2024 NCAA Tournament Bracket Watch: Answers from the selection committee chair – The Athletic

By Brian Bennett3h agoSupported By

(Editor’s note: This is part of the Bracket Central Series, an inside look at the run-up to the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments, along with analysis and picks during the tournaments.)

Charles McClelland’s first vote as a member of the men’s NCAA Tournament selection committee was whether to cancel the 2020 event because of COVID-19. In his second year on the committee, much of his time was spent discussing protocols to play the tournament without fans in the Indiana bubble.

So now that McClelland is the 2024 selection committee chairman and has to lead the group in sorting out a chaotic season, he can put things in perspective.

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“Debating bubble teams is so much better than saying, ‘If somebody catches COVID, will we allow that team to participate or not?’” said McClelland, who is also the SWAC commissioner. “We’re actually talking basketball now, which is what we all enjoy.”

The committee convened last week and talked a lot of basketball before releasing its initial top 16 seeds. “The only problem,” McClelland joked, “is that the teams then went out and played games.”

Nine of the top 16, including the No. 1 and No. 2 overall seeds Purdue and UConn, have lost since the reveal. But that’s the 2024-24 season in a nutshell. While the committee didn’t clash much over their choices — the top four were unanimous, and the No. 2 seeds were all agreed upon but in differing orders — that will change when it goes deeper into the field. “I anticipate some debate coming up because there’s a lot of parity this year,” McClelland said “There are going to be a lot of similar resumes, a lot of blemishes that we’re going to have to take into consideration.”

Men’s NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Charles McClelland, left, and NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt. (Courtesy of SWAC Athletics)

We caught up with the chairman this week to discuss some pertinent issues (and nominate ourselves for future committee membership … still waiting to hear back on that one).

How about the notion that certain leagues, like the Big 12, have gamed the system by playing soft nonconference schedules and then simply racking up quality wins against one another? Iowa State, for example, played the No. 323 nonconference schedule per the NET, yet had five Quad 1 wins before the reveal. (The Cyclones added another Saturday against Texas Tech before losing to Houston on Monday.) They were awarded an early No. 3 seed by the committee, 12th overall.

“We spend a significant amount of time discussing this exact topic,” McClelland said. “It’s always good for the game to play good nonconference schedules. If teams are going to play a weak nonconference schedule, it makes it critically important for them to do well in their league games. Even in the loss at Houston, it was a hard-fought game, and I think the nation could see, even if they watched just that one game and not the entirety of the season like we do, that Iowa State is a very good team and certainly deserving of the seed we gave them.

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“But if you do play a weak nonconference schedule and then you get into the league and don’t win those games against the best teams and are just kind of floating there at let’s say 9-9 … just because you have a tremendous amount of wins doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a way into the tournament.”

This week provided more evidence that winning on the road is extremely difficult. McClelland said the stats provided to the committee show that top-10 teams are winning on the road against unranked teams at about half the rate they have in the previous several years. So will road wins be extra valuable on Selection Sunday?

“It’s a red flag when almost all of your quality wins come at home,” he said. “So it’s paramount that teams prove they can win away from their home court.

“But we look at several metrics. We have tons and tons of data. Who you play, where you played and what the outcome was will always be the fundamental core of what we do.”

The quad system always creates confusion and controversy. A team can get a Quad 1 win by beating the 75th-best team (on the road) or by beating the No. 1 team. McClelland said the committee puts all results of those in context; team sheets are set up so that there are both Quad 1A-1B and Quad 2A-2B wins that separate truly high-end victories from more pedestrian ones.

“It’s not just a matter of counting Quad 1s and Quad 2s,” McClelland said. “There’s no such thing as a bad win because winning is winning especially in those first two quadrants, but they are not all created equally. Having a Quad 1 win against a team that’s not seriously considered for a spot in the tournament is still a good win, but it’s not as good as a road win over a team we have on top four lines.”

