INDIANAPOLIS – The folks who fill the NCAA Tournament bracket are in town this week to give us something we’ve never seen before – their current thinking on the top 16 seeds, four weeks before Selection Sunday.Here to explain all this is Division I men’s basketball committee chair Mark Hollis . . . but hold it a second. Before he takes the floor, maybe we should consider this past Saturday, for a snapshot of the world they are trying to seed.
Six teams in the Associated Press top-10 lost in one day, all three from the Big 12 beaten at home by unranked opponents.
Arizona arrived in Oregon with a 15-game winning streak, looked up at the scoreboard, and was trailing by 37 points.
Illinois State, having stormed to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference with the perfection of an 11-0 league record, lost by a 41 points at Wichita State – a team it had earlier beaten by 14.
Florida pounded Kentucky by 22 points. Had the Wildcats not pulled off an overtime escape against Georgia, they would be on a four-game losing streak.
You couldn’t even count on Kansas to hold a 15-point lead at home, and now a 51-0 Allen Fieldhouse winning streak is 51-1.
There were 13 overtime games, and 29 others decided by a single possession. All in all, a wild day. But not unique. Go back to Jan. 24, and three of the top four ranked teams lost – in two hours.
And now, the west coast — without a national champion for 19 years — has four teams in the new top 10, including Gonzaga, who as the last unbeaten is ranked No. 1 – but No. 8 in the latest RPI ranking.
Have fun, committee.
What’s a weekend like that say?
“It says the committee better be doing their homework,” Hollis said. “It’s exciting on the one hand. On the other hand what it’s doing to the process is, it’s bunching together both the top of the bracket and the proverbial bubble. You have teams that are getting big wins and positioning themselves. The teams we thought were running away with it have been pulled back into the field, and the teams that maybe were out of it are being pulled back up into the field.
“It’s a compression of the entire bracket. The more compression there is, the more challenging it is for the committee.”
That challenge will get an unprecedented public airing Saturday when the committee releases what it currently views as the top four seeds in each region. They have gone through this process before behind closed doors, as a trial run for March. But this is very different. It is an idea promoted by the NABC – the coaches’ organization – and agreed to by the committee. Doing anything the first time can be a little dicey.
“Probably what concerns me the most is knowing the value that this week had to the committee in preparation,” Hollis said. “It’s going to be a different approach this year because we know what we walk out of here with is going to be public information.
“I was half tongue-in-cheek thinking of quoting a former basketball player Allen Iverson, saying it’s just practice. And that’s really all this is. What we need to insure is that what happens in February does not negatively impact what we do in March. That’s where our focus has to be.”
What Hollis is hoping for is a better understanding of what goes into bracketing teams. “I don’t think we’re really ruining Selection Sunday or ruining the surprise, but I think we’re giving an element of excitement, an element of understanding of what’s going to happen on Selection Sunday and how we go about putting the bracket together.”
That, and create a lot of buzz about college basketball, now that the Super Bowl is out of the way. While Hollis doesn’t anticipate any real shockers – “I don’t think anybody’s going to be really blown away with who the 16 are” – any tournament pecking order will bring scrutiny, and guaranteed hype.
“The hype comes from criticizing 10 individuals who are on the committee, and I think that’s what it’s going to create,” Hollis said. “A hype of, `Boy, the committee got this wrong or that wrong.’ I guess that’s part of our job description. To absorb that criticism.”
“Coaches, media, wives, kids.”
“I don’t think you put something out there for 100 percent acceptance. You understand there’s going to be criticism and differences of opinion, and that’s OK. At the end of the day, hopefully all the committee members will listen to what I call feedback, not criticism. And if there’s something there that’s helpful, they use it in their toolbox as they’re approaching March and the process that really matters.
“Coaches will say things. Media will say things. Bracketologists will say things. While you don’t let them put their hand on the rudder, it’s OK to let them put some wind in your sail and kind of guide you in a direction maybe you didn’t think through.”
So what could possibly go wrong?
Well, Hollis said, it’s important that everybody see what this is, and what it isn’t. Everything to come out Saturday is in erasable pencil.
“The natural response in March will be, `Yeah, but back in February you said this.’ Well, the circumstances were different in February, and people need to understand that. This is a practice run based on the data we have. We’re not going to make any guesses, we’re not going to make any forecasts. Things are going to change by March, and there’s going to be different factors that come into play.
“If you take a couple of weekends like we’ve had, it’s going to look dramatically different this weekend than it looked last weekend.”
Our time. pic.twitter.com/B6NRoRvCu5— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 6, 2017
No, the NCAA won’t be releasing something every week like the College Football Playoff committee. “A lot more teams a lot more moving parts, a heck of a lot more games,” Hollis said.
And no, there is no appetite to do the entire bracket. “It’d put us in a position where we’d have to almost become bracketologists and guess who’s going to win (conference) championships, and that’s not what we do.”
And yes, Hollis appreciates that no past chair has ever been in this position. They’re all used to taking fire the second Sunday of March. But the second Saturday of February?
“Joe Castiglione reminded me of that in a text yesterday,” Hollis said, of last year’s committee chair.
“If it’s taking a little bit of heat to make the process a little better in the long-term, I think it’s well worth it. This is my last year on the committee. I can apply the heat next year.”