Mock selection gives insight into process

The NCAA's mock tournament selection seminar provides insight into the much-misunderstood process.

Selection Friday is almost upon us.

Yes, Selection Friday.

Don't freak out. You didn't oversleep or miss the last month of the regular season. Nobody changed the rules. Selection Sunday is still set for March 17 and that's the real thing. But the NCAA is holding its annual mock selection exercise for sports journalists this Thursday and Friday, so there will be a bracket released on Friday with seeds and matchups and all the fun stuff fans look forward to on Selection Sunday.

MORE FROM KEN DAVIS

Check out Ken's live blog from the mock NCAA tournament selection, starting Thursday at 2 p.m. ET.

And each week during the college basketball season, he gives you the most important things from the weekend, power rankings, five weekend games to watch and more.

Like Allen Iverson used to say, "We're talking about practice."

The NCAA calls it the mock selection "exercise" or "seminar" and it begins Thursday afternoon at the organization's national office in downtown Indianapolis. There are 21 invitees and I'm lucky enough to be one. I'll be reporting, blogging, tweeting, and filing stories for Scout/FOXSportsNEXT.com to keep you informed on the proceedings.

Basically, the NCAA will recreate the process of selecting and seeding the NCAA men's basketball tournament for the media. Those of us selected will gather on the first floor of the Dempsey Building and go through the steps executed by the men's basketball committee in the days leading up to Selection Sunday.

The biggest difference is that the process will be condensed into about 25 hours. Most of us are flying into Indy on Thursday morning. We will assemble at 2 p.m. ET Thursday and work until about 10 p.m. The session resumes at 8 a.m. on Friday and concludes by 3 p.m. Friday. Soon after that we will be sharing our final bracket and you can find out what we've done to your favorite team -- in or out, high seed or low seed, regional site, etc.

The actual men's basketball committee is holding its selection orientation meeting in Indianapolis on Wednesday and Thursday. But for the purposes of our media session, we will be paired up with another participant to represent the various members of the basketball committee and we have been doing our homework before our departure.

For example, I have been paired with Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. Together, we will be representing Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes. Mark and I received our monitoring assignments in late January and we will be reporting to "the committee" on four conferences -- the Big East, Ivy, Summit and West Coast.

In addition, we've been asked to submit a composite ballot, selecting up to 37 teams as "at-large" selections. These are teams that we feel are locks to make the tournament, based on all the available data and rankings at this point. Any team that receives all but two eligible votes makes it onto the at-large board for consideration.

It's a tricky process. To use an example cited by the NCAA's David Worlock, associate director of championships and alliances, Michigan would need eight of 10 votes to make the at-large board. Michigan Sate would need seven of nine. Why is that? Mark Hollis, AD at Michigan State, is on the basketball committee and can't vote for his own team. That holds true for any AD or commissioner on the committee.

There's also a list of teams "under consideration" -- but we've been warned regarding that list. The more teams in that category, the more complex the process becomes. No one wants complex -- especially sports writers and broadcasters.

The hard part is picking the field. Bracketing doesn't begin for us until Friday afternoon. And by that time, you are feeling the heat, trying to follow all the principles and procedures, trying to finalize the bracket before the folks at CBS start asking for the brackets to post and analyze on the Selection Sunday show.

With Nerlens Noel out for the season, the defending champs might be out of luck on Selection Friday ... and Sunday.

There was a time when the committee's process was a big secret. Transparency has come to the NCAA in recent years, and that's a good thing. The better the media understands the process, the better it is for us as we pass along information to our readers and viewers. Trust me, this is true. I participated in the first mock selection, held in conjunction with the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, back in 2007. I was an extra that time, sort of an observer. I'm looking forward to the more active role of representing Scott Barnes this time around. I hope Mark and I can make the Utah State AD proud.

The first time around, I learned that the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings are highly overrated. There is a lot of data available to the committee, including the RPI. But the RPI rankings were barely mentioned during that session. Mission accomplished. The NCAA wants to "de-bunk" the mysteries of the selection process and it did with that revelation and others.

For those of you who think there are conspiracy theories, forget it. The committee doesn't have time to discuss another Duke vs. Kentucky matchup or try pairing Kansas vs. North Carolina (and former Jayhawks coach Roy Williams) in a regional final. Those things might happen -- but if you try to fix the bracket that way, you will never get the job done.

I remember Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News being surprised there were no televisions in the committee room. There were games being played that would affect the outcome of our discussions and bracketing but we watched only during breaks for meals or snacks.

Yes, they will be feeding us and hopefully the ice cream sundae bar still exists. It's a vital part of the selection process, as far as I can tell. My doctor would tell me not to partake in that part of the seminar (but maybe just a small one).

In 2007, I remember one writer calling the first day "tedious." Greg Shaheen, then the NCAA senior vice president of basketball, agreed with the assessment and informed us that process was about to become redundant and confusing in addition to tedious.

We will do our best to avoid the confusion. But there is no doubt, given the kind of season we are witnessing with upsets and no dominant No. 1 team, the process is going to be difficult.

The discussion around Kentucky, the defending national champions, already promised to be interesting. Now there will be an examination of the unfortunate injury to freshman Nerlens Noel. Injuries and suspensions always come up but at this time, losing Noel for the rest of the season seriously hurts Kentucky's chances.

The final bracket we release on Friday will likely worry some people and make others downright mad. You may like your team's path to the Final Four or you might be mad if your team's bubble bursts under our inspection.

But relax. This isn't the real thing yet.

We're talking about practice, man. Practice.

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