McNeil addresses selecting 2011 field
After meeting in Indianapolis for the past four days, the committee on Monday announced the 64-team field for the 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship. Thirty-one conference teams earned automatic qualification into the championship, while 33 additional teams were selected at-large.
Championship play Saturday, culminating with the Women's Final Four in Indianapolis on April 3 and 5.
NCAA Division I Women's Basketball committee chair Marilyn McNeil, vice president and director of athletics at Monmouth University, spoke with the media after the selection on Monday:
Marilyn McNeil: We've had a long four days, but I think we have a terrific bracket. We've selected a field that we think will lead to a great championship and there's going to be some exciting games getting there.
I worked with nine terrific people for four long days, but we actually started our work last November when we watched the first tip off, and we spent our time watching over 1500 games since then.
We also listened to the coaches. We looked at all sorts of mathematical statistics. We turned our attention to the actual field of play.
There were a large number of teams in my five years, the most number of teams when we got down to the final selection of the best 33. But we do think we made the right decision and have the best 33 at large selections.
We think this is going to be a very exciting 2011 NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship. It begins this coming weekend and we crown a champion, a national champion, on April 5th in Indianapolis at the 2011 Women's Final Four. You best be there.
Q. I understand your theory in putting A&M down with Baylor and UCLA in the west. Why wouldn't the same hold true and put Xavier in Dayton as the No. 2 because of geography?
Marilyn McNeil: Thanks for your question.
The No. 2 line, or every seeded line, according to our principles, teams are seeded and they go into the bracket in their seed order. Once they are going into the bracket, they then are placed closest to their region, their geographical region.
I think you said you understood why Texas A&M is going to Dallas. It just moves along. The next seeded team goes to the next closest geographic region. That's what happens according to our principles. That's where they end up.
Q. What factors led to Louisiana Tech getting a higher seed than WAC champion Fresno State, and also how Fresno State ended up with its seed, its highest ever?
Marilyn McNeil: Once the teams are placed into the bracket, when we have decided on the final 64 teams, seeding is a process that happens by drilling down into each team's data, all the information. We have a tremendous amount of information in front of us. We look at each team and how they have performed on the floor. We look at a lot of information in terms of statistical information.
Every committee member looks at all of this information differently. Some of them are very interested in the mathematics of it all. Some of us are very interested in what happened actually on the floor.
When it comes down to seeds, some of the information that might make a difference, Louisiana Tech actually had a strength of schedule rating of 48, Fresno's was 93. Is that the decisive factor? No. But as you look at the entire body of work, as you study what these teams have done over the whole entire season, the seed is made. It's by vote of the committee. We do think we do due diligence in making those seed decisions.
Q. The four times meeting between Baylor and A&M, potentially Stanford and UCLA, the attendance, you would be thrilled if Baylor and A&M would reach in Dallas the final because that would be great attendance numbers for you, I would think.
Marilyn McNeil: One of the reasons that principle really does exist is our long conversations over trying to have our student athletes play in front of great audiences. They themselves have said that they want to play in front of packed arenas and in front of enthusiastic fans. So when we put teams into the bracket, we do put them into their closest geographic region in order to have that happen.
Yes, we would be ecstatic for great in venue audiences. And I think ESPN wants that, as well. That's a good decision for us.
Q. Middle Tennessee State, did you discuss at all anything what happened there? Were they in early or one of the last few teams? Any discussion about the tragedy there?
Marilyn McNeil: Yes, the tragedy was most unspeakable, and our whole committee shared our thoughts and condolences with the Middle Tennessee State University basketball family.
However, what we really want to assure everyone is Middle State was considered like every other team in the field. We look at their body of work. We study it. We all considered what they had done on the floor over the entire season. They were at the end selected as one of the 33 best at large teams in the country.
Q. I understand what the principle is that sends these two teams, A&M and UCLA, to their potential fourth meetings with teams from their own conferences. But is that something that, when you talk to the coaches of teams, that they want to see happen? It's sort of hard for me to believe that Texas A&M wouldn't be happier trying to face the equivalent seed in a different region and likewise UCLA.
Marilyn McNeil: The coaches have told us, and we have asked them, and we will continue to ask them, that they want to play in full arenas with good audiences. Plus, as I said previously, the student athletes have said the same thing. So that's where the principle comes from, and we try to be attentive to that.
The fact is that Texas A&M with a possibility of playing Baylor in a regional final and there's still lots of games to be played is really an unintended consequence of that process. But they will be playing in front of lots of people, and that's a good thing.
