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

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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.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.