NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday will be more topsy-turvy than in recent years
The only major sport more predictable than college basketball when it comes to traditional powers hogging the spotlight come playoff time is college football.
But this year’s NCAA men’s field, which will be revealed early on Sunday evening, figures to offer a few wrinkles on the road to the Final Four in Houston.
Consider this: Of last year’s brand-name-rich Final Four, Kansas is a lock to be a No. 1 seed, but Duke is in line for a middle-of-the-pack seed, North Carolina likely is out and Villanova certainly is. Kentucky? The Wildcats lost at home to Vanderbilt. Stuff happens.
CBS’ Jim Nantz noted that with some elite programs figuring to get so-so seeds, there will be some unusual decisions for TV schedulers, and some unconventional second-round encounters.
“So many bluebloods are going to be in the middle of the field,” Nantz said on a video news conference to promote the NCAAs. “There are programs you’re used to seeing on the 1 or 2 line and now you’re going to be seeing them in some second-round matchups against teams that have earned really good seeds.
“They have to go against that uniform. They have to go against that program history.”
Nantz said he could not recall a time in which the brackets will be so topsy-turvy.
“The top seeds are going to look at it differently,” he said. “They’re going to take on giant, historical programs in the second game on that opening weekend.”
So who’s the favorite, anyway?
Former Villanova coach Jay Wright told Newsday his picks to win it all are Kansas, Houston or UCLA, based largely on their tournament experience.
Houston is aiming to reach the Final Four in its own city — and with Houston alum Nantz calling the Final Four in his last NCAA Tournament after a run that began with a second-round game in 1986.
But in this volatile era in college basketball, where highly ranked teams lose night in and night out during the regular season, matchups will matter.
And we will not have a good handle on those until the 68-team field is fleshed out Sunday.
Alabama’s vaunted football program did not even qualify for the College Football Playoff last season, but its basketball team is in line for a top seed.
Most Selection Sunday attention, though, will focus on teams on the bubble, even if those teams likely will be gone after the first week.
And locally, Iona was vying for an automatic bid in the MAAC Tournament on Saturday night and Forham bowed out of the Atlantic 10 Tournament on Saturday afternoon.
On the other side of the Hudson, Rutgers had a wildly uneven season but some big wins and was clinging to hope following their exit from the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.
Fairleigh Dickinson got an automatic bid in the NEC despite losing its conference tournament to Merrimack, which still is in its transition period to Division I and thus was ineligible.
Meanwhile, in central New York . . . where have you gone Jim Boeheim? Oh, actually, he still is at Syracuse. But the Orange will not take him to the NCAAs.
Usually, it takes an upset or two for a long shot to attract the notice of casual fans. But going into this, there are a couple of potential underdog tales to monitor.
One is Atlantic Sun champion Kennesaw State, which in three previous seasons under coach Amir Abdur-Rahim went 1-28, 5-19 and 13-18.
(Random Long Island connection: Abdur-Rahim’s immediate predecessor was Malverne High’s own Al Skinner.)
Furman, which lost last year’s Southern Conference final on a three-pointer at the buzzer by Chattanooga, got its revenge over the same opponent this year.
It will be Furman’s first appearance in the NCAAs since 1980, when it lost a first-round game to Tennessee, 80-69, as a No. 10 seed in a 48-team field.
CBS set to set the field
Selection Sunday and the NFL Draft typically are the two biggest non-sports sports events on the calendar.
Both are complex productions because they use remote reports from around the country, but the NCAA show is far more condensed in a fast-paced hour.
Some teams will celebrate surprise bids for the cameras. Others will shrug and wonder where their first-round opponent is located and what its mascot is.
It begins at 6 p.m. on CBS with Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis joined by first-year analyst and former Hofstra and Villanova coach Wright.
Per tradition, NCAA men’s basketball committee chairman Chris Reynolds will join the show for a live interview to discuss the bracket — and defend the choices.