Q. I think it's a more compelling case to some degree for the Pac-10 that only had three teams come into the field of 64, and is going to see two of them perhaps meeting as early as the Elite Eight or sooner.
Marilyn McNeil: No decisions are made based on the conference you have come from. All decisions for each one of these teams, we look at all 333 teams, doesn't matter the conference they're from.
The three teams from the PAC 10 earned their way into the tournament, and then they are seeded according to how they fared after we make the decision on their seed. We really are very blind to whatever conference they came from.
Q. Do you no longer have a principle that tries to avoid in conference meetings before the regional finals?
Marilyn McNeil: We do have that principle. Unless there's more teams than eight. When you get to nine teams, there is a chance they would meet before the regional final. That principle of not meeting before the regional final is intact.
Q. What were the factors that went into the decision to not choose Syracuse as one of the final teams in the tournament field?
Marilyn McNeil: Syracuse was a long discussion. We looked at them very, very carefully. There were some concerns for Syracuse, as there was for many of the teams that did not make the field.
One of them always has been a factor, and that is the non conference schedule. We look at that very closely. Syracuse also had nine losses against top 50 teams. One of the other factors that is looked at is how they've done in the last 12 games. They were 7 5 in the last 12 games. They had a strength of schedule of 114. So they were a team that had some blemishes in their record, and enough unfortunately to leave them out of the 33.
Q. How closely were they considered to being on the cut line? How did they compare with other teams in the Big East such as St. John's that they beat and had similar records with?
Marilyn McNeil: Once again, we don't compare them as conference schools, we compare them as individual schools. Head to head results are just one of the factors we look at. It's only one of them. As I said earlier, there's a lot of data for us.
We also, at the end of many discussions and there were lots of discussions, Syracuse in many of them you kind of put down your computer and you put away your papers and you talk about how they would do on the floor and how they would do in the tournament.
Also I would say some of the decisions, you could slide a piece of paper between the yeses and the nos, and they are tough decisions.
Q. Was Syracuse one of those tough decisions like that?
Marilyn McNeil: Yes.
Q. Once you got the 33 at large conference affiliations really don't matter, seeds are placed according could your protocol, is that right?
Marilyn McNeil: Yes, it is.
Q. The fact that there are at least two Big East teams in every one of the four, and three happen to be in Philadelphia, is not relevant to conference play?
Marilyn McNeil: No, it is not.
Q. So much talk in the country now about the tournament, radio, TV, national news, everyone is talking about as if there's only one: the men's. How do you react when it seems around the country and culturally and national news that there's so much overt neglect of the women's tournament?
Marilyn McNeil: Well, thanks very much for asking this question. I think it's writers like yourself that can continue to bring our tournament to the forefront. We need our advocates. We need them in every avenue.
I think that the more people talk about us, the better off it is, and the better off we have people pay attention.
But we don't need to apologize for our tournament. Our game is in a great place. I can tell you that in these past four days, the number of teams that we had to actually make decisions on was the biggest number that I've seen in my five years.
So the game is growing and it's getting better. These young women, the thousand that are going to take to the courts this weekend, are just terrific athletes. I'm hoping the game always will find its rightful place.
I think one of the frustrations is we are compared to the men's tournament, and they've been at it much longer than we are. But we're coming on, and we're coming on strong. I think that people are going to find some fabulous matchups.
Between you and I, maybe we can turn the corner here and get the women's tournament to be number one in a lot of people's hearts and minds.
Q. I'm curious if you think that this year in particular, with all the attention to UConn in December, because of beating the men's streak, then with these marquee teams, the four top seeds being such marquee teams, is this maybe the year that you can take one of those big steps towards that?
Marilyn McNeil: We're always looking for great story lines. But we have to give our hats off to Connecticut. They've been a tremendous representative for women's basketball. They've certainly set the bar very high and I think have made it imperative that if you want to be vying for a championship, you better get your game to their level.
But I do think that there's many teams that could be in this championship. We truly believe that there's lots of teams that could be there. I think that's what's going to make this championship particularly exciting.
Q. Do you see in the future the tournament being expanded such as the men's was, so there would be the play in games before the main tournament? Were there any ties on anything that had to be broken when you made decisions on certain teams?
