"We are always, as a committee, keeping our eye on critical matchups; those games where two teams have a lot on the line. We look for those to make differentiations between teams that might otherwise have similar credentials. While we don't want to weigh a conference tournament game any more heavily than we would any other game during the season, they do represent opportunities for two teams to play with a lot on the line. So, it is a good opportunity to assess what the differences might be between two teams. I do believe the last 10 games of the season are important and, clearly, those games in the conference tournament are part of those 10 games."
How much do you think a team's seeding can bounce up or down because of one game late in a conference tournament?
"I couldn't quantify how much they could go up or down. That will depend on what is happening to other teams around them that have a similar portfolio of achievement. Every game that is played, even the games where the finals are played on Sunday, we do everything we can to take the outcome of those games into consideration. Due to those finals, we sometimes have to go into the seeding and bracketing process with a contingency plan."
How much does the committee take into account injuries, especially, if a team has a, potentially, critical injury to a player? How do you go about judging whether they will be healthy for the tournament?
"There are some very good examples right now of some high profile players that have varying degrees of debilitation as a result of injuries. We try and draw upon the best medical information that we can get. It comes from conference offices and comes from institutions. We recognize that they both have a vested interest in it and we take that into consideration. But, basically, if a team has an injury to a player that causes him to miss the rest of the season, we are going to assess that team without that player in the lineup. Likewise, if we are not able to determine that player will be available or full-strength, it could very well cause consideration as to whether they deserve to be in the tournament if they are on the bubble or how high they are seeded. I don't think you would look for us to unduly penalize a team if we couldn't get definitive information. But, on the other hand, you are not going to be rewarded when there is a significant cloud as to whether or not that player is going to play."
You mentioned that the last 10 games are important. Does the committee distinguish between two teams that end up 5 and 5 their last 10 games, but one team wins their last 5 while the other one loses their last 5?
"Certainly, we would. I don't want to make too much of the last 10 games, but it is one thing we look at, like we do the RPI and how a team has done on the road, how they have done against people above and below them in their conference, what was their strength of schedule of their non-conference games. You are looking for trends, but you also have to take into consideration who those five losses were to and who the five wins were to. They may have been the top 5 teams in the league and the 5 bottom teams in the league. One of the things the committee does in a very meticulous way is look at the portfolio of each team. It isn't about here's the 7th team in the SEC. It's about here's team A and this is what they have done relative to the other candidates for the last few spots in the tournament."
There is a chance that South Carolina and LSU will play in the SEC Tournament. Both have lost key players for the season. Is that a game, due to the injury criteria you gave earlier, that will have more meaning as to whether they will get in?
"I really don't want to get into specifics on any particular team. But I think that teams that are struggling, particularly the last third of the season, they probably need to demonstrate that they are getting over it. If you have players that are out for the season and that is part of the reason why they are struggling, we have to take that into consideration as to who makes the tournament field."
Do you look at how many teams from different leagues get into the conference?
"We don't spend much time talking about what league gets how many teams into the tournament. Each institution that ends up with a slot in the NCAA Tournament is there because of the evaluation of that team versus the other potential candidates yielded them as been in and someone else out."
There is a lot of speculation that both Kentucky and Mississippi State both been contenders for a number one seed. How plausible is it if both of those teams were to meet in the final, they would both get number one seeds, even though one would win and one would lose?
"It seems to me I recall my first year on the committee we had that situation in the Big 10. I believe it was Illinois and Michigan State that were going to meet in the finals and there was a potential to have both of them on the top line (number 1 seeds). I think, especially, relative to the top four lines of the tournament, that honor of being one of the top seeded teams in the tournament comes from a season long effort and we take into account the last 10 games and we take into account the last game. The loser of that game is not going to be seeded ahead of the winner of that game. There is no doubt about that. But it is conceivable that one could be seeded on the right side of the top line and one on the left side of the top line. That is not implausible at all, especially with two institutions that have had the kind of years that they have had. Having said that, however, I think there are probably 7, 8 or 9 institutions that could make a case at one level or another for being a number 1 seed and there is a lot of basketball to be played. Somebody is going to play themselves in and somebody is going to play themselves out, but I don't think two teams playing in a final of a conference tournament, necessarily eliminates one of them from a possibility of a line one."
