Up to 7 teams may be in running for NCAA top seeds
Up to seven teams could be in the running for No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men's tournament, the chairman of the selection committee said Wednesday, providing a lot more uncertainty than a year ago.
Mike Bobinski, who is also the athletic director at Xavier, said the coveted seeds were more obvious in 2012, when the only suspense was who would get the last of the No. 1 spots.
"A year ago, I think the one line of the tournament and bracket was in pretty clear focus," said Bobinski, who is leaving Xavier to take over as Georgia Tech's AD after the tournament. "This year looks a little bit different. I anticipate there will be a number of teams we'll be considering and discussing for that one line of the bracket."
Not surprising, given a wide-open season where no team has established itself as clearly the class of the field.
"It's probably as big as it's ever been," Bobinski said, talking about potential No. 1 seeds. "I'm not sure it's any larger than a couple years back, but there's probably never been any more for the top line."
A year ago, everyone knew Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina would get the top spots, even though all lost in their conference tournaments. Michigan State received the final No. 1 after a victory over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, just hours before the 68-team field was announced.
This year, Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings for the first time ever, but doesn't come from one of the glamour conferences. Second-ranked Duke is projected as the top team in the RPI, a crucial component in the selection committee process. Traditional powerhouses Indiana, Louisville, Georgetown and Kansas are also in contention for top seeds, with their final seeding likely dependent on how they do in their conference tournaments.
"I can't speak for the entire committee, but as I walk into our process this year I would tell you I've probably got seven teams in my mind for the first four spots," Bobinski said. "That will come into focus in the next few days, but it's more than four for the top four."
The top seeds are crucial, because the selection committee makes a special effort to ensure those teams play close to home in the opening rounds and, if possible, won't have to face a team at any point up to the Final Four where they would be at a definite geographical disadvantage.
While there have been some questions about the No. 1 teams getting too much of a favorable ride, Bobinski doesn't buy that argument at all.
"I don't feel at all that we're over-favoring the top seeds. They've earned that," he said. "We're not setting out to advantage them any further than what they've earned by being the best four teams in the country."
Bracketology has become its own little industry, with numerous Web sites and media outlets projecting for weeks, even months, what the NCAA might look like. That's all well and good, Bobinski said, but it was little impact on the selection committee.
"We know all those folks and enjoy what they do," he said. "They react on a day to day, even half to half, basis, I understand that. It helps to drive interest and build interest. But we have a different circumstance here. We allow all the dust to settle, and then evaluate it in totality."
After the 31 automatic qualifiers are set, the committee will pick the remainder of the field and do all the seeding. Bobinski and the other members planned to get started on the process Wednesday, taking an early vote to identify which teams are most likely to be under consideration for those at-large bids.
"There's no minimums for how many teams, and there's no finality" until Sunday, he said. "We'll take every bit of time to make sure we get this as right as we can."
There could be a number of crucial decisions to make in the final hours, at both the top and the bottom of the bracket.
"We would love to have the top line coming into Sunday," Bobinski said. "But we're going to do what the field tells us to do. We'll allow for some adjustments at the last minute. In an ideal world, that wouldn't be the case."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963