Q&A with NCAA selection committee chair Jim Siedliski

Jim Siedliski is the Big East associate commissioner. He is also the chair of the NCAA selection committee, succeeding former Johns Hopkins and Towson coach Tony Seaman. Siedliski, VMI coach Brian Anken, Ohio State senior associate athletic director Heather Lyke Catalano, Hartford associate athletic director Ellen Crandall and Fairfield athletic director Gene Doris were charged with filling out the 16-team field for the upcoming NCAA tournament. Siedliski addressed the rationale behind awarding the top seed to Syracuse, the deliberations over inviting Duke, Penn State and Loyola instead of Bucknell, Penn and Princeton, and the reasoning involved in leaving Johns Hopkins out of the field for the first time since 1971.

How difficult was it to compose this year’s NCAA tournament?

Every year presents its own challenges. I’ve had a little bit of heartburn for the past 11 months knowing that we were going to eight AQs and only eight at larges. That in itself presents its own set of problems. I think while the whole process in totality is difficult to begin with, this committee worked so collaboratively sand was so consistent in utilizing all the criteria in literally every situation – from 1 all the way down to the last group of teams getting in. it was still difficult, but it made it that much easier because we were pounding home amongst ourselves, ‘Consistency, consistency, consistency.’ I think that helped the process along because of the uniqueness of the teams that were out there. Without a bell cow team with only one loss or two looses or being undefeated, how do you quantify the differences between all these institutions? The existing selection criteria, which we’ve been hammering to the coaches, is what we’re doing, and it was really great to be able to use it in every situation.

Notre Dame, Ohio State, Denver and North Carolina might have had a legitimate claim to the top seed. What about Syracuse swayed the committee?

You hit the nail on the head. That group of five was the group we really honed in on as far as being the No. 1 seed. We felt initially that all five of those had a chance. But when we started to drill down, it really kind of separated itself to Syracuse and Notre Dame. Syracuse, they’re 7-1 against the top 20. Most of those teams in that group of five have a significant loss. Not a particularly bad loss, but a significant loss by the definition. It was in the top five where Syracuse beat Notre Dame twice – the No. 1 team RPI-wise – and twice in the last six days. Their collective body of work just stood out more when you looked at all the indices. They may get trumped here by one team and trumped here by a different team, but there really wasn’t a team that was distinguishing itself amongst that group. And then you look at Notre Dame, which has beaten Ohio State, Denver and North Carolina straight up, they’re 4-2 in the top 10, but their mulligans are with Syracuse. So it kind of started to crystallize in that regard. We felt pretty good about that, how Syracuse ultimately ended up being the No. 1.

On the flipside, there were a number of teams competing for the last two or three at-large spots. What separated teams like Loyola, Cornell and Penn State from the rest of the pack?

We had St. John’s, Drexel, Princeton, Penn, Hopkins and Bucknell up on the board in that next group, and you start to look at all of the indices there for our disposal. You look at a team like Bucknell where their strength of schedule is 11, and that’s really good, but their average RPI win is 33. That’s OK, but their average RPI loss is high at 21. With them being at an RPI of 11, they did have a significant win, but no top five wins. They had a bad loss. There’s every few teams that we actually identified with bad losses, but 40 and below – the bottom third of the membership – that’s a bad loss. Granted, it’s already factored into the RPI. We get that, but it’s part of the selection criteria. Going back to where they were as far as their top 10 strength of schedule, it was poor in terms of top 10 average. It was the poorest of the ones that were being looked at. They started to fall away in a majority of the categories. They had good pieces with a good RPI and a good strength of schedule, but a lot of other criteria, they really started to fall away. We tried. We put them up against the group collectively of Maryland, Duke, Penn State, Cornell and Loyola. We tried to get them in that way, we tried to get them in one-by-one. We just couldn’t stack up all the indices to get them in.

Loyola coach Charley Toomey expressed a hope that quality losses would be factored into the review of a team. Was that the case?

It did as one of the many factors. They don’t have a significant loss. If you look at where Loyola is, their RPI is 10, their low loss is Duke at 12. It’s an RPI loss below them, but in the same regard, they split with Ohio State. So they do have a top two RPI win. We’ve said it time and time again in the committee room. We tried to put Loyola into the top eight. We couldn’t get there, but in the same regard, we said, ‘Let’s move Loyola out,’ and we couldn’t get them out because they have a significant win, but there is nothing really detrimental about them. There’s no warts on them. Their strength of schedule is 10. Their average RPI win is 30, which is OK, but it’s not outstanding. But their average RPI loss is six. That’s great. That’s a great mark. And the fact that their RPI is sitting at 10, their actual RPI percentage is relatively close to Penn State’s, their average top 10 is 13, and again, they don’t have a significant loss. With the head to head, they lost to Maryland, they lost to Duke. So you know they’re not going ahead of those two teams. Then they lost to Ohio State and they lost to Denver. But the people below them, they don’t have a mulligan. So we felt really good about them being in, but we couldn’t justify them being in the top eight.

Did the lack of significant wins prove to be most damaging to Johns Hopkins’ bid?

It was. If you look at their body of work and looking at all of the indices, their RPI is sitting at 17. They have a significant win over Maryland, and they don’t really have a bad loss. They have a very good strength of schedule at 16, but it’s not better than a lot of teams above them. Their average RPI win is not terribly good at 33. Their average RPI loss is very strong at nine. But again, when you take them and you start to stack them up against all the other teams that still remain in front of them and the teams that we’ve already committed to the board, you can’t replace them. We felt really good about going through the exercise of all the teams that should be up on the board – St. John’s, Drexel, Princeton, Penn, Bucknell and Hopkins – and we feel really good that we did our due diligence for them. It’s humbling to be involved in this process. Look at a UVA that is ineligible. Look at an UMass that is ineligible, Villanova that is ineligible. I have nothing but respect for [athletic director] Tom Calder and [coach] Dave Pietramala and for their program and what it stands for – not only to the institution, but to the game. We feel very confident that we did right by the process and we did right by Hopkins. … If the indices had bore it out, they’d be in the field. They just didn’t have enough to get in there.

In the big picture, how satisfied is the committee with the composition of the tournament?

I honestly believe that there is the feeling that we did right by the coaches, and we have a very good sense of peace with what we’ve done. We’re proud of the fact that we were consistent all the way through with the selection criteria. We were consistent in the room, and we can hold our heads high. I think the committee feels a pretty good sense of accomplishment that we served the membership well because that’s our charge, to protect the integrity of assembling a championship field. That’s the bottom line, and I think we feel really good that we served the membership well.

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