Debate begins as selection committee reveals NCAA field


A topsy-turvy season in college basketball delivered a few more twists when the brackets came out Sunday.

Exhibit A: Oregon and Virginia are No. 1 seeds, while Michigan State is not.

Exhibit B: Monmouth and Valparaiso aren’t part of March Madness, but Michigan and Syracuse are.

As usual, the NCAA selection committee released a 68-team bracket with its fair share of surprises. This year, the debate started right away, when the committee named Pac-12 champion Oregon a top seed in the West, ACC runnerup Virginia a top seed in the Midwest and made Tom Izzo’s Spartans, champs of the Big Ten, a No. 2.

The tournament begins Tuesday with a pair of opening-round games. The main draw starts Thursday at eight sites. The Final Four is April 2 and 4 in Houston.

In a season in which six teams held the top spot in the AP poll — one short of the record — there was no doubt there would be some debate about who belonged in the four top spots.

Kansas is the top overall seed and will play in the South region, while North Carolina leads the East.

“It’s kind of like having a stellar high school career, and when you get to college you have to start all over and go compete,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said Sunday. “It’s a fresh start and this is a fresh start.”

That wasn’t surprising. The rest raised eyebrows.

The head of the selection committee, Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, lauded Oregon’s third-rated strength of schedule (as of Sunday) and No. 2 ranking in the RPI, along with its regular-season and tournament titles in the Pac-12. He said Michigan State was the fifth overall seed.

“Very close. It was a vigorous debate,” Castiglione said. “We know how good a team they are. . . . It was just a close call and the committee felt Michigan State was fifth.”

But there were no easy choices for the committee this season, and the way the big slate of conference tournaments played out only emphasized the way this season has gone. Of the 31 postseason tournaments, top seeds only won 10.

That gave automatic spots to bubble teams (or less) such as Fresno State, Gonzaga and Connecticut, while squeezing out a few bubble teams — even though there were two more spots available this season because Louisville (and Rick Pitino) and SMU (and Larry Brown) are both ineligible.

Among those sitting out include Monmouth, which played a killer non-conference schedule but lost too many games to bad teams; St. Mary’s, which won the regular-season title in the West Coast Conference but didn’t play a tough enough schedule; and Valpo, which ranked 49th in the RPI but had only four wins against top 100 teams.

Of the at-large teams, 25 came from the Power Five conferences, with 11 from the smaller leagues. Of the last eight teams to make it, the count was 4-4, with Michigan, Vanderbilt and Syracuse among the most hotly debated among the bigger schools.

“In the past, the committee has taken teams with wins, especially road wins,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, whose team’s wins away from home against Duke, Texas A&M and UConn made up for the fact that the Orange (19-13) has lost five of its last six. “I’m not sure there’s anyone on the bubble who had as good of road wins as we did.”