5 biggest decisions facing the NCAA men's tournament selection committee
Sometime before 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, the NCAA tournament selection committee will send CBS a completed bracket to unveil on its selection show.
Here’s a look at the biggest decisions that the committee will have to make between now and then:
1. Who should get the final No. 1 seed?
While three of the NCAA tournament’s four No. 1 seeds were almost certain to go to Kansas, Alabama and Houston in some order, it wasn’t clear until late Saturday night who would join that trio on the top seed line.
Only after UCLA’s potential game-winning 3-pointer clanged off the rim could Purdue feel good about its chances. The Bruins had a strong argument for the last No. 1 seed until they fell two points short against Arizona in a tense, fiercely contested Pac-12 title game.
28-5, 16-5 Big Ten | NET: 5 | KenPom: 6 | Q1: 10-4 | Q2: 8-1 | Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Marquee wins: Marquette, Gonzaga, Duke, MSU (2), Illinois, West Virginia, at Michigan, at Wisconsin
Losses: Indiana (2), at Maryland, at Northwestern, Rutgers
Purdue performed like the best team in the country for months as it edged Marquette, wrecked Duke and Gonzaga and steamrolled its January Big Ten opponents. Then February arrived and with it some concerning red flags, mainly the Boilermakers’ freshman backcourt struggling to knock down jump shots or take care of the basketball against teams with big, athletic perimeter defenders.
Credit Purdue for rebounding from a concerning stretch of four losses in six games. The Boilermakers have won four in a row entering Sunday’s Big Ten title game against Penn State.
29-5, 18-2 Pac-12 | NET: 4 | KenPom: 2 | Q1: 8-5 | Q2: 9-0 | Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Marquee wins: Arizona, at Maryland, Kentucky, USC, Arizona State (2), Oregon (3)
Losses: Arizona (2), Baylor, Illinois, at USC
Fueled by the nation’s most smothering defense, UCLA won a mediocre Pac-12 by four games over second-place Arizona and USC. The undermanned Bruins then overcame injuries to two of their four most important players to nearly win the Pac-12 tournament, falling to Arizona 61-59.
UCLA’s collection of marquee wins isn’t as top-heavy as Purdue’s, but the Bruins did take down Kentucky on a neutral court and hand Maryland its lone home loss of the season, by 27 points no less. Mick Cronin’s senior-laden team also didn’t lose at Pauley Pavilion all season, nor did it suffer a loss outside Quadrant 1.
26-8, 12-6 Big 12 | NET: 9 | KenPom: 7 | Q1: 14-8 | Q2: 4-0 | Q3, Q4 losses: 0
Marquee wins: Kansas (2), Gonzaga, Creighton, Baylor, TCU (2), at Kansas State, Iowa State, West Virginia (2)
Losses: at Kansas, at Tennessee, at Baylor, at TCU, at Iowa State, Illinois, Kansas State, at Texas Tech
Then there’s Texas, which inserted itself into the No. 1 seed discussion by routing Kansas in Austin on the last day of the regular season and then repeating the feat eight days later in the Big 12 title game. The Longhorns have 14 Quadrant 1 victories this season, second only to Kansas.
What makes Texas a long shot to overtake both Purdue and UCLA is its eight losses, one more than any previous No. 1 seed has had entering Selection Sunday. Not one of those losses, however, is outside Quadrant 1. Only one, at Texas Tech, came against a non-NCAA tournament team.
With Purdue advancing to the Big Ten title game on Saturday afternoon and UCLA falling one shot short against Arizona on Saturday night, it would be a mild surprise if the Boilermakers don’t claim the final No. 1 seed. UCLA and Texas are assured of no worse than No. 2 seeds.
2. Did Kansas cost itself the overall No. 1 seed?
Instead of solidifying itself as the NCAA tournament’s No. 1 overall seed on Saturday night, Kansas may have left the door open for another contender.
It all depends on what element the committee values most: Your metrics? Or who you beat?
Despite getting throttled by Texas in the Big 12 title game on Saturday night, Kansas still enters Selection Sunday with 17 Quadrant 1 victories this season, three more than any other team in the nation. The Jayhawks (27-7) toppled Duke, Indiana and Kentucky in non-league play and won the outright regular season title in the nation’s toughest conference.
Seven losses is abnormally high for a potential No. 1 overall seed, yet the teams that have beaten Kansas are not only locks to make the NCAA tournament but also projected to receive top-six seeds. The only other ding in the Jayhawks’ résumé is that the metrics don’t love them. They’re sixth in the NCAA’s NET rankings, No. 9 at KenPom and 12th in Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings.
Houston, by contrast, is No. 1 in every major metric entering Sunday’s matchup with Memphis in the American Athletic Conference title game. The Cougars (31-2) also have the fewest losses of any team in the nation, though one of them is an ugly Quadrant 3 loss at home against middling Temple.
While Houston does have non-league victories over Virginia, Saint Mary’s, Oregon and Oral Roberts, the Cougars only have six Quadrant 1 wins all season. The only other NCAA tournament-caliber team in the American is Memphis, which Houston swept during the regular season.
The other potential No. 1 overall team is Alabama, which held that spot when the committee unveiled its bracket preview three weeks ago. Despite unwanted attention from the Brandon Miller scandal, the Crimson Tide have only lost once since then, falling at Texas A&M in their regular season finale.
