What goes into selecting the NCAA tournament field? Here’s a glimpse


Dave Ommen is in Indianapolis with 19 other members of the media for a mock NCAA tournament selection session. Their final bracket will be posted Friday, but here’s an early glimpse at their work.

My initial reaction to Day 1 of the Mock Selection process in Indianapolis: the NCAA team does a remarkable job of creating an educational and entertaining experience.  Committee Chair Jeff Hathaway shared a few opening remarks and interacted with the group throughout the day.  Those of us in the room were able to ask questions and receive candid answers about the process and how the real Selection Committee works together to select and seed teams.  Friday, we will continue with final selections, seeding, and bracketing.

Here are a few key takeaways from Thursday …

Hathaway emphasized the incredible prep work done by committee members.  Each member is assigned various conferences and provides detailed reports to the entire committee about such things as injuries, travel issues (that could affect outcomes), etc.  All committee members are provided a DirectTV package that enables them to watch as many games as possible.  Hathaway stressed the importance of watching games and not simply relying on computer data.  Hathaway said he often spends an hour each morning reviewing data from games the night before.

He also stressed that the committee values a team’s non-conference schedule. These are games a team chooses to play. They have options as to who they play and where. They want to teams to challenge themselves.

Hathaway wrapped up the evening by talking about the amount of discussion that takes place inside the actual selection room.  He described it as “exhaustive” and “extensive.”  What we spent 15-20 minutes discussing (because of time), the committee might discuss for an hour or more – breaking down the nuances of a team’s schedule, its wins and losses, where its games were played, and whether the team passes the “eye” test.

The RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) and other rankings are primarily used as a method to organize information.  Although available team pages categorize wins and losses in RPI groups, we rarely referenced a team’s specific RPI during group discussions and/or voting.  There was not one time during the day when someone said Team A should be included because of its RPI ranking.

The amount of information available to the committee is incredible.  NCAA staff members put a variety of reports together at a moment’s notice – available for members to view on a big screen and on a series of three computer monitors available in front of each member.  Someone can ask to compare two or three teams side-by-side and within a minute those team’s individual pages, results, and “nitty-gritty” data appear.  If you’re so inclined, this information is available at www.ncaa.org.

Our 20 media participants were paired in groups of two so that we represented the 10 actual committee members.  Each group of two had a single vote when it came to selecting teams for inclusion and seeding.  During the real process, each committee member has one vote.  Committee members leave the room if a team they represent is being discussed.  Also, if a commissioner of a league is on the committee, he or she cannot vote for any team from their league.  The voting software prevents this from occurring.  Several times on Thursday one or more our participants could not vote.

Each group submitted an initial ballot.  On that ballot, up to 37 teams could be chosen as AL (at-large), which would automatically place them into the Field of 68.  During the actual process, this initial ballot is cast on Wednesday afternoon.  The ballot also includes teams listed as “under consideration.”  These are teams the committee member believes should be considered for inclusion but need further evaluation.  After the initial ballot was collected on Thursday, our group placed 20 teams into the field: (alphabetical order) … Baylor, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, Marquette, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio State, San Diego State, Syracuse, UNLV, and Wisconsin.   Another 49 teams were added to the at-large board for consideration.

During the process to add at-large teams, each member selected eight (8) teams out of the remaining at-large field.  Votes were tallied and the eight (8) teams with the most votes were moved forward.  The teams were discussed and various aspects of each team’s profile were reviewed.  We then ranked the teams 1 to 8.  The top four teams (by vote) were moved into the at-large field.  The remaining were held over for the next vote.  This process continued over and over.

We ended the day by starting to seed teams.  Again, this was done by a series of votes.  Each member voted for eight (8) teams at a time.  Once those eight teams were identified, we ranked the teams in order 1-8.  The top four were placed onto the s-curve.  Note: The final s-curve can be adjusted before bracketing begins.  According to Greg Shaheen of the NCAA, this initial seeding process usually begins Thursday morning.

Greg Anthony and Steve Smith of CBS and Turner Sports interacted with the group throughout the day.  They offered some unique perspectives as former college players.  Anthony was particularly interested in how our group viewed a team like Murray State.  We talked a lot about Murray’s overall strength of schedule versus its impressive win total against just one loss.  Ultimately, Murray easily made it into our Field of 68.

Friday, we begin the process of “scrubbing” teams during the s-curve development.  The NCAA staff said this is a very critical process and it helps set the stage for bracketing.  Teams are ranked 1-68 on the curve prior to being placed in the bracket.  In some years, Shaheen said the committee has had to develop several brackets to accommodate late-ending conference tournaments.

As a final note … we ended Thursday with between 3 to 5 at-large spots remaining, depending on how the mock tournaments end.  Here is the list of remaining teams on the at-large board that have not yet made the field: Arizona, Arkansas, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Dayton, Illinois, Kansas State, Miami-FL, Middle Tennessee, Minnesota, North Carolina State, Northwestern, Ole Miss, Oral Roberts, Oregon, South Florida, Tennessee, Texas, UCF, Washington, and Xavier.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.