 Wake Forest go the other way to meet No. 10 seed Pepperdine in Sacramento, Calif.? Did somebody forget to give the committee Mapquest to go along with the latest RPI?

And while we're trying to have some things explained, how can Gonzaga be given a No. 6 seed in the West - and a possible second-round game against No. 3 seed Arizona - after being ranked in the Top 10 in both national polls for most of the past two months?

"I remember 12 of their wins were against teams over 200 in the RPI," Fowler said of Gonzaga. "They lost to Marquette and Illinois, which were seeded fourth and fifth."

Fowler also said the committee didn't try to protect higher seeds for potential second-round games playing in what could amount to hostile road environments, as might happen in a couple of notable cases.

Should Cal beat the Ivy League champion Quakers, the Bears likely would have to play Pittsburgh - in Pittsburgh - and Mississippi State, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest, could meet No. 6 seed Texas in the second round in Dallas.

Fowler did acknowledge the bunched-up Big Ten was particularly tough to seed.

"It was difficult for us to decide which teams were better," he said.

But Fowler, speaking on a national teleconference last night, said the conference tournaments did little to determine how teams were seeded and where they went, as evidenced by what happened to the Buckeyes.

Here's a look at how the brackets could play out:

Toughest road to the Final Four for a No. 1 seed: The West is loaded for bear, or is that Bearcats? Though Cincinnati was clearly the last of the four top seeds to be placed, this will do little to help ease coach Bob Huggins' persecution complex.

Cincinnati has a potential second-round matchup with Jekyll-and-Hyde UCLA, one of only three teams to beat Kansas this season. The Bearcats could also see in-state rival Ohio State, then get a pick of either Gonzaga, Arizona or No. 2 seed Oklahoma, which beat the Jayhawks in yesterday's Big 12 championship game.

Easiest road to the Final Four for a No. 1 seed: Hate to think the selection committee - and CBS, for that matter - wants to ensure big ratings in Atlanta, but who in the East is going to beat Duke? (Question: Was Duke Vitale brought in to help put this bracket together?)

The Blue Devils have seemingly regained their championship swagger, and their bracket has the likes of USC, Charlotte, Indiana and Utah on their half and Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State and Alabama on the bottom half.

The only thing stopping Duke - aside from an injury to what is still a very short rotation - might be the ghosts of Rupp Arena, especially those flying around the banner from the 1992 team.

Team that got the least respect: Granted, Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference and not the Pac-10, but how does Cal merit the same seed (No. 6)? The 'Zags beat three tournament teams - including Texas - away from their campus gym in Spokane, while the Bears barely left Berkeley.

Also, tournament history is also supposed to mean something. Under three different coaches, with an ever-changing cast of stars, Gonzaga has successfully raised the level of its program from a Cinderella team to one that regularly gets to the Sweet 16 and once reached the Elite Eight.

If this doesn't get coach Mark Few to reconsider taking one of those big-time jobs, nothing will. (Did you get a look at Few's face after the Bulldogs saw their seeding? He looked like former Maryland star Steve Francis after being picked by the Vancouver Grizzlies. Francis didn't stay in Vancouver, either.)

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