Gene Smith reflects on selection, seeding

April, 2, 2011
HOUSTON -- The NCAA tournament selection committee got hammered on Selection Sunday for including VCU and UAB over Colorado and Virginia Tech, among other teams.

But it was the Rams' seeding that the committee struggled with more than selection.

Selection committee chair Gene Smith, the athletic director at Ohio State, said this was the hardest bracket the committee has had to seed during his five years on the committee.

He said the differences between each team's résumés were paper-thin. "There were so many teams that were just so alike," Smith said. "That was much more evident for me than any other year. If you took the name off a team and put up the body of work, it was like, 'Holy smokes, they all look alike.'"

Smith and NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, who has been the committee's liaison to the NCAA, said he never understood the argument that the West Region was weak or that top seed Duke received favored treatment.

Shaheen said San Diego State was billed as a possible No. 1 seed so the Aztecs were the top No. 2, positioned with the fourth No. 1 in Duke. Having Arizona as a No. 5 seed in the same bracket was another indication of the strength in the West. Arizona beat Texas and then took out Duke handily before losing to Big East tournament champ and eventual West winner Connecticut.

"I think everyone saying that about the West was an example of a lot of people not seeing Arizona," Smith said. "How could you say the West was watered down?"

Smith said the committee also struggled with how to position the 11 Big East teams. In the weekend leading up to Selection Sunday, the committee decided to set up potential matchups in the third round between Big East teams that had only faced each other once during the unbalanced regular-season league schedule. The committee ended up with two of those matchups when Syracuse faced Marquette and UConn played Cincinnati.

Smith and Shaheen defended the loaded East bracket with Ohio State (Big Ten champ), North Carolina (ACC regular-season champ) and Kentucky (SEC tournament champ), noting all the moving parts that had to be taken into consideration.

"It was so tedious," Smith said. "We were sitting there trying to see how we're going to do this. We felt bad about how we were handling some of the seeds but it was different than any other year."

The stinging criticism of VCU's inclusion was a point of contention for Smith and Shaheen.

"Attack us; [don't] belittle the school," Smith said. "We made the decision. Don't degrade the school. Talk about us. We did it."

• BYU's Jimmer Fredette handled himself with class and treated winning the USBWA Player of the Year award with great respect, especially toward the legendary Oscar Robertson, who was in attendance Friday in Houston. Fredette will now have to work just as hard as he has during his college career to prove he's a worthy first-round/lottery pick.

• Rice's Arsalan Kazemi was the recipient of the USBWA's Most Courageous Award, recognizing the struggles he went through to get into the country to play at Rice as the first Iranian-born player in NCAA Division I.

• Notre Dame's Mike Brey was the recipient of the Henry Iba Coach of the Year award.

• Oklahoma saved face with a quality hire in luring Lon Kruger from UNLV. Ultimately, cash-strapped Nevada probably couldn't keep Kruger. He loved coaching in Las Vegas, but money talks and Kruger was given an offer he couldn't refuse.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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