Or how about those wins that once looked good but now aren’t so much, or vice versa? We presented McClelland the example of UCLA. The Bruins were as low as No. 209 in the NET after a brutal start, but a recent hot streak has them near the top 100, meaning what was once a Quad 3 win for somebody early in the season could be a Quad 2 at the end of it.

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“There could be any number of reasons why a team is struggling — injuries, transfers, the coach not being there — so we have to take the entirety of the season into consideration,” McClelland said. “We also do that with the wins and the quads. We know this was a Quad 3 in November, but because UCLA has increased its overall level of competitiveness, it’s now a Quad 2 win. We take all that into consideration, absolutely.”

The committee reconvenes in three weeks to make the real bracket, and McClelland said the members will throw last week’s exercise out and start with fresh eyes. But they won’t need to catch up on things. McClelland told us that committee members are looking at the metrics and results every day. They are aware when a Quad 1 win slides down to the next quad or the other way around. They each have access to Synergy and can watch every game.

“A tremendous amount of work goes into making sure we’re prepared when we go into the committee room,” McClelland said. “This is what we eat and live, starting in November.”

It’s reassuring to know that the people in charge of selecting the NCAA Tournament are as obsessive about this stuff as we are.

Some other quick notes on this week’s bracket, now just 23 days until Selection Sunday:

• McClelland confirmed a few geographic questions for us. The committee would have no problem putting BYU in the Salt Lake City pod or Nebraska in Omaha — or possibly Gonzaga in Spokane — if that’s where those teams would go according to bracketing principles. And if Tennessee has geographic priority and no conflicts, it would go to Charlotte (230 miles according to Google Maps) rather than stay in state and play in Memphis (390 miles) for the first round. “We don’t jeopardize our bracketing principles, and we go based upon what those principles dictate,” McClelland said.

• We tried to keep the committee’s top 16 intact as much as possible here — not that it was too much of a change from our, ahem, 16-for-16 showing last Friday (we did have Duke as a No. 4 and Illinois as a No. 3, while the committee flipped those). But obviously, we had to adjust based on another week’s results. One major change: Creighton, coming off an upset of No. 1 UConn and a Q1 road win at Butler, zooms to the top of the No. 4 line, while struggling Wisconsin drops a seed line. Arizona remains the fourth No. 1 despite Thursday’s home loss to Washington State — but the door is now wide open for another team to grab that final spot on the top line. Washington State remains one of the best stories in college basketball and is now up to No. 25 overall on the seed list.

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• New to the field this week: Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons had been lingering on the cut line and finally got a Quad 1 win — for beating Florida on Nov. 29. They can thank the Gators’ recent surge for changing their team sheet. Wake is also up to 21st in KenPom and BPI and 27th in NET heading into Saturday’s crucial home game against Duke. The chairman’s comments about the importance of road wins and nonconference scheduling made us dubious of Ole Miss and Utah, two teams we had in last week but lack those assets.

Villanova remains our last team in — that road win against Creighton is looking better and better, to go along with the neutral-court victory against North Carolina. But the Wildcats will have to deal with an angry UConn team on Saturday so …

• Questions? Gripes? We’re not as well-informed as the chairman, but we’ll do our best to provide some insight in the comments.