Marilyn McNeil: Bracket expansion is something that the committee has talked about a lot. We are actually going to, as we talk about all sorts of things that could impact the tournament in the future, continue the dialogue, continue the discussion. We are going to continue that with all the stakeholders in the game: the women's coaches, the membership. I don't know where we will land.
Right now we're very excited about our 64 team tournament. We have great teams. We have great growth. I think there's going to be some fabulous matchups. So that will be a good thing for our tournament and we'll evaluate at the end of the tournament as to whether we need to tweak it.
Were there ties? I can tell you that there was one group of decisions we were making about the at large. We actually took seven votes on that same decision just to make sure that all the arguments were heard. It was a long, arduous process. But all those teams deserve to be there. It was a very difficult decision, but I think we made the right one.
Q. Is there any message that needs to be sent out to teams who didn't get in how they can do better to improve next year?
Marilyn McNeil: Well, first of all I think the message we want to send out to all of the athletes is that this is a fabulous game to play, keep playing. So many of them were very close, it was a matter of maybe one or two more wins, it was a matter of maybe one or two different scheduling decisions. I think all of them just need to go back and shoot a few more hoops and get ready to play again.
But they could be there next year. I think it's a goal worth striving for. I don't think anybody should be down on themselves for being close. I know it's a very disappointing evening for many of the young women. But they're all deserving of great recognition. They need to keep dribbling and keep shooting, and playing some defense, too.
Q. Before the committee reached its final decision on placing A&M in the Dallas regional, how much discussion was given to possibly placing Oklahoma as a 5 seed and playing in Wichita, closer to its region?
Marilyn McNeil: Well, teams are placed by seed order into the geographical region closest to where they are. However, if someone is in the Wichita region and Oklahoma is placed in afterwards, that is, by our principles, not available as a site for Oklahoma.
We do try to make the right decisions in terms of where teams go. We want as many teams with close fans. But sometimes it's a 'one or the other'. I think in the case of Oklahoma we tried but we just couldn't make it happen.
Q. Wichita is a first time host site for the women's tournament. There are no 'local' teams playing in Wichita. It appears that the geographic principles worked against Wichita as a first and second round site. Would you agree or disagree?
Marilyn McNeil: We think that we did actually put some teams that were in the geographical area. I think Little Rock, perhaps Northern Iowa. We did look at Wichita. We did try to make that site as competitive as we could and to have good fans.
Sometimes you just run out of some teams. But we did try hard. That Wichita discussion was an in depth one.
Q. As you market your tournament versus the men's tournament or on its own merits, when you have entities like Maya Moore and Brittany Griner, is it most beneficial to market personalities or market programs?
Marilyn McNeil: I think if you took a vote there might be a tied vote there. I think the individual athletes are fabulous for our game. I think people look up to them and want to see them play. They become a place where people discuss the women's game because of, perhaps, Brittany Griner or Maya Moore. I think that's good. I think the more times we can get our game talked about in all sorts of conversations, that is very good.
But I also think that there's a lot to be said about many of the teams that are playing. Teamwork is always an important thing. So I think it is important to market both.
Q. I see that Rutgers got a 7 seed with 18 wins, and West Virginia with 23, St. John's with 21, Marquette with 23 were higher seeds. Is that a message to play a lot tougher schedule? Rutgers' out of conference was tougher than West Virginia's, St. John's and Marquette's.
Marilyn McNeil: Well, Rutgers does have a very strong out of conference schedule. But it is only one factor. One of the other factors that comes into discussion is how they've done in the last 12 games. Certainly Rutgers was a team on the rise. All of these different factors.
But out of conference schedule is important. Is it the most important thing? It may be for some, but not for all of the committee. That is why it's good to have 10 people on the committee and why we go to a committee vote. No one factor is the strongest.
Q. Assuming one does play an extremely strong out of conference schedule but loses a lot of those games, as Rutgers did, is that still a benefit in the long run?
Marilyn McNeil: I think that Rutgers might say it is a benefit because it toughened them up and made them strong down the end of their season. It is important to schedule well and it is important to schedule hard teams. But you have to win. You cannot continue to lose games.
Scheduling is an art, it's not a science. I think it's a difficult art. Coaches need to be careful about this. But I do think that the committee has been strong on telling teams that do a good job of scheduling, Be smart about your scheduling but win.
Q. I noticed that this year several of the major conferences who had their conference tournaments in the second week of play finished up on Saturdays instead of Sundays as they have in years past. It was true of the Big 12 and Pac-10. Was the committee at all involved in that process? I can imagine finding out who won the automatic bids late in the day on Sunday certainly makes your job a whole lot tougher.
