Conference Call with Gene Smith on NCAA Tournament Selection Process

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With the annual mock tournament selection taking place in Indianapolis on Thursday and Friday, Gene Smith, Athletic Director at Ohio State and chair of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball committee, held a conference call on Wednesday to discuss the tournament selection process.

By: Justin Mertes-Mistretta

Smith, who has served on the committee for five years, reflected on how the tournament has evolved during his tenure.

“I’ve had the opportunity to watch this tournament grow and enhance itself over time,” Smith said. “The creation of the student sections in [large] venues, just totally improved the atmosphere and the surrounding of the games for the young men who are playing.”

In 2008, all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the final four. However, the past couple years have seen much less chalk. Smith thinks the latter will continue.

“I think this year will be a lot more unpredictable [than 2008],” Smith said. “We have some great coaches that have emerged out there and great role players that have emerged. I think it’s going to be an exciting tournament when we get to the point where we are selecting teams.”

While Smith would not share his current “locks” to make the tournament, he did discuss some of the determining factors for making the field.

“There’s a lot of factors that we look at, but it still comes down to, who did you play, where did you play and how did you do. A lot of times, when did you play them.”

Pretend you’re on the selection committee for a second. When deciding the fate of Alabama, would you heavily weigh the fact that the Crimson Tide are first in the SEC West? If you are Gene Smith, the answer is no.

“We don’t look at standings as much as how well they did to get their league record,” Smith said.

This philosophy makes sense, especially when you relate it back the previous example. While ‘Bama may be No. 1 in the SEC West, the team in second place isn’t even above .500 in conference play.

Smith went even further when he was asked about the number of teams allowed in per conference.

“It’s talked about every single year, and that’s understandable,” Smith said. “But in order for us to get to the best 37, we have to separate them from their conferences and go back to making sure that we look at those individual teams and respect them, regardless of league affiliation.”

In regards to taking a team’s adversities into account when picking the field, Smith said, “We all look at if someone was hurt through X number of games or if a player was suspended or some tragedy happened, we always take that into consideration.” If Tom Izzo is reading this, I bet he’s hoping Smith will be a man of his word.

Something commonly discussed, and something the Izzo-led Spartans haven’t passed, is the eye-ball test. While denying that the eye-ball test plays a factor, Smith did admit to using some subjectivity.

“Some of us may put some emphasis on physicality of a particular team and of size and length of teams,” Smith said. “We are just fortunate that we have on our committee some people who are great coaches in Stan Morrison and Len Hickey, and they always remind of us of a subjective view of teams from a coach’s perspective.”

The selection committee often gets criticized when upsets occur. The critics view it as a poor seeding job, while Smith, on the other hand, looks at it as the nature of the beast.

“You know, that’s part of the game and that’s why we play them,” Smith said. “To me that’s the phenom of March Madness.  You just think back to last year and the great games that we had last year.  So I never look back and say, you know, we should have done this or should have done that.”

Last year, we saw one of the most upset heavy tournaments ever, but not everyone was able to see it happen. This year, with the recent 14-year agreement between Turner and CBS, every single game will be televised for fans.

“I think it’s going to be a great thing having all of those platforms that people can see the games,” Smith said. “I’m really excited about that.”

Justin Mertes-Mistretta is a senior editor for TheSportsBank.net. Follow him on Twitter at MertesMist_tsb or read his blog here.

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