Coaches experiment with mock bracket

May, 25, 2010
05/25/10
10:14
AM ET

Over the past three years, the NCAA has muted some of the criticism levelled at the tournament selection process by conducting mock bracket exercises with members of the media.

But Division I coaches still had gripes over the lack of transparency in the process.

So the NCAA confronted the problem by bringing a mock bracket exercise to the executive board meeting of the National Association of Basketball Coaches two weeks ago in Indianapolis.

The result: the NCAA has been able to convert some of the coaches about the process with the hope that they'll pass on their critiques and observations to their brethren in the biz.

"It was the most fascinating thing I've done in the past 15 years," said Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli. "It was stunning to me."

That's saying something because Martelli works with ESPN.com Bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who serves as an analyst on Hawks radio broadcasts and is a communications director for the university.

"The things that jumped out at me were how powerful the league monitors are," said Martelli of each of the 10 committee members who have leagues to watch throughout the season. "You see how necessary they are in the process. The other thing was the lack of the RPI. It's the biggest myth out there. The amount of information is stunning to me -- miles to a location, seeding and who has to travel the furthest. I'm not sure how they sleep."

"I thought it was good, educational, and I now have a better understanding of how much work goes into it," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who is also on the NABC board. Joining Self and Martelli at the mock bracket exercise were Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, LSU's Trent Johnson, IUPUI's Ron Hunter, Washington's Lorenzo Romar, Oklahoma's Jeff Capel and former Oregon coach Ernie Kent. Three members of the board -- Maryland's Gary Williams, Minnesota's Tubby Smith and Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt -- weren't able to attend.

The coaches used this past season's results to build a 2010 bracket and coincidentally duplicated some first-round matchups.

"We followed all the rules," said Martelli. "And yet we ended up still having Cornell playing Temple and Villanova playing Robert Morris. It wasn't contrived. It was eerie."

Martelli said he was floored by the knowledge of NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, the savant of the bracketing principles.

"There needs to be federal protection for him, because when he goes, so do all the mysteries," Martelli joked.

Self said he was stunned at how quickly the bracketing took place once the selections were made, even in a sped-up version of the four-day process. The biggest myth that was shot down dealt with conference affiliation. I know. I've been through three of these mock brackets. And yet every year the media, coaches and fans will discuss how many teams from a particular conference get invited. Yet, there is no checklist marking off the number of teams from a particular conference.

"Unbelievable," Self said. "They went through it and asked people how many schools made it from a conference. And the answer was 'I don't know.' That's exactly right. You don't even think about it.

"You see how many checks and balances there are," Self said. "You think you have all the answers, then you see that it's good you didn't raise that point as you see it play out."

Self said he saw the process in a fair light.

"But you still have to win games, that's for sure," Self said.

The NCAA paired up members of the NABC board with a coach. And it worked, so much so that Brey said he spoke to the Big East coaches at the league meetings Monday to tell them about the fairness of the process.

"I don't think any of us thought about how much they look at with the nitty gritty sheets," Brey said. "I told our coaches it was a helluva experience. It was amazing to see. I think there would be less paranoia if more coaches saw it. It was good for all of us to see it."

• Martelli said committee member Mike Bobinski, athletic director of Xavier, briefed the A-10 coaches at its league meetings about the ways in which to bump up the tournament from 65 to 68 teams. One option is to have four opening-round games pitting 16- vs. 17-seeds against each; another would have the last eight at-large schools play for different seed lines so that their first-round opponent in the tournament would know it was playing one of two teams as opposed to one of eight teams.

Martelli said he suggested that they go with the first option of 16 vs. 17 games, but ensure that the conferences play those championship games a week earlier so there isn't a rush from playing Sunday to playing Tuesday.

"You need them to enjoy being league champion for a week," Martelli said. "I know [the NCAA is] sensitive to it being the same eight leagues."

The consensus seems to be that the opening-round games would remain in Dayton, Ohio. But Martelli said Saint Joe's athletic director Don DiJulia suggested that they move them to historical buildings like the Palestra in Philadelphia or Phog Allen in Lawrence, Kan., to give the games even more meaning.

• Self said conference expansion was discussed at the Big 12 meetings two weeks ago but there was nothing substantial brought up because no one knows what is going to happen with the Big Ten.

• Brey said the early-entry withdrawal date of May 8 allowed Big East coaches to do their annual straw poll prediction at the league meetings instead of in June. The league office uses the straw poll to pit repeat matchups the following season. The results weren't available.

Expansion was discussed at the league meetings Monday outside of Jacksonville, Fla., but once again there was nothing substantial discussed because no one knows what is going to occur.

Brey doesn't see Notre Dame as a viable option to join the Big Ten. He said he has seen no movement on that front from his university and that the Irish are committed to sticking with the Big East in all its other sports except football (remaining independent) and helping the Big East out if it gets raided.

• No one seems to know in what direction the Big Ten will go in regards to expansion, but the buzz among coaches at the Big East meetings was the possibility that the Big Ten would just add Nebraska -- a brand name that will give it 12 teams and a championship game -- and call it a day. Outside of Notre Dame, Nebraska may be the only school the Big Ten would add and not do anything else. Other schools being looked at -- Missouri, Rutgers, Pitt, Syracuse, Connecticut, Vanderbilt, Maryland or any other school that you want to toss out there -- might not add enough financial value by itself. The other option that hasn't been discussed is if the Big Ten just threatened to change the legislation requiring 12 teams to host a championship game. If there are any dissenters, then the Big Ten can threaten to poach the other leagues. Of course, such doomsday scenarios are moot if the Big Ten decides to add only one team.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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