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NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 16, 2014
DAVE WORLOCK: Good evening, everyone. Thanks for joining us. I'm with Ron Wellman, the director of athletics at Wake Forest University, and the chair of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee.
We are in the selection room where the committee has spent the last five days or so with the selecting, seeding and bracketing process. As you know, we've completed that and the bracket was unveiled earlier this evening.
The tournament will tip off on Tuesday night with the First Four. There will be two games Tuesday in Dayton, two more games Wednesday night in Dayton, all four on truTV, then the second round begins Thursday and Friday at eight sites around the country.
We look forward to the media covering the event and I'll be glad to service your needs the next few days as we prepare for the tournament.
At this time we'll turn it over to the media for questions.
Q. I know for many years you had a policy that you would keep conference opponents from meeting till the regional final round. I know you relaxed that policy a couple years ago. Do you still try to avoid it or is it something you don't consider at all?
RON WELLMAN: Actually our bracketing principles were adopted this year. So with the expansion of conferences, many of the schools or teams do not play one another a true double round‑robin. Sometimes they only play one time. That really presented some difficulties for the Committee and the bracketing process.
So we relaxed those principles a little bit, or changed the principles this year, to allow teams to meet one another earlier in the tournament. So if two teams played one another three times, they could not meet or they cannot meet until the Elite 8. If they meet twice during the regular season and conference tournament, then they can meet in the Sweet 16. If they only play one another one time during the season and tournament, then they can meet in the third round.
Those principles allowed us this year, for the first time in the five years that I've been on the Committee, and from what I'm told even before that, to honor the true seed lines of all of the teams. We did not have to adjust a seed line for any team this year for the first time in over five years.
When we met with the board of directors of the NABC, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, last spring, they said their main priority was to honor the seed lines and not shift seed lines for bracketing purposes. We were able to achieve that this year. We're very pleased about that.
Q. The Big 12 obviously had seven teams in the field and none of those teams were seeded any lower than nine. How much of that was a reflection of what those teams accomplished but also playing in a conference that was the number one RPI and played a double round‑robin?
RON WELLMAN: You're probably not going to believe this, but we do not talk about conferences at all. What you just told me about the number of teams going to the tournament from the Big 12 I did not know until you told me.
We look at teams individually. I couldn't tell you how many teams are going from the ACC, the Big Ten, the Atlantic‑10. I'll know by the end of the evening and tomorrow when I read about it. But that is something that is just not on the radar screen for this Committee. We do not track that. It is not important to us.
The most important factor in our deliberations is selecting the top 36 teams, at‑large teams, to advance to this tournament.
Q. I guess my question would be, for those seven Big 12 teams, how much did it help the conference they were in? That is a factor, isn't it, because of the strength of schedule or the RPI?
RON WELLMAN: Well, individually it certainly is a factor, and a result of playing in a strong conference is going to elevate their overall strength of schedule. So from that vantage point, yeah, having a great conference is going to help you in terms of strength of schedule. Might hurt you in your wins and loss, but it certainly helps you develop a strong schedule overall.
Q. Could you explain the thinking on SMU.
RON WELLMAN: The fact they were not in the tournament?
RON WELLMAN: That was a very difficult decision. SMU was the first team out. As we looked at SMU, they certainly passed the eye test. They're a very good team, had a very good year.
When you're making these selections, you're looking for differentiators. Is there anything that stands out, on the positive side or negative side of the ledger, that will cause you to absolutely take that team or really look at prioritizing and selecting other teams?
In SMU's case their downfall, their weakness, was their schedule. Their non‑conference strength of schedule was ranked number 302 out of 350 teams eligible for the tournament. It's one of the worst non‑conference strengths of schedule. Their overall strength of schedule was ranked 129. 129 would have been by far the worst at‑large strength of schedule going into the tournament. The next worst at‑large strength of schedule was 91.
Really the glaring weakness about SMU was their schedule.
Q. Your thoughts on Virginia being a No.1 seed and VCU being shipped to SanDiego when in the last two years they've been in Portland and Michigan.
RON WELLMAN: First of all, Virginia receiving the No.1 seed, we went into today with three possibilities: Virginia, Villanova and Michigan. If Michigan would have won their championship game, they would have been on the one line. If Virginia and Michigan had lost their championship games, then Villanova would have been on the one line. That played out obviously on the floor this afternoon.
VCU, their location this year really has nothing to do with what transpired in previous years. We try to avoid sending a team east all the way to the west or vice versa two years in a row. Sometimes that just isn't possible. We try to assign the teams to the region that makes most sense, and we do it by seed.
If VCU was the third team on that seed line, that means that Cincinnati and St.Louis had the opportunity to be assigned to their region prior to VCU. So VCU had the third option or choice from the Committee as to where they were going to go in terms of the region.
Q. SMU is the first team out. Could you share who the last team in was? Can you talk about the case for NC State.
RON WELLMAN: Well, you just identified the last team in. The four teams that were the last teams in were Tennessee, Iowa, Xavier and North Carolina State. Those are the at‑large teams advancing to the First Four.
