Go figure the Division I men's selection committee, which sprinkled all sorts of surprises through the NCAA tournament brackets yesterday. Or better yet, don't, which is exactly what Santa Clara coach Dick Davey did after watching in stunned amazement as the Broncos squeezed into the field of 64.
"I don't want [the committee] to look for reasons why they picked us, because I don't want them to go back and rethink them," said Davey, whose team was among the last to earn one of those precious 35 at-large bids.
Georgia Tech, which finished 18-12 and comes from the power-rich Atlantic Coast Conference, probably would like a recount. So would Iowa, which thought its Big Ten pedigree and 19-11 record would be enough. The same goes for George Washington, owners of an 18-13 record and victories against Massachusetts, Syracuse and Temple, among others. Georgia (18-9) and Texas Tech (20-9) likely are being treated for shock, too. All were wallflowers in the Big Dance roll call.
In a season in which parity was never more obvious, the committee was forced to analyze more data than researchers at the California Institute of Technology. They considered 100 teams in all. They met for more than 35 hours and had 63 secret ballots. They sifted through 100 pounds of statistics. They recessed only for sleep, bathroom breaks, ice cream breaks and chairman Bob Frederick's occasional calls to a Lawrence, Kan., radio station to check on the outcome of his son's state championship basketball game (it won).
When the committee members emerged from their Kansas City, Mo., hotel conference room last evening, it was clear that the balance of basketball power had shifted slightly. The ACC, long accustomed to better treatment, received only four bids, as did the Big East. It was lowest ACC total since 1983. The Big Eight, Southeastern and Pacific 10 conferences got five invitations apiece, and the Big Ten got six.
Meanwhile, the Metro Conference earned three spots. So did the Great Midwest, which doesn't even have an automatic qualifier.
But the biggest shocker came when the committee went two-deep in the Metro Atlantic and West Coast conferences, making regular-season MAAC champion Manhattan the final team to receive an at-large bid. Santa Clara of the WCC wasn't far behind.
"We had to be in the last few," said Davey, whose team was upset in the first round of the West Coast Conference tournament by Loyola Marymount.
Manhattan got in because of its 25 victories and because of a 9-3 record against teams rated between 51 and 150 in the committee's power rankings. "The one thing that kept sticking out," Frederick said.
Compare that with George Washington, which went 5-6 against 1-150 teams. And sure, it beat UMass twice, but the Colonials didn't do it when star Minutemen center Marcus Camby was on the floor.
As for Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets were done in by an 8-12 record against top 100 teams, a 10-12 record against top 150 teams and a first-round loss in the ACC tournament.
Santa Clara was a little easier choice, mostly because the Broncos didn't pad their record with easy opponents.
"We were impressed with the Santa Clara performance during the year, especially early in the season," Frederick said. "We just thought they were clearly one of the 35 best at-large teams."
Really? Davey was so sure that the Broncos would be excluded, that he spent the weekend working on scouting reports on possible National Invitation Tournament opponents. And truth be known, Davey wasn't convinced his team would get an NIT bid.
Then came the NCAA selection show. All week long, Davey had warned his wife, Jeanne, to forget about an at-large berth. WCC teams, even those with 21-6 records, don't get second chances.
Surprise. Santa Clara, designated as a 12th seed in the West, will play Mississippi State Friday in the subregional at Boise, Idaho.
"I watched it," he said. "I sat here and watched it and was obviously excited when I saw our names on the screen. I didn't run laps or anything, but I did kind of shake my head."
His office phone rang moments later. It was Jeanne. She was crying.
She wasn't the only one shedding a tear. North Carolina saw its No. 1 NCAA seed disappear after an overtime loss to Wake Forest in the championship game of the ACC tournament. Instead, Wake Forest was presented with the top seed in the East Regional, its first ever.
Joining the Demon Deacons as No. 1 seeds were UCLA (West), Kentucky (Southeast) and Kansas (Midwest). The Bruins' seeding was a no-brainer, as was Kentucky's after the Wildcats' victory yesterday against Arkansas for the SEC title.
Kansas was a different story. The Jayhawks lost an overtime game to Iowa State in the semifinals of the Big Eight Tournament, but still retained their No. 1 seeding status. North Carolina lost in the ACC final and were dropped to a No. 2 in the Southeast Regional. Since when does the ACC tournament count, but the Big Eight's doesn't?
"In some situations," said Frederick, who happens to be the athletic director at Kansas, "[the tournaments] had an effect on the seeding of the teams. We had five different scenarios about the way things could go today that affected primarily seeds and, in some cases, selection."
In Frederick's defense, he was required to leave the conference room when Kansas' seeding was discussed. According to Frederick, he had to wait more than an hour while the committee figured out what to do with the Jayhawks. In the end, the members decided that North Carolina's four-way finish for the ACC regular-season title and the Tar Heels' second loss to Wake Forest in less than two weeks hurt more.