Men’s Basketball: Lack of predictability is nothing new for Pitt on Selection Sunday

Mens Basketball: Lack of predictability is nothing new for Pitt on Selection Sunday

When the selection committee decides the field of 68 teams to compete in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, nothing can be ruled out of the equation.

Fans of particular teams are baffled on any given Selection Sunday because of their teams’ undesirable seeds, brackets and regions.

Pitt has had one of those befuddled fanbases.

In 2004, Pitt (29-4, 13-3 Big East) won the Big East regular season conference championship and appeared in the Big East Championship game, so most Panther fans anticipated a two seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Not only did the NCAA Tournament selection committee issue the Panthers a three seed, but they were also sent to Milwaukee, where a first-round win over Central Florida set up a second-round virtual road game against Big Ten Champion Wisconsin.

But the committee didn’t pick on Pitt that season. Nor were the Panthers picked on last year when they were given an eight seed.

There is no randomness involved in the selection, and if asked, members of the committee will provide viable explanations for why a team received a slot that didn’t meet the expectations of NCAA Tournament projections.

In fact, Ron Wellman, who serves as the selection committee’s chair, said the committee subscribes to a very intricate procedure to ensure that teams are given what they deserve.

“Our seeding process is a really detailed process where we compare the number one seed to the number two; the number two to the number three; the number three to the number four; right on down the line to number 68,” Wellman said. “We will go through that scrubbing process probably a minimum of five times during the week just to make sure that we have teams seeded at what we believe is their rightful position.”

The fine-tuning is probably a good thing for Pitt, who has an unusual tournament resumé.

The Panthers lost to every top-25 Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) team they faced. RPI is a ranking that’s based on a team’s win and loss record as well as its strength of schedule.

The best teams they’ve snagged wins against are North Carolina (27 RPI, no. 15-ranked), Stanford (40 RPI, unranked) and Clemson (75 RPI, unranked).

In addition, Pitt has an outstanding 10-3 record against teams on the road and at neutral sites, but an uncharacteristically poor 4-5 record at home. Pitt’s worst loss came Feb. 23 at home to Florida State (55 RPI).

 “We look at the record, we look at the number of games they play against [RPI] top 25, top 50, top 100. We look at the record they have against those teams, we look at the number of teams they play against, the teams that have an RPI higher or worse than 200 or 250 or even 300, and then the record against those teams,” Wellman said.

Wellman also said the committee looks at the number of games that are played against teams with high RPIs, and Pitt has a lot of those.

About 45 percent of the team’s schedule is composed of opponents with RPIs below 200, and excluding a now-ranked Cincinnati team that beat Pitt and Stanford, the next-best team Pitt played in its nonconference schedule was Penn State (116 RPI).

The committee also examines the overall schedule.

Pitt’s strength of schedule fluctuates depending on the formula used. Pitt is seen at No. 57 by CBS, No. 80 by ESPN, No. 36 by Team Rankings and No. 44 by Ken Pomeroy.

Wellman added that nonconference strength of schedule is a factor, too, where Pitt is No. 284 according to Pomeroy.

Despite what could be described as a so-so resume in terms of big wins, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon has cited many of the Panthers’ recent accomplishments, which he says will benefit the team when it comes to seeding. Among those is Pitt’s recent play.

The Panthers are on a 5-2 tear since some of their players began recovering from injury. Also, they are 10-8 since losing swingman Durand Johnson to a season-ending knee injury, something that Wellman says will be factored into the equation.

After losing a game against No. 6 Virginia that could’ve been sent into overtime had officials sent point guard James Robinson to the line after he hit a basket with about 10 seconds left in the game, Dixon said the Panthers are at the top of their game.

“That’s an encouraging thing,” Dixon said. “We’re healthy and I think we’re playing our best basketball.”

Wellman says that different members of the committee monitor the recent health of every team and that injuries are counted for.

Pitt’s ability to win conference games without Johnson will be valued, while a team such as Oklahoma State will be looked at differently, since the Cowboys went 9-11 after losing center Michael Cobbins for the season.

Nonetheless, Dixon’s regular-season record is flushed away once his team’s placement is announced. He has a poor track record in the NCAA Tournament, with an 11-9 career record, and before Thursday, his teams won just three of their past eight postseason games, excluding a CBI championship run in 2012.

One could only wonder if Dixon’s previous nine disappointing runs in the tournament have formed a lasting impression on the selection and thereby affecting their seedings this year and into the future, but Wellman was aghast when asked about it.

“Absolutely not,” Wellman said. “That is never mentioned. I don’t think that’s part of any committee member’s thought process. That is not even on the radar screen as a factor to be discussed or to be considered.”

Because he also serves athletic director at Wake Forest, a common misconception of Wellman is that he’ll push to give more bids to ACC teams. Self-described “bracketologists” have debated over the course of the season whether the ACC deserves to even have five teams in the Tournament.

Wellman said that the committee doesn’t have a pre-determined number of invitations for each conference. Rather, the number of squads per conference who receive bids are not counted for until 6 p.m. Sunday, the time that Greg Gumbel goes on-air to reveal the field for CBS.

“The one thing that surprised me about the deliberations with the committee was that there was no conference affiliation mentioned,” Wellman said. “We will go through the entire week and not know how many ACC teams are already in the tournament or where they’re placed in the seed list.”

So, to the age-old question: where will Pitt be seeded?

An appearance as the East region’s No. 9 seed seems to be a dreamy – and ideal – destination for the Panthers.

If added to the East region, their first round game will be an ’04 reunion in Milwaukee, and with a few wins, Pitt would play fourth and fifth round games at Madison Square Garden in New York.

But what’s most intriguing about this region is the No. 1 seed.

The East region receives the final No. 1 seed, which will likely be granted to either Michigan (25-7, 15-3 Big Ten), Villanova (28-4, 16-2 Big East) or Louisville (29-5, 15-3 American Athletic Conference).

With a first-round win, the “hungry” Panthers, as described by guard Lamar Patterson, would probably play one of the four teams in what would be the premiere matchup of Pitt’s season thus far.

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