NCAA Panel Faces Tough Selection Process

Thursday, March 8th 2007, 5:57 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Gary Walters and the NCAA selection committee will spend the rest of this week studying numbers, debating resumes and finding the 34 best at-large teams to put in the 65-team tournament.

They're likely to spend the next week hearing everyone complain about it.

Welcome to life as chairman of the highest-profile committee in college athletics, where the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that nobody gets it right.

``Having observed the criticism over the years from teams that didn't get in, I understand how difficult that is,'' said Walters, the athletic director at Princeton. ``We're aware there will be some teams that are disappointed, so you have to have thick enough skin to handle it.''

While people like Walters often find themselves explaining the committee's decisions, it's not as if they have exclusive rights on being targeted. Remember 2004, when Saint Joseph's received a No. 1 seed and CBS commentator Billy Packer told a national television audience it was too high? Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli fired back by questioning Packer's credentials, and his Hawks eventually advanced to the regional finals before losing to Oklahoma State.

For the 10-member voting bloc meeting in Indianapolis this week, the decisions could be even tougher.

Aside from choosing who's in and who's out, they must also decipher a seeding process that appears nearly as jumbled at the top as it does on the bottom.

With Florida's late-season struggles, Wisconsin's injuries and Kansas' less-than-spectacular power ranking, Walters acknowledged Wednesday that they'll also be watching scores from this week's conference tournaments to sort out the mess.

``There's no magic formula to this,'' Walters said. ``Just because a team has a solid record or is solid in league play or even has a .500 record in league play isn't enough. You have the unbalanced schedules, so some teams may have followed a different path.''

Among those fighting for No. 1 seeds are Florida and Wisconsin.

The Gators (26-5) are the defending national champions, the regular-season Southeastern Conference champs and were ranked No. 1 as recently as four weeks ago. But consecutive losses at LSU and Tennessee, before beating Kentucky at home last weekend, knocked the Gators down to No. 6 in The Associated Press poll and No. 9 in the RPI Index, a calculation that includes victories over Division I opponents, strength of schedule and opponents' strength of schedule.

Wisconsin (27-4) finds itself in a different predicament. The Badgers are No. 3 in the poll and No. 4 in the NCAA's RPI ratings, but haven't been the same since starting center Brian Butch went down with a right elbow injury during a one-point loss to No. 1 Ohio State on Feb. 25. Butch was expected to miss four to six weeks, meaning he could miss the rest of the season.

Injuries can be a factor as Cincinnati learned in 2000 after Kenyon Martin cracked a bone in his right leg and tore ankle ligaments in a conference tournament game. The Bearcats, who were ranked No. 1, wound up with a No. 2 seed.

``Some teams have done very well when a player goes out,'' Walters said. ``Others have struggled.''

One committee member, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, will participate by phone and computer. UCLA said he will be staying in Los Angeles because of his father's death Tuesday.

The only apparent lock, heading into the weekend, may be Ohio State (27-3), which is No. 2 in the RPI and has steadily improved throughout the season. Otherwise, the picture remains muddled.

UCLA (26-4), which lost to Florida in last year's championship game, is ranked No. 4 in the poll and No. 1 in the RPI, so a strong showing in the Pac-10 tournament would solidify its hold on a top seed.

Kansas (27-4) is ranked No. 2 this week but has an RPI rating (15) that could force the Jayhawks off the top line if they make an early exit in the Big 12 tournament.

North Carolina (25-6) has the opposite problem. It's ranked No. 3 in the RPI but only eighth in the poll.

Then, of course, there is discussion about whether mid-major schools such as Old Dominion and Drexel of the Colonial Athletic Association, Santa Clara of the West Coast Conference and Missouri State of the Missouri Valley Conference have done enough to warrant an at-large bid.

How it eventually looks, even at the top, is anybody's guess.

But Walters knows one thing: Some people won't be happy.

``The more we take into account, the better decision we can make,'' Walters said. ``So I think we'll take into account the AP poll and the coaches poll, but it's certainly not driving the car.''