May 10, 2011

Sheehan Stanwick Burch: NCAA Selection Committee Got It Right

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch |

Tewaaraton nominee Kerry Stoothoff and sixth-seeded Loyola earned a favorable first-round draw in UMass, writes Sheehan Stanwick Burch.

Selection Sunday has come and gone, and I have to say that I am not too surprised with the field of 16. Given the up-and-down seasons for many teams, I did not envy the tough decisions that the selection committee had to make in choosing the at-large spots. However, I agree with the committee's selections of Boston College, Virginia, Dartmouth and Penn for the final at-large spots.

In selecting at-large bids, the committee has to evaluate teams based on the following primary criteria: RPI score, head-to-head competition, winning percentage against common opponents, and strength of schedule. The secondary factors the committee can utilize include significant wins and losses, and late-season performances.

The real question is, do the criteria truly do justice in selecting the best 16-team field? It does seem a bit like a double-edged sword in comparing teams. If you have too many wins, is that because you have a weaker schedule? If you play one of the toughest schedules in the nation and suffer losses, do you still deserve to be in the NCAA tournament?

If Loyola had not won the Big East, many felt that the Greyhounds would be left out of the mix simply because they had the 21st-ranked strength of schedule and did not have a "signature win." Yet, Loyola only had two losses the entire year. Conversely, Virginia had the second-hardest schedule in the nation, and even though the Cavaliers were 9-8 on the season, the committee felt as though they deserved to be in the tournament.

Every year there are a lot of teams that are not selected to the field of 16 that are extremely talented and could definitely beat some of the teams that were. This year one could make that argument for Syracuse, Georgetown, Penn State, Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame.

The Ivy League teams finished the season with a flourish, causing a lot of shake-ups over the last few weeks. Cornell beat Florida, Dartmouth took down No. 1 Maryland, and Penn beat Duke. The upsets continued into the Ivy League semifinals, where Princeton knocked out Penn and Harvard beat Dartmouth. In one final twist, two "bubble" teams were battling it out for the automatic bid. Princeton was the eventual winner, which was not good for all the other at-large hopefuls, since neither Harvard nor Princeton were expected to receive serious consideration for at-large bids.

But let's not dwell on what might have been. The bottom line is, many coaches would prefer that the decision never be left in the selectors' hands. It is much easier to get into the dance with a great season or by winning a conference's automatic qualifier.

Now, my predictions for this weekend's first round games:

No. 1 Maryland vs. Navy – Maryland will roll easily by the Mids.

No. 8 James Madison vs. Princeton – I think James Madison will survive. Princeton is coming on strong, but after seeing the Tigers play this weekend, they will not last long if they are not able to limit their unforced turnovers.

No. 5 Duke vs. Penn – Wow, this is the draw that Duke gets? Duke gets to play a team that beat it two weeks ago. The Blue Devils will ultimately get revenge.

No. 4 Florida vs. Stanford – I think Florida will advance, but this is a tough matchup. It just goes to show you how competitive the field is this year.

No. 3 North Carolina vs. Virginia – UNC smoked Virginia in the ACC tournament, 16-5, but the regular season matchup was only a one-goal win for Carolina. Which UVA team will show up? I think that UNC's offense in the end will prevail.

No. 6 Loyola vs. Massachusetts – UMass is a team that Loyola cannot take lightly, but I think this is a desirable game for the No. 6 seed. Duke, Florida and UNC should all be jealous. Loyola will advance to the quaterfinals.

No. 7 Albany at Dartmouth – Because Albany is hosting commencement this weekend, Dartmouth gets home-field advantage. Albany is undefeated but this one smell likes an upset; Dartmouth will win.

No. 2 Northwestern vs. Boston College – Northwestern is on a roll after taking the ALC championship and beating Florida. After suffering back-to-back losses this year, I don't think the Wildcats will be overlook any opponent and will advance.

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