Marilyn McNeil: The committee has absolutely no say in what conferences schedule their conference tournaments. We adjust accordingly. During our four days, we will stop some of the processes, go and watch a game. But a lot of our work is done previous to coming into these conference tournaments.
There isn't one game that's going to change the decision. It's really the whole résumé. So much of the discussion is on the whole résumé, not what you do in the tournament.
It will have some bearing. But whether you win or lose on Friday or Saturday I don't think will change the integrity of the decision making process that happens with the committee members.
Q. USC seems to me to be similarly situated to Texas and Rutgers in that they played an ambitious out of conference schedule but didn't win many of the games they played against top 50 teams. How important was their tournament loss in the decision making process as far as their inclusion or not?
Marilyn McNeil: Once again, it's just not one factor that made the decision whether or not USC would be included in the tournament. I think one of the compelling factors that hurt Southern California was that they had no wins, you're right, against the top 25 teams. They were actually 3 8 against the top 50 teams. They had a bad loss.
Down the stretch, which might answer your question about the tournament results, they were only 6 6. So they did have some blemishes that hurt them in the final decision.
Q. Can you compare their situation to Texas and Rutgers that had a tough schedule but didn't do that well in the out of conference?
Marilyn McNeil: Well, Texas actually in their non conference schedule were 11 3. Their strength of schedule was a little better than Southern California's. These decisions were agonizing and difficult. Once again, you could put a piece of paper between them. But there were some more compelling factors in the Texas résumé that allowed them to be one of the teams that was considered as the top 33.
Q. Rutgers was the other one I was asking about in that category.
Marilyn McNeil: Rutgers had the strongest strength of schedule of all three. They did finish fourth in the Big East. That finish was a critical part of looking at their résumé. They had some big wins against Marquette twice and Georgetown. They finished their season strong, as I said earlier, winning five of the last six. These were razor thin margins on decisions and they were difficult.
Q. I was wondering if the committee felt that when Kansas State's starting post player re-aggravated her injury in the Big 12 tournament, did that have a bearing on Kansas State's seeding at all?
Marilyn McNeil: The committee is absolutely aware of injured and unavailable players. But first of all, all teams are selected into the tournament based on what they did during the season. We look at the full season of work.
Seeding could be a different story based on the status of certain players. They are difficult decisions to weigh. Some, as I said earlier, committee members might look at that more carefully than others.
But Kansas State's seed was really based on their entire body of work.
Q. A lot of questions asked about the Baylor and Texas A&M situation, but I'm going to ask another one. I understand why they were placed in the same region, the geography situation. What I'm having trouble getting around is in 2009 a very similar circumstance existed, and it was clearly avoided placing two teams from the Big 12 in the same region. You had Oklahoma as the No. 1 seed in Oklahoma City, and both Baylor and Texas A&M were No. 2 seeds, but Auburn was the choice for the No. 2 with Oklahoma when Raleigh was an available region for Auburn. It's the inconsistency that I'm not getting as to why it wasn't different in '09 as opposed to this year?
Marilyn McNeil: I don't think it was inconsistent. It's certainly not something that the committee does. We don't compare last year's tournament regardless. But we have principles and practices, and we stayed true to those principles. We took the seeds in order and put them into the geographic regions.
I cannot speak to the 2009 tournament, but I can speak to this one. This is the way that Texas A&M went into the tournament and this was the geographic region for them.
Q. The only conclusion is that a mistake was made in 2009. I'm not trying to be antagonistic. The two things are polar opposites.
Marilyn McNeil: As I said, I can't speak to 2009. Certainly different factors, different committee members. But our principles have been the same. So I know that the committee always serves those principles well and follows them. They're principles we're not allowed to deviate from.
The committee is very glad to be sitting here on Selection Monday. We worked very hard. I think we're as excited as the 64 coaches and teams and the over one thousand student athletes and the schools they represent. I know we've even received a couple of little emails about some female athletes that are jumping up and down, excited for their opportunity. We also know that there are many who are disappointed, and we're sorry for that.
But this process is very important and we worked very hard and very diligently. We think we found the best 64 teams for this tournament. I think there's going to be some fabulous matchups. I think everybody get their tickets and all of you get yourselves on press row because you won't want to miss what's going to happen on these courts. It's going to be exciting.
We look forward to the 2011 championship game and hope to see all of you in Indianapolis. Let the games begin.