What is the protocol for you when your school, Iowa, is talked about?
"I am out of the room. I am not allowed to discuss my school. I have to leave the room."
In the SEC there are 4 teams with 8-8 records. Obviously they will be compared against one another because of their similarities. How will you be able to distinguish between those teams?
"We will look at how they got to their league record. Some of those records may be them beating all the teams below them and losing to all the teams above them. Some will be a mixed bag. There are some conferences that have some one plays, some conferences that have some no plays. And there are some conferences that play a full double round-robin. Conference records are more viable when it comes out of a double round-robin conference where everybody has played everybody else twice. While the records may be the same, the manner in which they achieved those records could be quite different. We may not only look at how they did with teams below them and above them but how they did against the top two teams in each division. We'll call upon the committee member who has the surveillance responsibility for that conference to describe to us which ones are the best in the league and which ones are the poorer ones in the league."
You mentioned some of the criteria being RPI, Strength of Schedule, last 10 games, road victories. Which is more significant and less significant in the seeding process?
"If you were to ask committee members and poll all of them, you would probably get some deferential in what they say. We know that seven out of ten games in college basketball are resolved in favor of the home team, so, for me, if I get to a point where I can't slide a piece of paper between two teams in terms of their resume, I look at how they played on the road because that is a demonstration of how tough they are and how they do in hostile environments."
When you are down to those last few teams and you have an institution from a major conference that has had numerous opportunities against nationally ranked teams, teams with very high RPIs or whatever tool you want to use and have had some wins but not a lot. How do you compare that school to someone who is from a smaller conference that hasn't had as many at-bats as the other team? Is there a point where you having an X number of shots start working against you if you don't connect on some of them?
"That's a fair question. Is it better to have done well against a schedule that doesn't have the marquee matchup or it better to have played them than lost or not won as frequency as you should. I do think that could work against an institution if the latter happened. But, that differentiation is very, very difficult. I wish there was an imperical way you could crunch the numbers and say that I'm absolutely sure this team is better than the other one."
Do you ever seen you going to more of a computer type situation in the future?
"I think the consideration that goes into the selection and seeding and bracketing of the NCAA basketball tournament uses the best of technology with the best of personal observation. It is not possible with this system to take the subjectivity out of it in its entirety. I will tell you that it is a largely objective process with an appropriately measure of subjectivity. That may sound kind of wishy-washy, but I think if you had the opportunity to go through the process you would understand what I am talking about. The 10 members of the basketball committee cared deeply about the fairness or the process and they care fundamentally about identifying the most deserving teams to be represented in the tournament. We go to great lengths to make that happen. I would hate to see the day when we ran some sort of numerical computation and mailed in the bracket. I think the tournament loses a tremendous amount when that happens. The other thing I would tell you, in addition to being the selection committee, our committee has the responsibility to help manage the first and second rounds of the regionals. There is a lot more to this than just selecting the teams. The committee members are deeply engaged in all the aspects of the basketball tournament."
After you meet Thursday, how many of the at-large bids will still be up for grabs?
"It varies a lot from year to year. I think the number will be lower this year than it has been in the past. Anybody who gets the appropriate number of votes goes up on the first ballot. That number has been in the low 20's occasionally. And it has also been down in the teens. Because of the number of teams under surveillance this year, I'm going to guess that it is going to be a little lower than usual this year, probably in the teens."
Does it every seem like committee members (teams) get preferential treatment from other committee members even though they leave the room? If so, do you try to guard against that?
"I know that has been the perception at times. We do try and guard against it. Human nature is you don't know what is going on behind closed doors and there is always some assumption that the fellowship is going to take care of one another. I would suggest to you that the opposite is true. I really think if Iowa plays itself of being on the bubble, I think the committee will have to make sure (Iowa) look better than the people that (they) are being compared to because they know very well there is going to be scrutiny of it for the exact reason you have alluded to."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.