|Conference tourney surprises makes committee's weekend work tough|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 16 March 2008 16:39|
This time, the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee had no choice.
The group was in full scramble mode this weekend after a tornado ripped through Atlanta during the Southeastern Conference tournament, then sub-.500 teams Georgia and Illinois threatened to eliminate two at-large spots by making their conference finals.
``This was a crazy weekend in a lot of ways because of the contingency plans we had to make and because of the very odd situation for the SEC,'' said Tom O'Connor, the selection committee chairman and George Mason athletic director.
Fortunately for the committee, O'Connor had built in some extra time for selection weekend.
He held conference calls and meetings with committee members long before they arrived in Indianapolis, and then had committee members show up in Indy on Tuesday night rather than Wednesday afternoon, as is the typical protocol.
The reason: O'Connor wanted the committee spending more time Sunday afternoon working out the logistics of seeding and bracketing.
Instead, they still found themselves in the same old crush - with some odd twists.
``All five games played (Sunday) had implications on the bracket,'' he said. ``We had some extra time to work because we came in early and massaged a lot of the information before we got here. It's a good thing.''
Even so, there was no flexibility on when they could announce the pairings. They were up against a 6 p.m. Sunday deadline.
Committee members, who are advised to consider injuries and suspensions in their evaluations, had no stated policy on how the impact of moving games, changing hotels or playing two games in one day should be weighed.
``We wanted to be partners with them (the SEC), but this was a very different type of situation,'' O'Connor said.
They decided it had to be part of the evaluation.
O'Connor didn't say whether it had any effect on the final pairings, or whether it may have helped a bubble team such as Kentucky, which had its game postponed Friday night and wound up as an 11th seed in the South Region. Only two at-large teams, Villanova and Temple, were seeded lower.
Complicating matters were the ongoing games.
Just blocks from the committee's meeting room, Illinois, which couldn't have even gotten to .500 with its fourth win in four days Sunday, was playing for the Big Ten title. In Atlanta, the Bulldogs, who reached .500 by winning twice Saturday, were playing their third game in less than 28 hours.
If neither won their league titles, they didn't appear to have a legitimate claim to an at-large bid. Both games were 3:30 p.m. starts, so if either went into overtime, the committee would have faced a looming deadline, possibly without knowing the winners.
So the committee put together eight different contingency plans. In an uncharacteristic candid acknowledgment, O'Connor said the fate of two teams rested solely in the hands of Georgia and Illinois. He would not identify those teams.
``We were watching those games closely,'' he said. ``If those two teams had won, it would have knocked out two other teams. But only one won, so it knocked out one team.''
Afterward, O'Connor said it was the most stressful weekend he could remember for the committee.
But he recognized it was the teams and their fans, not the committee, that really had to roll with the changes.
``We feel for them, and a lot of us felt that was odd to have to change venues, hotels, play two games in one day,'' O'Connor said. ``At the same time, I want to congratulate Georgia. What a great story. And maybe it can be somewhat of a rallying point for the people of Atlanta.''