And so, the Self-Righteous Ten have spoken for another year.
As anyone who has ever read anything I’ve written knows, there are few days I enjoy more than Selection Sunday and I dread what it will be like next year. But one part of Selection Sunday I can’t stand is hearing the chairman—Dan Guerrero of UCLA this year—droning on about the purity of the selection process.
Oh please. These guys are human like the rest of us. They have biases and agendas. I’m not here to tell you they don’t try to do a good job but they need to quit claiming their purity while at the same time insisting on conducting their decision-making process in absolute secret. Guerrero won’t even answer the simple question: who was the last team in and the last team out. What is this, the CIA?
If it is all so above-board and pure and wonderful why not let at least one pool reporter—my suggestion has always been the U.S. Basketball Writers President, a job that changes yearly, or Bill Brill, who knows more about the selection process than all 10 committee members combined—sit in the room to explain exactly how the field was picked and seeded.
I’ve been suggesting this for most of 20 years now. The answer I get back, regardless of who is on the committee, is usually pretty direct: No. The reason given is also the same: Because we said so. The only committee member who was willing to even consider it was George Washington Athletic Director Jack Kvancz who actually brought it up in a meeting one year. He was shouted down quickly. He also got passed over the next year when he should have been chairman. I wonder if that was a coincidence.
The last few years the committee and Greg Shaheen, the NCAA staff member who runs the tournament from the NCAA side (and is very much behind the move to 96), have come up with one of the great bogus creations of our time: the mock bracket. The NCAA invites media members to Indianapolis—or in some cases to other cities for the media’s ‘convenience,’--and sets them up for a couple of days to pretend they are the committee. Ostensibly this is done so we in the media can, ‘better understand the process.’
What a bunch of garbage. It is done so that guys in my business will feel more important and think they really do know how hard it is to put the field together. Let me say this one more time: IT IS NOT THAT HARD. Eric Prisbell of The Washington Post had exactly one team different than the committee in his bracket in Sunday’s paper and missed on a few seeds by one spot. He did this ALONE without all sorts of staff members scurrying in and out, without free satellite TV all season, without first class airfare and without a five-star hotel. He’s also a lot less pretentious about it than The Self-Righteous Ten.
Driving in the car this morning hearing the two ESPN morning commercial- readers repeatedly saying, “the committee did a very good job,” I can’t help but giggle. What good job? I’ll give them credit for giving a couple of mid-major conference champions who lost in conference tournaments at-large bids. Fine. For once they did the right thing. Should Mississippi State have gotten in over Minnesota? Yes. The Gophers beat a hobbled Purdue team on Saturday and got killed by Ohio State on Sunday. Mississippi State gave Kentucky everything it could have wanted and beat two tournament teams over the weekend prior to that.
Should Virginia Tech have gotten in over Wake Forest in my opinion? Yes. But I can see the argument going the other way too based on top-50 wins and strength-of-schedule. Seth Greenberg, who is a friend, knew he had a weak schedule in the fall. Penn State turned out to be lousy when people thought they would be decent, but every other team on his schedule turned out about the way people knew they would. All of that said, Virginia Tech finished ahead of Wake Forest in the conference; beat the Deacons head-to-head and did NOT get embarrassed in the ACC Tournament. Wake’s performance against Miami was just completely god-awful.
What’s more, Wake’s AD Ron Wellman was on the committee. PLEASE do not give me the speech about committee members recusing themselves and leaving the room when their team is being discussed. Do you think the other nine guys don’t know how the guy outside the room feels? Committee members talk all the time about how close they become working under such great pressure. Well? Put it this way: every single time a bubble team has had its AD on the committee in my memory, the team has gotten in. That doesn’t mean the committee didn’t get it right—they certainly did with George Mason and Tom O’Connor in 2006—but it happens WITHOUT FAIL.
Having said all that, Guerrero’s not-so-subtle little pitch about how there was SO MANY teams they had to consider for the last few spots, rings pretty hollow. The only reason for that is that none of those last few teams could create any solid reason to get picked. Minnesota, a loser by 29 on Sunday? Florida, which lost to Mississippi State on Friday? Wake Forest? (see above). Texas—which hasn’t won a game since the end of football season? (Oh wait, it didn’t win that game either). California, which couldn’t even win the tournament in the miserable Pac-10?
Did these teams deserve to be in the tournament? Probably—because Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, Illinois and Rhode Island, were just about as mediocre overall. You could put those four in and take four of the above-mentioned out and you’d have essentially the same tournament. (For the record, NONE of these teams deserved to be seeded ahead of Cornell—check out Cornell’s schedule.)
Guerrero is clearly trying to set up the move to 96 by saying SO many teams were deserving. Hogwash. Worst-case scenario you expand to 68 teams, send the last eight at-larges to Dayton to play for the last four spots and there is just about no one who has ANY complaint at all.
Gary Williams claimed to me the other night that there are more good teams today than in 1985 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams. With all due respect, he’s flat out wrong. In 1985, Villanova, a No. 8 seed WON the tournament. In 1988, Kansas a No. 6 seed WON the tournament. IN 1986, a Maryland team led by Len Bias finished SIXTH in the ACC. There were more teams in big conferences with juniors and seniors back then, there was more depth because of that and the quality of basketball was better at all levels than it is today.
Back to the committee. The matchup that screams to be screamed at—among all of them—is Temple-Cornell. Both teams are under-seeded. And, when the committee tries to tell you this game is a coincidence, make sure you have a firm grip on your wallet. Temple is coached by Fran Dunphy; Cornell by Steve Donahue. Guess who was Dunphy’s No. 1 assistant at Penn for 10 years? If you guessed Steve Donahue you win my place at next year’s mock bracket. You win two spots at the mock bracket if you guess the committee guys will claim, ‘gee we never thought of that.’
Uh-huh. These guys are supposed to be hoops experts, right? They watch all these games, study all these computer printouts, read up on the conferences they’re assigned to study. Nah, how would they know about the Dunphy-Donahue connection or think it would make a great first round story for their ‘partners,’ from CBS. Just like Duke and Louisville—and thus Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino—is a likely second round matchup. Absolute coincidence. Heck, they might not even know where Krzyzewski and Pitino are coaching these days.
Someone get me a shovel.
I don’t mind that the committee does this stuff every year, I mind that they claim it is all by accident and they are all Caesar’s wife. If so, then why not let Dick Jerardi (this year’s USBWA president) or Brill, who has been putting brackets together since about 1952, observe this brilliant and totally above-board process. (For those of you who want to write, ‘oh Feinstein you just want to get in the room,” I seriously don’t want to get in the room. I’d rather watch basketball than sit in a room with those guys for four days. But someone should be doing it).
Anyway, that’s my rant for today. Tomorrow we’ll start to deal with who is playing whom and which games should be the most fun this weekend. I’ll leave you with this for today: I’m glad Wake Forest is playing Texas because I like Dino Gaudio and Rick Barnes and this is probably the only way that one of them will have a chance to win at least one game.
Good job, Self-Righteous Ten.