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For the College Basketball World, It's a Fixation - Selection Sunday

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Selection Sunday used to be done more or less in the dark, like the NFL Draft. But for some years now it has been a celebrated event (Sunday at 6 PM ET on CBS, in case you didn't know). And it is made for TV; you've got teams gathering in their gym or meeting room, sitting and waiting to see if they will be one of the lucky programs chosen to go to the Big Dance.

Or, maybe they're hopeful of getting one of those high seeds. And they cheer if they do. That's a big deal, and we'll get to that in a minute.

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But don't you feel for those teams who were on the "bubble" and didn't get selected, especially if they had the cameras on them? You do, don't you? And then, of course, you have the on-air pundits chiming in about how that school got hosed. Sometimes the sympathy comes to a screeching halt when the victimized coach complains to the point where he becomes a real a-hole about it. Yeah, off to the NIT with YOU, bud.

Oh, and speaking of that, there might be more tension out there on Selection Sunday for the at-large hopefuls, since the NIT has been reduced to just sixteen teams who will play in a bubble.

The process used by the Selection Committee starts with automatic qualifiers from the 31 conferences that played basketball this season. So the forest part of their mission is to find the 37 at-large teams to make up the entire field of 68.

There is a list of teams that are "under consideration," and if they receive eight of the ten votes on the Committee, they will get a bid.

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This is not a computer-generated selection process, but rather something that involves a judgment with many components that might include a team's results and even their box scores. Heads-to-head results can be a determining factor with most things being equal. The same can be said about performance against common opponents, road results, and the quality of both the wins AND the losses. Also, they are going to take the relative strength of the conference into consideration, which is why you will see leagues like the Big Ten or Big 12 with a lot of bids.

Another thing that can be a factor is "player availability," which means that if a team may have qualified as an at-large team but lost a star player who got injured or left school, that can be a consideration.

Beyond that, there is the process of seeding. And it's too complicated to go into detail. But ultimately what the Committee wants to do is compile a "Seed List" from 1 through 68. Their stated goal is to have teams of each seed rank be as equal as possible, and to continue down the list, using an "S-Curve" principle.

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They are cognizant of the possibility that they will overload the field with teams from the same conference. But they are committed to avoiding intra-conference matchups prior to the Sweet 16 if those teams already played twice during the regular season. So they will try to separate teams from the same conference on the first four levels (or seeds) in the brackets.

We should mention the "metrics" part of this, including the "NET," or NCAA Evaluation Tool, which involves a team Value Index and Net Efficiency rating. Most people covering "bracketology" in the media seem to think the NET weighs heavily in the decision-making process.

This may be confusing, but the last four teams on the at-large list will be the "First Four" that start playing each other before the rest of the field does.

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By all accounts, Gonzaga and Baylor are going to be among the four #1 seeds when they are announced. The other two may actually go to Big Ten teams, a nod to their status as the strongest conference in the nation. Illinois, Michigan and Iowa occupy the 3-4-5 spots in the Associated Press rankings, and though conference tournament results may alter that, these squads are well-positioned.

A lot of teams are pre-occupied by where they will be seeded by the Committee. But the opinion that has been expressed by coaches like Bob Knight - and with which this reporter concurs - is that the seed shouldn't really matter, since you have to beat whoever is in front of you anyway; that is, if you aspire to win a national championship. If you're a coach who is content with getting to the second round or the Sweet 16, well, it might be a different case, as you'd want to get a lucky draw. Will coaches and teams like that last very long?

Evaluating who will be in the NCAA Tournament field has become something of a cottage industry. The so-called experts are everywhere. ESPN has its NFL Draft "gurus" like Mel Kiper Jr. And they also have their bracket gurus like Joe Lunardi.

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Last we looked, he has Drake, Colorado State, Syracuse and Utah State and his "Last Four In," while Ole Miss, Boise State, Seton Hall and Saint Louis as his "First Four Out."

Those who are left hanging at the end will register their complaints about being snubbed, then they will pack their bags and head to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the NIT, which will begin March 16.

Let's just hope Syracuse gets an at-large bid. No one in their right mind wants to hear a guy like Jim Boeheim bellyache about being left out. It's kind of like hearing a bobcat wail.
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