NC State, as I said earlier, we try to identify differentiators, things that are either very positive or negative about certain teams. The positive factor for NC State was that they had three wins against top‑50 teams away from home. Not only did they beat those top‑50 teams but they did it on the road.
Road wins against top‑50 teams are really, really impressive to the Committee. So that probably was the one factor that was most prominent in terms of NC State. They beat Syracuse and they beat Pitt and Tennessee all on the road or at a neutral site, the neutral site being the Syracuse win in the ACC tournament.
Q. At least in our industry we talk a lot about how teams perform in their final 10 games. There are cases like Louisville and Syracuse where it doesn't seem like it matters, then there's North Carolina State and Virginia where it seems like it did. Is there any extra emphasis placed on the finish of a season? How do you emphasize that over the rest of a schedule?
RON WELLMAN: Good question. No, it is not emphasized. A number of years ago there was a criterion that the Committee used, and that was the performance over the last 10 games. We eliminated that criterion probably three or four years ago I believe. We no longer have that as a criterion. We look at the entire body of work. We continually remind one another in the selection process that the games in November are as important as the games in March.
While it may look like certain teams received favor for their performance in March, we looked at their entire résumé before making a decision, and do not overemphasize their performance in March versus what happened earlier in the year.
Injuries can be a factor, obviously. That is something that we do look at. We are in close contact with the schools that have injured players. They give us what we hope is very truthful information. We do factor that in, especially as it relates to the seeding process.
Q. Obvious question. Not taking that into account probably helped Syracuse.
RON WELLMAN: Yes, Syracuse, as you can well imagine, they were really having a great year and they would have been the top seed going into February. They fell off a little bit, but still a 10 seed is very good and that is a result of their entire body of work.
They have 15 top‑100 wins. That is one of the higher numbers of anyone in the country. So we believe that they are very deserving of that 10 seed.
Q. Only 11 of the top seeds going into conference tournaments actually won the conference tournaments. You had to find room for 20 teams with an automatic bid. Maybe all of them might not have gotten in the tournament. How did that complicate the process when it came to the bubble teams like Wisconsin‑Green Bay that people thought might have a shot to get in?
RON WELLMAN: Wisconsin‑Green Bay did have a shot. As I said earlier, they were one of the four teams that were on the board at the end of the process. That was a difficult choice for the Committee. They had a very good season, but just fell a little bit short.
When we look at all of the metrics, as I mentioned earlier, Wisconsin‑Green Bay, their overall record is 21‑6. I know it's published as 24‑6. Three of those victories came against Division II teams.
When you lose a slot like that, if there's an upset in a conference by a team that would not be considered for an at‑large berth, that puts that champion that would have been strongly considered in the mix of under‑consideration teams. That certainly complicates it. But we just have to evaluate them strictly according to our guidelines and principles.
As you look at that situation, Toledo would be another team that was under consideration. They had a very good season. They did not win their regular‑season championship, but they were a highly ranked team throughout most of the season.
Stephen F. Austin was under consideration. When you look at their record, they had an outstanding record. They lost in the Southland tournament. Had they lost in the Southland tournament, I should say, they would have been in the under‑consideration category, as well.
Q. You talked about how injuries factor into the seeding. Obviously Kansas is the prime example here. From what you heard from the Jayhawks people, your confidence that Embiid is not going to play the first weekend but after that, besides their great strength of schedule, is that why they're slotted as a two seed?
RON WELLMAN: Obviously, we can't comment on Embiid's medical condition. That's up to Kansas to do that. But we have been in close contact with Kansas and they've been very transparent about what Embiid's situation is and his possible availability. They've made public statements about that, as well.
Kansas has had one heck of a season. They're a No. 2 seed. Certainly his injury was taken into consideration. As I said earlier, injuries probably play more of a factor in the seeding of teams versus the selection of teams. But we believe that Kansas, even without Embiid, if they don't have him, is very deserving of a two seed with the season they have had.
They have more top‑50 victories, more top‑100 victories than anyone on the board. They also have nine losses, which probably kept them out of consideration for the No.1 line.
Q. How much or little Minnesota was in consideration for a bid? What were the biggest areas that held them back?
RON WELLMAN: They were on the under‑consideration board. They were not one of the last four on the under‑consideration board. They had two top‑50 victories. They beat Wisconsin at home and Ohio State at home. Their overall record against the top 50 was 2‑8. They were 3‑7 on the road. Those were some of the factors that probably detracted from their résumé that was viewed by the Committee.
Q. Kentucky with an eight seed, I think a lot of people thought they would get a five or six, couple seeds higher. What did the Committee look for? What else could they have done? Also, if they had defeated Florida today, would that have changed anything?
RON WELLMAN: We had both scenarios in our seeding process and in the bracketing. We were ready for any eventuality if Kentucky had won today.
