published Monday, March 24th, 2014

Wiedmer: Time to get new glasses for NCAA Selection Committee

I need your help this morning. I'm taking up a collection to buy NCAA Tournament Selection Committee chairman Ron Wellman a pair of eyeglasses and a new computer software program.

He may also need a pair of earplugs to drown out the deafening and defiant chants of "S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C," since three of the tourney's remaining 16 teams proudly call the Southeastern Conference home.

Just in case you missed this, No. 1 Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee are also the ONLY three SEC schools that Wellman's committee saw fit to invite to the tourney nine days ago, which means that among multiple-bid leagues, the SEC is also the only conference that remains undefeated.

And given that, plus the ridiculous ease in which both the Gators and Vols have advanced thus far -- not to mention UK's shocking upset of previously perfect Wichita State -- it would seem that Wellman and his committee might want to revaluate their eye tests and whatever computer spreadsheets that so wrongly undervalued the SEC's worth.

Then the nine men and one woman who make up this year's committee should deliver a blanket apology to all 14 SEC athletic directors and basketball coaches at this year's spring meeting in Destin, Fla., for one of the worst evaluations in NCAA Tournament history.

This is not to say that this has been anything but a stupendous tournament in a big picture sort of way. In this case, maybe ignorance is bliss. At least for the viewing public. Just return to the opening round, or the second round as the NCAA insists on calling the round of 64. Eight victories by lower seeded teams. Five overtimes. Ten games decided by five or fewer points. Amazing stuff.

And heading into Sunday evening's final four third-round games the magic was continuing, with four more wins by lower seeds and four more games decided by five or fewer points, highlighted by UK's majestic 78-76 win over the Shockers, arguably the tournament's best contest to date, if only for the exceedingly high level of play by both sides.

Yet that shouldn't completely let the Selection Committee off the hook where the SEC is concerned. Yes, Kentucky found itself exceedingly late. Yes, Tennessee had at least a few curious losses, being swept by Texas A&M foremost among them.

But the Vols also had the league's most impressive non-conference win -- a 35-point humbling of eventual Atlantic Coast Conference champ and East No. 1 seed Virginia. As for Kentucky, look at their non-conference losses -- Michigan State, Baylor and North Carolina, all of whom won opening-round NCAA tourney games.

Then there's Florida, who's only the nation's No. 1 team.

Among the rest of the SEC, only Arkansas may have a serious argument, given that the Razorbacks swept UK, won 8 of their final 10 regular-season league games and posted non-conference wins over Minnesota, SMU and Clemson, who were all considered for NCAA bids as late as the first week of March.

And while it may be tough to feel sorry for Georgia after the Dawgs were overwhelmed by visiting Louisiana Tech in the first half of their second-round NIT loss over the weekend, UGA did go 12-6 in league play, same as UK, and they did it without the benefit of a single home game against the Wildcats, Gators or Vols, due to the unbalanced schedule.

With a better pair of glasses and a tweaked computer program, Wellman and his committee might have at least avoided wasting six bids on the Atlantic 10 Conference, which has but one of its teams left -- Dayton -- and lost four teams in their opening games. The Big 12's also lost five of its schools, as has the ACC. Great evaluations all the way around.

With better glasses, Wellman and his nine blind mice might have given UK a higher seed, which might have kept the Shockers' incredible run going at least one more round.

Or to borrow an argument from Georgia coach Mark Fox, who borrowed it from Wildcats coach John Calipari: "In other leagues, they say people beat up on each other. In this league, you lose a game, 'Oh, your league is terrible.'"

After one weekend, that terrible league is 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament, Florida and Tennessee having won all of their games by double-figures and Kentucky knocking out the only undefeated team in the field. Beyond that, in the Committee's infinite idiocy, it placed both the Wildcats and Vols in the monstrous Midwest, despite selecting only three SEC teams for four possible regionals.

If that doesn't scream for a collective eye test and revised analytical data for Wellman and Co., what does?

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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