Sixty-eight teams. Twenty media members. Sixteen hours. Three meals. One shower (hey, time was a factor). After spending nearly all of my waking hours over the last full day at NCAA Headquarters downtown, I came away with two thoughts: 1) I can't imagine doing this for real, and 2) I can't imagine doing so for FIVE straight days. Needless to say, I think we all escaped that conference room with a new appreciation for the real Selection Committee.
I was teamed with Adam Hoge of 670 The Score in Chicago, and we collectively represented the seat occupied by Northeastern AD Peter Roby. We were greeted by actual Selection Committee Chair Mike Bobinski of Xavier, and NCAA media guru David Worlock, who took us through the initial process.
Over the two sessions, we picked teams, then ranked them, then picked more, ranked those, seeded some, placed a couple in a holdover group, picked more, and bracketed all of it when we were done. Just to give you an idea of how tedious the process is, we were able to seed only the top three seed lines after the first day - that's without bracketing. Not surprisingly, squeezing five days of selection into sixteen hours was a challenge.
The most spirited debate of the two-day session came when deciding the final #1 seed. During the committee's original ranking, Florida earned that spot over Michigan State. However, CBSSports.com's Jeff Borzello motioned for Michigan State to take that spot on the strength of wins over Michigan and Kansas (Florida's best win is Marquette). We dissected both resumes, but I had trouble getting past the Gators' lopsided loss at Arkansas, who did not make the field. A majority of the committee agreed, and the Spartans were originally placed on the top-seed line... that was until the Conference Tournament champions were announced. Here is a look at the relevant auto-bids that shook up seeding/bids:
ACC: N.C. State
Atlantic-10: Temple (was not in original field)
Big East: St. John's (was not in original field)
Big Ten: Michigan (beat MSU in semis and IU in final)
Big XII: Kansas
Conference USA: Southern Miss
Missouri Valley: Indiana State
Mountain West: San Diego State
SEC: Alabama (was not in original field)
With this new information at our disposal, here's how we determined the top four seed-lines:
#1 seeds: Indiana, Miami, Duke, Michigan*
#2 seeds: Michigan State, Florida, Gonzaga*, Arizona
#3 seeds: Kansas*, Syracuse, Louisville, Butler
#4 seeds: New Mexico, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Georgetown
* = designated as Conference Tournament Champion
Based on the pods, here is how we placed the teams by Region:
MIDWEST (Indy): Indiana, Florida, Louisville, Kansas State
EAST (D.C.): Miami, Michigan State, Syracuse, Wisconsin
SOUTH (Dallas): Duke, Arizona, Kansas, Georgetown
WEST (L.A.): Michigan, Gonzaga, Butler, New Mexico
The middle of the field was fairly straight-forward, once we graduated from the top four in each Region. The biggest riser was Illinois, who was deemed worthy of a #5 seed despite a 5-7 conference record (Bobinski said that conference record/affiliation is "irrelevant"). Ohio State took a plunge down to the #6 seed line because members were critical of their 2-6 record vs. top-flight competition, and no true road win of note. The SEC was the big loser as Kentucky and Mississippi were left out, Mizzou plummeted down the seed-lines to an 8, while Alabama and Arkansas barely received any consideration at all.
Once we got to the bottom of the field, the Mock Committee was tripped up again. We sifted through about a dozen bubble teams including Kentucky, North Carolina, California, Virginia, Charlotte, Akron, Boise State, and Villanova. While the committee originally had North Carolina in the field, they were bumped out by Alabama's upset SEC Tournament title game win over Florida. For what it's worth, I had Charlotte in and Iowa State out:
Last four in: Baylor, California, Virginia, Iowa State (our First Four)
First four out: North Carolina, Charlotte, Villanova, Kentucky
Overall, here are the major things that I learned about the process: the Committee does not predict ahead on locations. For instance, Louisvlle was placed as a #3 in the Midwest (Indianapolis), even though they could potentially play a higher-seed (Florida, in this case) in the Regional Semifinals and have a big homecourt advantage (just over 100 miles from Louisville to Indy). They only protect the top four seed-lines through the first two rounds. Once the Regionals begin, all bets are off. Also, there is no S-Curve. The top #1 doesn't draw the bottom #2 seed, bottom #3, and bottom #4 seed in their Region. Location trumps all, and the teams are assorted based on that, plus previous head-to-head considerations. Besides bracketing intricacies, the committee does not weigh conference afiliation (Big Ten, ACC, Sun Belt, etc.) - in fact, we weren't allowed to use the term "conference" in any of our arguments - nor does it take rankings or history into account (i.e. North Carolina and Kentucky were both left out).
Here is a look at our final bracket (h/t Jeff Borzello).
For someone who's first love has always been college basketball, this experience was a huge thrill for me. Much like a guy dressing up as a Storm Trooper for GenCon, I loved getting to play a fake NCAA Tournament Selection Committee member, if just for a short time. My Selection Sunday tirades will be far more muted now that I have a better understanding of the process.
I look forward to watching the entire mock bracket that we tirelessly assembled implode upon itself in the coming weeks.