The factor that probably hurt Kentucky as much as anything is that they had two wins against tournament teams, both of which occurred in December, and they had 14 wins against top‑100 teams, but the majority of those were against teams in the 75 to 100 range. So those were two of the factors that probably most people when evaluating the seed line did not realize.
The Committee does a really good job of diving deep into the data of each and every team. When we compared Kentucky's résumé to the other résumés, as we scrubbed the seeds, and we scrubbed the seeds going from 1 to 68, comparing one to two, two to three, three to four, all the way from 67 being compared to 68. When we did that for Kentucky, the Committee was strongly supportive of their seed line and where they ended up.
Q. It's possible they could have been a different seed had they defeated Florida today?
RON WELLMAN: Possibly, yes.
Q. There was a lot of projection about Ohio State being a No.5 in Spokane. I'm curious if they might have been bumped to avoid a possible second game matchup against Michigan State?
RON WELLMAN: I think I understand your question.
No, there was no team bumped off of its seed line that we assigned to that team. Our bracketing principles have allowed us to keep the teams on their natural seed line that had been assigned to those teams.
When we met with the NABC board of directors last spring, the board said their top priority was to honor the seed lines and keep the integrity of the seed lines. This is my first time in my five years on the Committee that we have not had to adjust a team's seed line to honor the bracketing principles. This year we were able to abide by the bracketing principles and keep everyone on their seed lines.
In fact, there are usually several teams that we have to adjust their seed line prior to the new principles.
Q. How did you handle Wichita State, considering their situation?
RON WELLMAN: What do you mean 'their situation'?
Q. Did you give them any weight to putting them higher on a line or a No. 2? How did you go about putting them on the board?
RON WELLMAN: Scrubbing these seeds, we gave them strong consideration for climbing. We evaluated that very, very, very closely. That was not an easy decision. All of the decisions are difficult decisions.
Wichita State was in no jeopardy of going to the No. 2 line. They were thoroughly evaluated as to the possibility of being the No.1 or No. 2 seed in the overall tournament, as well.
Q. There's some criticism already, people feel that Wichita State's bracket with Duke, Michigan and Louisville as the other top four seeds, is maybe more stacked than some of the others. What would you say about that perception?
RON WELLMAN: Well, we evaluate all of the regions in making sure that they are very, very strong regions and there's balance within the regions. There are certainly some great name basketball schools in that particular region.
But the competitiveness of the regions is very, very balanced when you look at its entirety. The way we do that is to summarize the RPIs of the teams in that region, especially the first four lines. We have guidelines as to how close the range should be in those first four lines.
You look at the other regions, we feel that they are very, very strong, too. You look at UVA and Villanova. Iowa State, Michigan State, or Florida. Kansas, Syracuse, UCLA, one heck of a region as well. You look at Arizona and Wisconsin and Creighton, San Diego State.
I don't see a region that is exceptionally more difficult or easier than any other region. I think that we have achieved balance in all of the regions.
The one thing this year is that the parity in college basketball was more challenging than any year that I have been on the Committee, which is going to lead to a fantastic tournament.
Q. You are saying the seeding was more difficult this year than most years?
RON WELLMAN: The seeding, selection, everything was more difficult this year just because of the parity and the balance in college basketball. This Committee struggled over the last few selections. This Committee deliberated I can't tell you how long over the seeds.
The Committee did a great job of taking their work extremely seriously and coming to Indianapolis armed with the information and opinions that needed to be expressed throughout the week.
Q. In dealing with Louisville, I know there were a considerable number of people who thought they could be a dark horse as a one. I'm curious what the Committee saw to end on the four line?
RON WELLMAN: Well, again, Louisville is on the four line, which is a very good line. You look at that line, and we not only have Louisville, we have Michigan State, UCLA, San Diego State. Last year two of the Final Four teams came from the four line. That could very well happen again this year.
Louisville finished the season exceptionally strong. If anybody watched Louisville play the last couple weeks of the season, you could easily predict that they could be a national championship contender again this year.
But the Committee's responsibility is to look at their entire body of work. When we looked at the entire body of work of Louisville versus everyone else on the board, we felt that they were slotted appropriately at the No.4 line.
Q. Could you tell me if the Marcus Smart's suspension played into Oklahoma State's seeding at all, missing the three games, and them losing all three?
RON WELLMAN: Well, yes, we talked about that. How individual Committee members treated that and the emphasis they placed upon that I don't know. That's the beauty of the Committee. We have 10 members who treat this objectively for sure, but subjectively, too, because they have their own criteria of what to emphasize in certain cases.
Marcus Smart was suspended for those three games and they lost all three games. But we also need to remember that Oklahoma State had lost four games, I believe it was, prior to that suspension. So it was not only the factor of Marcus Smart but the way the team was playing at that particular time of the year.
It appears they've recovered nicely and they're very deserving of being in the tournament and the seed that they have received from the Committee.
DAVE WORLOCK: Thank you, Ron. We appreciate everyone from the media participating on this evening's call. Have a great night.
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