Entering a rematch with Texas A&M in Sunday’s SEC tournament title game, Alabama is 28-5 overall with 11 Quadrant 1 wins, no losses outside the top quadrant and a top-three ranking in both the NET and KenPom. The Crimson Tide have a head-to-head win at Houston. A 24-point loss at sub-.500 Oklahoma is the only significant blight on their résumé.
So will Kansas secure the No. 1 overall seed and a geographically friendly path through the Kansas City Regional? The Jayhawks remain the favorite in my eyes because of their boatload of marquee wins, but Alabama and Houston both have an argument too.
3. Should key injuries impact top teams’ seedings?
During an appearance on CBS on Saturday afternoon, NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt fielded a question about how key injuries could impact a team’s seeding.
Gavitt said committee members “are in regular touch with the schools and the conferences to get as much accurate and up-to-date information as possible.”
“They do take into consideration player availability,” Gavitt said, “but they’ll not overreact, especially if there’s not a large group of games to consider a team playing without those players. It’s not the committee’s job to project how a team will do without one or more players.”
The committee not overreacting would be welcome news for a handful of elite teams who have lost impact players to injury in recent weeks.
UCLA lost elite perimeter defender Jaylen Clark to a season-ending Achilles injury eight days ago and prized freshman shot blocker Adem Bona to a shoulder injury on Friday night. Tennessee lost starting point guard and top playmaker Zakai Zeigler to an ACL tear earlier this month. Texas played without third-leading scorer Timmy Allen the entire Big 12 tournament and Kansas lost Kevin McCullar to back spasms in the Big 12 semifinals. Houston saw star guard Marcus Sasser suffer an apparent groin injury in the American semis.
While top-ranked Cincinnati famously was demoted to a No. 2 seed in 2000 after national player of the year Kenyon Martin tore his ACL, subsequent selection committees have been extremely cautious penalizing teams with injured players. Even so, coaches are equally hesitant to reveal the extent of key injuries prior to Selection Sunday — especially coaches who were part of that 2000 Cincinnati staff.
Asked by reporters about Bona’s status on Friday night, UCLA coach Mick Cronin responded with a smile, “You think I’d tell you?”
4. Will the committee reward Duke, other conference tournament risers?
How high can Duke climb in the bracket after its run to the ACC tournament title? That depends on how the committee responds to the criticism it received last year for seemingly locking in seeds too early and not weighing conference tournament performances strongly enough.
Duke had already ascended to a projected No. 6 or 7 seed entering the ACC tournament. The surging Blue Devils had won 9 of 11 games — and one of those two losses was the Virginia game in which Kyle Filipowski was robbed of the chance to win the game at the free-throw line.
In the ACC tournament, Duke validated talk that it was peaking at the right time, ousting three straight NCAA tournament-caliber teams on back-to-back-back nights. The Blue Devils crushed Pittsburgh and held off Miami before avenging their regular season loss to Virginia with a 59-49 victory in Saturday night’s title game.
Where does that leave Duke? With a 26-8 record, predictive metrics hovering around No. 20 and a résumé that rivals that of projected No. 5 seeds like Texas A&M, San Diego State, Saint Mary’s and Miami. The Blue Devils beat Xavier and Iowa in non-league play, finished a game out of first place in a down ACC and then played some of their best basketball in winning their conference tournament.
If the selection committee values weekend conference tournament results more this year, Duke has an excellent chance to be a dangerous No. 5 seed, maybe even the very last No. 4. If the seeding that was done on Thursday and Friday goes mostly unchanged, then expect the Blue Devils to be an underseeded No. 6.
Duke is not the only team hoping that its conference tournament performance will dramatically improve its seeding. SEC finalist Texas A&M will be hoping to make a similar leap to a No. 5 seed, while surprise Big Ten finalist Penn State will be trying to go from the bubble to an 8-9 game.
5. After its late-season surge, is Vanderbilt in or out?
When Vanderbilt lost at Alabama by 57 points on Jan. 31, Jerry Stackhouse ripped into his struggling team. He said that he would make lineup changes if the 10-12 Commodores didn’t start to display more effort and unselfishness.
Vanderbilt responded by winning 10 of its final 12 games, including a pair of wins over Kentucky and victories over Mississippi State, Auburn and Tennessee. The Commodores (20-14) have been the 30th-best team in the country since Feb. 1, according to Bart Torvik’s T-Rankings.
If the committee took the 68 teams playing the best basketball on Selection Sunday, Vanderbilt would be a lock. The problem is the committee evaluates the full body of work, which means the Commodores’ early home losses to Grambling and Southern Miss will work against them, as will their No. 79 NET ranking and No. 80 KenPom ranking.
Vanderbilt’s 10-11 record in Quadrant 1-2 games compares favorably with other bubble teams, especially when you consider that seven of those wins are against opponents projected to make the NCAA tournament. The Commodores’ trio of Quadrant 3 and 4 losses, on the other hand, are the most of any bubble team besides Rutgers.
If the committee doesn’t disqualify Vanderbilt for its dreadful advanced metrics, Vanderbilt will have an outside shot at a spot in the First Four. But anyone who thinks the Commodores’ strong finish will definitely be enough needs to familiarize themselves with 2022 Texas A&M.