NCAA Selection Committee Has Its Hands Full

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 2009

Piecing together the 65-team NCAA basketball tournament bracket is never an easy task, and given the widespread mediocrity among many of the nation's top conferences, putting together this season's field was expected to be a particular challenge for the 10-member selection committee

But in the days since they sequestered themselves in a downtown Indianapolis hotel earlier this week, a cloudy picture has been obscured even further.

The nation's presumed elite teams, contending for the four No. 1 seeds, started falling one by one. Pittsburgh, Connecticut, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Michigan State all experienced early exits in various conference tournaments.

Strong teams outside power conferences -- namely Butler, Xavier and Brigham Young -- also failed to win their conference tournaments, which further flooded the pool of teams hoping to receive at-large bids.

And with the notable exceptions of Southern California and Maryland, many teams in contention for the last few at-large berths seemingly did their best to play their way out of the field with poor performances against inferior teams.

The selection committee will have considered all of these developments before the NCAA tournament bracket is unveiled this evening. These seven questions will be answered when all the berths and seeds are handed out tonight:

1. Can the Big East get three No. 1 seeds?

The Big East was lauded in the preseason as perhaps the strongest conference in recent memory. Teams such as Georgetown and Notre Dame wilted in conference play, but the league remains positioned to see three of its teams -- Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Louisville -- earn No. 1 seeds.

Oklahoma and Michigan State squandered recent opportunities to make cases for top seeds. Duke, which has three top-25 victories and the nation's second-toughest schedule, could enter the discussion with a win over Florida State in today's ACC final. Memphis might also be in the mix, but the Tigers have just one top 25 victory (Tennessee).

The debate centers on Louisville, which did not have to play Pittsburgh or Connecticut on the road or in the Big East tournament. The Cardinals, however, have an 8-1 road record and six top 25 victories.

2. Which teams will lose at-large berths because of upsets in various conference tournaments?

Unexpected winners of the Atlantic 10 and Horizon League tournaments meant conference favorites pushed into the at-large pool, meaning those conferences will each garner one more berth than expected. And that means the number of available at-large berths is that much smaller.

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