Chairman Mike Slive and the rest of the men's basketball committee are sequestered at the Westin in Indianapolis, pouring over reams and reams of statistical data as they try to assemble the 65-team field and brackets for the NCAA tournament.
The 10-member committee will be keeping the following in mind: The three Ws and an H.
"Who you play, where you play, with whom did you play and how you played," Slive said. "Who you played: qualify of competition. Where you played: was it road, home or neutral? With whom did you play: was everyone available and healthy on either team? And how you played: did you win or maybe it was a good loss.
"We will ask and debate these questions a countless number of times and when we have asked them for the final time, we believe we will have the best 34 teams selected to join the 31 automatic qualifiers to make up a geographically and competitively balanced national tournament."
"We have seen a revolving door not only at the top but throughout the top 25," Slive said. "What that means is there are many good teams capable of beating other good teams and that's going to make the tournament as exciting as ever. It's shaping up to be a memorable championship from start to finish. It is also shaping up to be a stressful week for the committee because we have a lot of tough decisions ahead of us."
An added element the committee will take into account while determining the pairings is the nation's bad economic climate. Slive said he is cognizant of trying to hold down expenses as much as possible without compromising the integrity of the brackets.
"We are reminded of the changes we implemented in 2002, which places teams, to the greatest extent possible, close to their natural geographic area," Slive said. "Since that time, most teams and their fans are traveling shorter distances for tournament games, which has resulted in a savings in costs and missed class time.
"We fully recognize that this is a national championship. Our 330 Division I member institutions are located throughout the country. The committee remains committed to the principle to the extent it does not adversely impact fair competition."
As he did last month, Slive again stressed that the committee will consider a team's entire schedule instead of placing too much emphasis on how teams finished the regular season and performed in conference tournaments.
"The best way to evaluate a team is based on a full body of work, to think about or give credit for, or if there are losses, to hold teams accountable," Slive said. "Otherwise, in a sense, you're going to have November and December being an exhibition season, and it's not. It's an integral part of the entire season. I think it is important for the committee to consider the teams when they're playing throughout the year.
"So the games early are important. How a team is playing as we enter into the tournament is also a factor to be considered by the committee. So I think you can do both without diminishing the importance of November and December."
The committee has taken its share of criticism from coaches and media for being made up primarily of administrators without a Division I basketball background. Just four either played or coached at the college level.
However, Slive says the lack of experience does not detract from the committee's work.
"I think what you have is a group of committed, dedicated, knowledgeable, experienced administrators, some of whom have coached, some of whom have created basketball leagues, some of whom have spent their lives in one form or another related to the game, who appreciate the game, who love the game, and know it, and who can bring--by virtue of observation, study and analysis--just what is needed to create the kind of field that makes this tournament great," Slive said. "It's evolved from a small tournament to one of the world's premiere athletic events with these same kinds of people, the same composition of people throughout the country.
"This year's committee is the same committee we had last year with only one change. I think the world was pretty happy with last year's tournament, with the exception of a few teams who didn't make it. The other thing is that we have access to a lot of people, a lot of expertise, people who have been in the game, people who have coached the game. We get input from 31 coaches from around the country with their regional advisory groups.
"I can tell you this, if you spend time with any one of us or all 10 of us in this room, you would have no doubt about the level of basketball expertise and knowledge that's going to create this year's tournament."
Big 12 Champs Dethroned
Kansas got knocked off by Baylor in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday, ending their string of three straight championships in that event.
That the Jayhawks were ripe for an upset was understandable, though. They might not have had much left in the tank after an improbable run to a fifth straight regular-season conference title.
Kansas won the Big 12 despite losing all five seniors from last year's national championship team.
"The other times I've been here, I expected it'd be a poor year if we didn't win the league," Self said. "This one I wouldn't have thought that. I do think not only to win the league outright, but to match our team of a couple years ago with a 14-2 record, speaks volumes of these guys' maturity, how far they've come and given themselves a chance. Our league is good. This certainly will rank right up there in my eyes."
Junior guard Sherron Collins is the closest thing to a veteran on the Jayhawks. He was the sixth man on last year's title winners.
Collins felt this was the sweetest of his three Big 12 titles.
"It means a lot to me," Collins told the Lawrence World-Journal. "I think I did a good job leading a group of young guys. I'm just pleased they listened to me and followed me. I told them they should listen to coach and me. I've been through it. Coach has been through it.
"The young guys deserve credit. They knew they didn't know anything. They were eager to learn. I'm proud of them and myself, too, to make an accomplishment like this."
Cardinals Flying High
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has been saying all season that the Big East may be the toughest conference in the history of college basketball. While that may be a stretch, Pitino was justifiably proud of his Cardinals winning their first Big East regular-season title since joining the conference in 2005-06.
The Cardinals went 16-2 in conference play to finish one game ahead of Connecticut and Pittsburgh.
"I grew up following the Big East," Louisville junior guard Edgar Sosa told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "It's always been a great conference but it's the toughest conference this year. To go 16-2 in the league this year is a great year for any team."
While Pittsburgh and Connecticut have been mentioned as likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament regardless of how they fare in the Big East tournament--though the Panthers' chances had to be damaged by losing to West Virginia in the quarterfinals Thursday night--Pitino believes his team should also receive strong consideration for a top seed. Louisville strengthened its case Thursday by dispatching Providence in the quarterfinals.
"Don't think our guys aren't motivated when they know they're in first place and they keep hearing the other teams are the No. 1 seeds," Pitino said.
Vikings Conquer the Horizon
One of the more impressive victories in the mid-major conference tournaments was turned in by Cleveland State, who beat Butler in the Horizon League championship game on Tuesday night, winning at the Bulldogs' Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
While Cleveland State was the preseason favorite in the Horizon League, Butler won the regular-season title as it went 25-4. However, the Vikings earned their first and only NCAA tournament berth in 23 years since Mouse McFadden and company upset Indiana and Saint Joseph's before losing to Navy in the Sweet Sixteen.
"These guys are a bunch of fighters and they persevered," Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. "In order for us to be on a par with Butler, we had to beat them on a national stage."
Cleveland State (25-10) did just that as the game was televised by ESPN, something that wasn't lost on the Vikings.
"We're on the map," senior guard Cedric Jackson said. "As seniors, we wanted to let everyone know we've arrived and we're going to be a team to beat for years to come."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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