Kentucky, UNC Left Out

Select members of the national college basketball media met in Indianapolis Thursday and Friday and conducted a mock bracket during a selection session at NCAA headquarters. The results might surprise you a bit.

INDIANAPOLIS – Any dedicated college basketball fan knows Kentucky and North Carolina are more than occasional visitors to the NCAA tournament. Much more.

For those two proud programs, almost every season begins with high expectations and ends in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky won the national championship last season and the Tar Heels captured their most recent title in 2009.

The last time both the Wildcats and the Tar Heels did not make the tournament field in the same season was 1974. If you don't remember, don't feel bad. That was five years before Larry Bird and Magic Johnson turned the Final Four into must-see TV. But based on a mock selection session conducted by 20 media members Thursday and Friday at the NCAA national headquarters, that rare double exclusion could happen again in 2013.

After almost 12 hours of hearing conference reports, studying team reports, listing, ranking, seeding and bracketing the field of 68 teams selected, Kentucky and North Carolina were on the outside looking in. In fact, they were among that undesirable group referred to by "bracketologists" as the "last four out," joining Charlotte and Villanova.

Indiana received the overall No. 1 seed from the media panel.

After the reenactment of the actual process used to pick the tournament Mike Bobinski, chair of the men's basketball committee and athletic director at Xavier, told the media members that the decisions and discussions were "the same stuff we wrestle with and will wrestle with in March."

Bobinski's committee held an orientation meeting at the NCAA offices earlier in the week and went through a similar practice session that was even more condensed.

"Honestly, the thought process and conversation was very much along the lines of what we were doing," Bobinski told the media contingent. "I hope the bracketing process has been illuminating to you. This is the source of a lot of the questions and the wondering of, ‘How in the world did that ever happen?' So much of it is tied to the principles and procedures [of the tournament."

In addition, the other top seeds went to Miami (Fla.), Duke and Michigan. The Wolverines moved up to the No. 4 seed overall and bumped their in-state Big Ten rivals from Michigan State to fifth overall after NCAA staff member revealed the results of mock conference tournament results.

In that mock Big Ten tournament, Michigan won the championship by beating the Spartans in the semifinals and Indiana in the finals. Despite that loss in the title game, there was no talk of lowering Indiana. The Hoosiers were a strong and constant pick for the overall No. 1 and even though the projections presented to the mock committee included North Carolina State winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Miami and Duke did not slide down – based on the strength of both teams' overall bodies of work.

Iowa State was the last team to make the field and the Cyclones were joined by Baylor, California and Virginia as the "final four teams in."

After reviewing team sheets and holding an extensive series of balloting to determine many of the top seeds and deciding the last teams in, the mock media crew began filling in the bracket at about 1 p.m. Friday afternoon and completed the process in just two hours.

By comparison, the actual NCAA men's basketball committee, which will be sequestered in Indianapolis and spend four days putting the field together, will probably begin the bracketing process around noon on Selection Sunday, March 17. That is one of the most surprising aspects of mock process, which began in 2007 as an educational process to help the media and fans gain a better understanding of the process.

Close but no bid for Roy Williams and UNC

The results of the seeding process can be seen here.

And the entire bracket from the mock session can be seen here.

The media's second round games (played after the First Four games in Dayton) will have Indiana playing the winner of Charleston/Prairie View in Dayton on March 22. Miami will travel to Philadelphia to play No. 16 Bryant. Duke was also sent to Philadelphia (no North Carolina regional sites this year as in the past) to play the winner of Norfolk State vs. Niagara And Michgan was slated to play Northeastern in Auburn Hills.

Joining Michigan State as the other No. 2 seeds were Florida, Gonzaga and Arizona. Kansas, Syracuse, Louisville and Butler were the No. 3 seeds. And the No. 4 seeds were New Mexico, Wisconsin, Kansas State and Georgetown.

There was little discussion of either Kentucky or North Carolina in the selection process. Both were under consideration but got little support. In Kentucky's case, the Wildcats' poor record against teams in the top 50 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and the lack of even one victory against a team in the tournament field was damaging.

"I didn't realize how bad Kentucky is," one media member said. And the consensus was that the Wildcats were not tournament worthy with Nerlens Noel. The fact that the talented freshman is out for the rest of the season with the knee injury he suffered earlier in the week wasn't even brought into play.

North Carolina's fate was even more cruel for Tar Heels fans. Roy Williams' team would have been in the field if Florida had won the Southeastern Conference tournament. But in the simulation presented to the media, Alabama upset the Gators in the championship game and grabbed the automatic bid. The Crimson Tide would not have been in the field otherwise.

In real life, on March 17, as the clock ticks down on the selection committee, North Carolina fans wouldn't even have known they needed to root for Florida. But that is the cruel reality of the process. And the committee would be under the gun, needed to fill out the remainder of the bracket to complete its work.

Bobinski said that Kentucky did make the bracket put together by the actual committee earlier in the week. But that was because the NCAA staff presented the committee with a different set of circumstances, filling in seeds to save time and simulating conference tournament results.

"It was not drastically different," Bobinski said. "There were some subtle differences. But it wasn't apples to apples."

For more details on the process, check out my blog from the session here.

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