Selection Sunday: UCLA gets jobbed, Cougs show up as a No. 3

When I wrote yesterday that it seemed like the NCAA Tournament selection committee was placing more and more value in the conference tournaments, I really didn't think the 10 members were going to take it this far.

It started with last year's ridiculous No. 5 seeding of Syracuse -- roundly considered a bubble team before winning the Big East Tournament -- that resulted in the Orange being ousted by No. 12 seed Texas A&M in the opening round.

And it's continued this year, which I think is a shame.

Let's start with UCLA's No. 2 seed. Granted, this is a team that lost its final two games of the season to a pair of teams that finished seventh or worse in the Pac-10, but it's being reported that the Bruins lost their No. 1 seed when they failed to advance out of the quarterfinals of the Pac-10 Tournament.

Consider this: UCLA finished in first place in the Pac-10 by two games, a feat only duplicated by Florida (three games) and Ohio State (two games) in the power conferences. Florida and Ohio State are both No. 1 seeds. Also consider that the Bruins went 3-1 against two teams seeded No. 3 in this tournament (WSU and Oregon).

So what if the Bruins flopped in the first round of their conference tournament? If we're considering the famous "body of work" that the committee so often cites in defending its decisions, it’s hard to believe that UCLA wasn’t at least better than Kansas.

Clearly, the committee thought the Pac-10 was a great conference, giving it more No. 3 or higher seeds than any other league, and only the ACC matched its four seeds No. 5 or higher. So how could the champion of that league – remember, by two whole games -- not be a No. 1 seed?

Another glaring over-reliance on the conference tournament is Arkansas, which was the last team in the tournament. This is a team that finished 7-9 in a weak SEC West, only to get hot in the SEC Tournament against some weak opponents. I would have liked to have seen a team such as Syracuse, which finished ahead of two other tournament teams in its conference standings, get the nod, as Stanford did.

The ESPN talking heads are talking about how USC, Arkansas’ opponent, is the No. 5 seed most likely to get upset in the first round. Mark my words: USC will have no problem with Arkansas, which is due for an inevitable let down after working so hard just to get in the field.

Other thoughts on the bracket:

  • We Coug fans are delirious over the No. 3 seed our team received -- I know I thought the loss to USC probably would drop us to at least a No. 4. But the committee apparently really liked the Pac-10, rewarding the Cougs for finishing second. The first-round matchup against Oral Roberts – which I’ll break down later this week – doesn’t much scare me. This is a high-tempo team that turns the ball over a lot. Not the type of team that typically gives the Cougars trouble. Now, if Vandy gets by George Washington … well, that could be interesting, as the Commodores can shoot like few other teams in the country when they’re hot. And that’s the kind of team that gives the Cougs trouble.
  • I think Oregon’s seeding was just about right. The Ducks had some strong wins this year, and after a bit of a midseason lull, are hitting on all cylinders. The only thing that worries me about picking them to go deep, though, is their reliance on the 3-point shot. All it takes is one cold-shooting game and you’re done. And history has shown that in shooting in the Tournament can be a bit tougher, given the foreign environments and often cavernous arenas. I wouldn’t be shocked if Oregon made it to the Elite Eight, but I wouldn’t be shocked if the Ducks were bounced in the second round, either.
  • Stanford making it in is interesting. Could be the kind of pick where the committee ends up looking great, or ends up with a lot of egg on its face. I’m betting on the latter, given the Cardinal’s inconsistencies this season.
  • The committee obviously didn’t think much of Nevada, either. A team that was ranked in the top 15 for much of the season, the Wolf Pack were seeded No. 7 after losing in the semis of the WAC Tournament. And the committee didn’t do them any favors by pitting them against Creighton, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champ. Both teams deserved a better fate than facing Memphis in the second round. That said, the winner of that game beats the Tigers – you heard it here first!
  • Hard to believe Texas is a No. 4 seed when the Cougs are a No. 3 seed. Texas is a team nobody in the Tournament wants to face. As a WSU fan, I ain’t complaining, but I would have expected those two seeds to be flip-flopped in the East. I think Texas is the first team to take out a No. 1 seed, knocking off North Carolina in the Sweet 16.

That’s it for now. I’ll have much more leading up to Thursday, including the unveiling of the “Hangin’ With The Nuss Bracket Challenge,” in which readers will get a chance to compete against me for fame and glory! Be looking for that Monday.

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