Selection process is truly crazy part of NCAA's March Madness

In the phenomenon known as March Madness, there's nothing more maddening than the process used to select the 64-team field for the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

Is strength of schedule more important than wins and losses? Do narrow defeats to top-10 teams count as much as narrow victories over those at the bottom? Will Jim Delany, the Big Ten commissioner and chairman of the selection committee, be the most revered man in America tonight, or the most reviled?


Some of those questions will be answered when the bids are announced today on national television (Channel 9, 6:30 p.m.) and debated ad nauseam for the rest of the month. The NCAA tournament begins Thursday at four regional sites -- including College Park -- and concludes with the championship game April 1 at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.

Towson State (19-10), the only local school in the tournament after winning the East Coast Conference tournament for the second straight year, will be tuning in to find out its first-round opponent and destination.


Last year, the Tigers drew the No. 1 seed in the field -- Oklahoma -- and played the Sooners to a surprisingly close game in Austin, Texas.

A fan at the Towson Center held up a sign proclaiming, "We Want UNLV" after his team beat Rider in Tuesday's final, but Truax isn't quite that eager. "It'll be interesting to see who they pair us with, and especially where," said Truax. "I think there are teams we match up better with. It's just that the No. 1 seed isn't one of them."

Truax and Tigers guard Devin Boyd have ideal opponents in mind.

"B-Y-E, we always seem to do well whenever we go against B-Y-E," said Truax, laughing, while spelling out the word.

Boyd said: "Leo, that's who I'd prefer." "Leo" is the imaginary friend of Truax's daughter.

Truax said he heard Murray State fans displayed a sign Thursday night, saying they wanted Towson State.

"Hey, that's cool," Truax said jokingly. "I'll play them or one of those teams that didn't make it to the field in the opening round."

One team that isn't making an NCAA encore is Coppin State, but the Eagles (19-10), who were upset by Florida A&M; on March 1 in the semifinals of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, are hoping for a long-shot bid to the National Invitation Tournament. The NIT will announce its 32-team field tonight.


Coppin coach Fang Mitchell said NIT officials have spoken with him in the past week, but added: "We can't get out hopes up too high. On paper, we'd be in, but you know that's not the way it's always done."

As for the NCAA field, Delany said last week that as many as 21 criteria are used in putting together the tournament. "The purpose of the committee is to create four equally balanced regionals," he said.

Top-ranked, unbeaten and defending national champion Nevada-Las Vegas is expected to be the No. 1 seed in the West, second-ranked and Big Ten champion Ohio State has the inside track on the top seed in the Midwest, and Southwest Conference winner Arkansas should be given the top spot in the Southeast.

The only regional whose top seed still appears to be in question is the East, where Big East regular-season champion Syracuse seemed to have the inside track before losing to Villanova in the first round of the conference tournament.

The regional finals will be March 23 and 24 in East Rutherford, N.J.; Pontiac, Mich.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Seattle. One school of thought is that the NCAA would like nothing better than to see the Runnin' Rebels lose before reaching the Final Four. UNLV, whose probation was delayed until next year after several prominent players threatened to hit the NCAA with a lawsuit, is trying to become the first team to repeat since UCLA in 1973.

"Nobody's going to load up the West," said North Carolina coach Dean Smith, whose Tar Heels, should they lose in the ACC tournament final against Duke, could be part of a SWAT team sent out to knock out UNLV. "They're [the selection committee] not sitting in Kansas City worrying about Vegas."


Maybe not, because the selection committee could have its most difficult job in years trying to decipher the power ratings and come up with the last 20 or so spots in the field. Losses in conference tournaments by top seeds such as Mississippi State in the Southeastern, Southern Mississippi in the Metro, Rutgers in the Atlantic 10, James Madison in the Colonial Athletic Association and Siena in the Metro Atlantic muddled the process even more.