Tourney outcomes make for seeding confusion

Published March 14, 2005

WASHINGTON - NCAA Division I men's basketball committee chairman Bob Bowlsby quipped that his blood pressure rose with each passing minute Sunday afternoon.

His group had a handful of possibilities for which teams would receive the four coveted No.1 seeds depending on what happened in the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 tournament finales.

Those decisions, of course, would affect other decisions.

"We had a lot of either/or type situations," he said. "We were running into the 11th hour to get things done, and a big part of it was because of those contingency plans."

Finally, about 5:15 p.m., a scant 45 minutes before the nationally televised selection show unveiled the 65-team tournament field and bracket, the job was done with Illinois (in the Chicago region), North Carolina (Syracuse, N.Y.), Duke (Austin, Texas) and Washington (Albuquerque, N.M.) as the No.1 seeds. But consider the road not taken to St. Louis and the Final Four:

Kentucky would have been a No.1 instead of Pac-10 tournament champion Washington had it beaten Florida on Sunday. The Wildcats didn't and slipped to a No.2 in the same region as Duke. The Wildcats will begin play in Indianapolis on Thursday but as a No.1 likely would have begun in Nashville on Friday.

Had the Blue Devils not held on against Georgia Tech on Sunday in the ACC tournament finale, nearly squandering a 13-point lead in the final minutes, they could have fallen to a No.2.

"Usually, when you're the conference champion of the best conference, you get that (a No.1)," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said presciently shortly after his team's 69-64 win.

His team also gets the added bonus, as does UNC, of starting in Charlotte. Illinois has the most fortuitous path, unless it's interested in amassing frequent flier mileage, of starting in Indianapolis with its next stop Chicago.

If Duke had lost, then fellow ACC rival Wake Forest might have been elevated to a No.1 instead of settling for the highest-rated No.2.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed, but overall we are happy to be back in the tournament and excited about going to Cleveland," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said.

If his Demon Deacons had not lost to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals Friday, it might not have needed help or consideration that it played that game without star point guard Chris Paul, who was serving a one-game suspension for hitting N.C. State's Julius Hodge below the belt in the teams' regular-season finale. Paul hit the buzzer-beating winner in that game.

"We played a difficult schedule," Prosser said shortly after Friday's loss. "The committee asked us to go out in the nonconference season and not be afraid to take your team out on the road, and I'm not sure that too many teams did that to the level that we did. You wouldn't think that after 31 games it would come down to 40 minutes like this, but if it does, then it does because, like I said earlier, we had players capable of winning the game and (North Carolina) State beat us. ... I think the committee will look at the proverbial body of work that everybody is talking about, though."

Apparently, not as much as you might think.

Though Bowlsby repeatedly has said the committee looks at each game the same way - the strength of an opponent, where it's played and the result - there's no denying the conference tournaments can have some weight.

"One game in that tournament isn't any more important than one game during the regular season, but when you get into these critical matchups, it's a good opportunity to see who can play when the pressure is really on; when the winner moves on and the loser goes home," Bowlsby said. "Those are assessments that are important to us."

Other conference tournament games this past week also proved to be make-or-break propositions for teams vying for one of the 34 at-large spots. (The winners of the 31 conferences receive automatics.) Indiana was on the board but lost to Minnesota 71-55 in the Big Ten quarterfinals. Despite a daunting nonconference schedule and 10 wins in the league (more than Iowa), the Hoosiers finished with just 15 wins, and no team had ever received an at-large with that few. UAB, one of the last teams to make the field along with UCLA and Northern Iowa, essentially eliminated DePaul by virtue of its C-USA tournament win.

When it was over, someone asked if the 5:15 p.m. end-time was a record. Bowlsby wasn't sure, but an NCAA staff member suggested it was probably in the Top 3.

"Too bad," Bowlsby deadpanned. "I was hoping to be on Line 2."

Wait. Their might be a contingency for that.