To college basketball fans, it’s a dream world.
The reality is that for Wellman and the other nine members on the NCAA Tournament selection committee, this is a long, stressful process with tougher questions and debate than anybody would have expected back in November.
“This year is unlike any of the five years that I have seen,” said Wellman, the committee chairman. “There is an awful lot of parity and balance in the game, which will make it more challenging for the committee, but should produce a really exciting tournament.”
It’s never easy getting this 68-team tournament bracket right, which will be announced today, but this year’s field is rife with questions from top to bottom.
Five teams have been ranked No. 1 this season, but No. 2 Wichita State, the Missouri Valley Conference champion, is the first team in 23 years to enter the tourney with a perfect record.
Syracuse was unbeaten until a month ago, but lost four of its six games after.
Kansas, the Big 12 regular-season champion, is trying to show the committee it still deserves a No. 1 seed even though star center Joel Embiid is expected to miss the conference tourney and the first weekend of NCAA play with an injured back. The Jayhawks are 1-1 since Embiid went down.
When national Player of the Year Kenyon Martin broke his right leg during the 2000 Conference USA tournament, the committee dropped Cincinnati from a No. 1 seed to a No. 2 seed.
Ten years later, the committee rewarded Syracuse with a No. 1 seed even though the Orange had lost two straight without injured starting center Arinze Onuaku. The reason: After consulting with Syracuse officials, committee members believed Onuaku would play in the NCAA Tournament. He did not.
“We have to rely upon what the schools tell us. We don’t have a CIA operation here where we can go in the back door and find out information that they are not giving us,” Wellman said. “So we do rely upon the school’s truthfulness with us and we believe they do tell us the truth. Sometimes it doesn’t pan out the way they predict. But we believe they do their best to give us the very best diagnosis. The diagnosis of an injury can change from day to day, as well.”
Injuries will be only part of the discussion this weekend.
The NCAA adopted two changes in August that could help the bracketing process. New guidelines allow conference teams that played once during the regular season to meet as early as the first weekend of the tournament. The other change calls on the committee to avoid first- and second-round rematches with nonconference teams that have already met. That includes the First Four games in Dayton, Ohio.