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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

February 12, 2014 at 3:00 PM

NCAA hoops chair on the bracketing and the Colorado dilemma . . .

Sat in on a national teleconference Wednesday with Ron Wellman, who is NCAA basketball committee chairman when he’s not serving as athletic director at Wake Forest. The mid-February gig is an annual rite  about a month before the NCAA hoops tournament, in which the chairman takes questions on issues and hypotheticals facing the committee.

His answers tend to be generalized – as in, he won’t break down the pluses and minuses of Stanford’s tournament resume. It’s mostly a chance to apply some overarching philosophy to specific cases each year.

Two primary things I took out of it: Wellman reminded listeners that for the first time, the bracket is supposed to have “true” seeds – that is, nobody will be dropped or raised a seed line to satisfy bracket principles.

You’ll recall multiple examples in which committeemen conceded that they had to tinker with a team’s actual seed line in order to satisfy a geographic requirement or bracketing principle. And in one case several years ago, there was a team moved two seed lines. That isn’t good.

“Now we think we have much greater flexibility to honor the seed lines,” said Wellman.

In the past, a bracketing principle dictated that teams from the same conference couldn’t meet until a regional final (although, since that dictum can serve a maximum of eight teams, there was a case when two of them – from a bloated Big East field, I believe – could have met in a regional semifinal).

Now that bracket requirement has been eased. As Wellman explains it, in the age of bigger conferences and unbalanced league schedules:

–     If two teams from one league met only once during the regular season and league tournament – one time overall – they can now be seeded to meet, potentially, in the third round (that’s the old second round, before the First Four).

–    If two teams met twice, they can now potentially play again in the regional semifinals.

–    And if they met three times, they would have to be seeded so that they can’t play until a regional final, or round of eight.

Seems to me that’s a bit of an artificial prop to alleviate the seed-line problem, but it’s probably worth it in the interest of pinpointing true seeds.

“We don’t feel it was fair to the teams dropped or promoted,” Wellman said, “or the teams they have to play.”

My question to Wellman had to do with Colorado, which will present to the committee a classic injury scenario. Its best player, Spencer Dinwiddie, was lost to the team exactly one month ago, and if precedent holds, the committee must now evaluate the Buffs strictly on what it has done without him – because that’s how it would have to play in the tournament.

But Wellman seemed to issue a note of hope to the Buffs, implying that it’s not a black-and-white judgment, completely based on how Colorado has done without Dinwiddie.

“It’s certainly considered to varying degrees by individual members of the committee,” said Wellman. “Some members of the committee probably consider it very strongly, and other members, less so.”

I asked Wellman if it were possible for the committee to generate an RPI rating for Colorado, post-Dinwiddie injury – in other words, a rating beginning with games of Jan. 12. He said no, and that makes sense, because remember – to a far greater degree, the committee uses as a metric a team’s performance against a group of teams in the RPI (top 50, top 100, etc.) far more than it looks merely at that team’s own ranking.

“I would say the injuries generally affect the seeding more than the selection process,” Wellman said. “We have to be very careful about the amount of emphasis that we put upon an injury. We don’t know, for instance, the opponent of that player who is playing for Team A and might be injured . . .

“We just have to be very careful about what the injury impact is on any particular team.”

So that’s a good sign for the Buffs, who played well last weekend but whose record hasn’t been exemplary in the eight games since the Dinwiddie injury. They’re 1-4 against the RPI top 100, with three additional wins against USC, Utah and Washington State.

I also asked Wellman if there was any serious move to expand the tournament, and he put the kibosh to that, saying, “Since we expanded to 68, we’ve not had any further discussions whatsoever, and I haven’t heard any discussions from coaches or any constituency about expanding.”

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