First Four Dayton 16 Eastern Kentucky 16 Norfolk State Dayton 12 Seton Hall 12 Wake Forest Dayton 16 Merrimack 16 Grambling Dayton 12 Texas A&M 12 Villanova East Region (Boston) Brooklyn 1 UConn 16 Quinnipiac Brooklyn 8 Florida Atlantic 9 Boise State Pittsburgh 4 Illinois 13 Yale Pittsburgh 5 BYU 12 Appalachian State Pittsburgh 3 Iowa State 14 Vermont Pittsburgh 6 Colorado State 11 Villanova Texas A&M Charlotte 2 Tennessee 15 Colgate Charlotte 7 TCU 10 Providence South Region (Dallas) Memphis 1 Houston 16 South Dakota State Memphis 8 Florida 9 Northwestern Salt Lake City 4 San Diego State 13 Akron Salt Lake City 5 Clemson 12 South Florida Memphis 3 Alabama 14 Louisiana Tech Memphis 6 Texas Tech 11 Wake Forest Seton Hall Indianapolis 2 Marquette 15 Morehead State Indianapolis 7 Washington State 10 Nevada West Region (Los Angeles) Salt Lake City 1 Arizona 16 Eastern Kentucky Norfolk State Salt Lake City 8 Texas 9 Mississippi State Spokane 4 Creighton 13 UC Irvine Spokane 5 Wisconsin 12 McNeese State Brooklyn 3 Duke 14 Charleston Brooklyn 6 Kentucky 11 Grand Canyon Omaha 2 Kansas 15 Eastern Washington Omaha 7 Utah State 10 Nebraska Midwest Region (Detroit) Indianapolis 1 Purdue 16 Merrimack Grambling Indianapolis 8 New Mexico 9 Oklahoma Spokane 4 Auburn 13 Samford Spokane 5 Dayton 12 Indiana State Omaha 3 Baylor 14 High Point Omaha 6 Saint Mary’s 11 Virginia Charlotte 2 North Carolina 15 Oakland Charlotte 7 South Carolina 10 Michigan State

First Four Out Next Four Out Last Four In Last Four Byes
Gonzaga Drake Wake Forest Providence
Butler Virginia Tech Texas A&M Nevada
Ole Miss Cincinnati Seton Hall Nebraska
Utah James Madison Villanova Virginia

Multi-bid conferences

League Bids
Big 12 9
SEC 8
Big East 6
Big Ten 6
Mountain West 6
ACC 5
Pac-12 2
AAC 2

Seed list

1 UConn AQ
2 Purdue AQ
3 Houston AQ
4 Arizona AQ
5 North Carolina AQ
6 Tennessee AQ
7 Marquette
8 Kansas
9 Alabama
10 Baylor
11 Iowa State
12 Duke
13 Creighton
14 San Diego State AQ
15 Illinois
16 Auburn
17 Clemson
18 BYU
19 Dayton AQ
20 Wisconsin
21 Texas Tech
22 Colorado State
23 Saint Mary’s AQ
24 Kentucky
25 Washington State
26 South Carolina
27 Utah State
28 TCU
29 New Mexico
30 Florida Atlantic
31 Texas
32 Florida
33 Mississippi State
34 Oklahoma
35 Northwestern
36 Boise State
37 Michigan State
38 Providence
39 Nevada
40 Nebraska
41 Virginia
42 Grand Canyon AQ
43 Wake Forest
44 Seton Hall
45 Texas A&M
46 Villanova
47 Indiana State AQ
48 South Florida AQ
49 Appalachian State AQ
50 McNeese Sate AQ
51 Samford AQ
52 UC Irvine AQ
53 Yale AQ
54 Akron AQ
55 Louisiana Tech AQ
56 Vermont AQ
57 High Point AQ
58 Charleston AQ
59 Eastern Washington AQ
60 Oakland AQ
61 Morehead State AQ
62 Colgate AQ
63 Quinnipiac AQ
64 South Dakota State AQ
65 Eastern Kentucky AQ
66 Merrimack AQ
67 Norfolk State AQ
68 Grambling AQ

The Bracket Central series is part of a partnership with E*TRADE.

The Athletic maintains full editorial independence. Partners have no control over or input into the reporting or editing process and do not review stories before publication.

(Top photo of Iowa State’s Tamin Lipsey and Houston’s Joseph Tugler: David J. Phillip / AP)

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Brian Bennett is a senior editor for The Athletic covering college basketball. He previously wrote about college sports for ESPN.com for nine years and The (Louisville) Courier-Journal for nine years prior to that. Follow Brian on Twitter @GBrianBennett

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