When, if ever, should the NCAA Selection Committee take into account injuries or suspensions in coming up with the teams for the NCAA Tournament? I asked a group of people that cover NCAA basketball that question. The respondents were Jay Bilas and Sean Farnham, ESPN; Nicole Auerbach, USA Today; Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News & Big Ten Network; and Jerry Palm, CBS Sports.
I asked each of them the following:
Do you believe the NCAA Selection Committee should take injuries and other factors (coach suspensions, etc) into account when making their selections for at-large spots? To what extent, and in what cases do you think it’s appropriate? Would your answer be different for seeding the teams, versus selecting who gets into the field?
I also provided four examples of situations that could come up from the 2016 season in regard to seeding or selecting teams: LSU with Keith Hornsby and ; Michigan without Caris LeVert, if he comes back to play before end of season; Gonzaga losing Przemek Karnowski after some early season games, and the converse, Wichita State missing Fred Van Vleet during several early losses. [NOTE: I asked these questions before it came out that Keith Hornsby might miss the rest of the season.]
The responses were varied–ranging from full consideration to it should be considered in seeding to protect the integrity of the bracket, to it being no factor–showing that there is no true consensus on the best way to handle it.
JAY BILAS, ESPN
I do believe the Committee should take injuries and other factors into account. Those variables should not be used as excuses, but to understand the strength of teams in order to properly select and seed those teams. For example, if a No. 1 and unbeaten Cincinnati loses Kenyon Martin for the season with five games left in the season and loses four of its remaining games, I would find it somewhat irresponsible to seed Cincinnati as a No. 1 or No. 2, even if its overall record might demand it. That is an injury that materially affects the team and how good that team is. Similarly, if Clemson beats a No. 1 and unbeaten Kentucky, but Kentucky has two players suspended and one injured, one cannot give Clemson credit for beating Kentucky at full strength, with the attendant RPI boost.
While losses are losses, the quality of performance by the winning and losing team is important and should be factored in reasonably and responsibly. There is no formula that can be derived to quantify or measure the value of a win or loss for selection or seeding purposes, and the basketball judgment of each Committee member must be relied upon. That is why I have advocated that all Committee members have significant basketball experience to make the process better.
On specific situation with LSU:
What LSU is with Victor and Hornsby is important. One should not dismiss the losses before they became available, but the team LSU has become with them in the line-up is more instructive of the team that will compete in the NCAA Tournament.
On Caris LeVert if he can return for Michigan (and bonus Syracuse comments):
Losses should not be dismissed, but if LeVert returns and remains, and Michigan is a better team with him in the line-up, it should be considered. If Michigan qualifies as an at-large team but has the overall resume of a 10-seed, but with LeVert, Michigan has the profile of a 5-seed, I believe that should be taken into account and factored in. If it is not, it is not a punishment for Michigan, but it is a punishment for the team that Michigan is slated to play.
Also, there seems to be a vigilante group that wants Jim Boeheim’s suspension to be ignored as if it is part of Syracuse’s punishment. The punishment was the suspension, not the selection or seeding of the Orange in the Tournament. The Committee should not punish or send messages. If Syracuse’s play without Boeheim is not factored in, and Syracuse is given a lower seed to “send a message” or further punish the Orange, the real injury is to the opponents’ of Syracuse who will draw a much tougher opponent in Syracuse than their higher seed earned.
On Gonzaga and Wichita State:
If Gonzaga proves to be a lesser team without Karnowski, such a diminishment should be taken into account. For example, the losses by Washington and UConn could very well have been “better” losses than those teams losing to Gonzaga in February.
Same analysis. Wichita State is clearly better with VanVleet in the line-up. If we simply go by strict wins and losses, we don’t need a Committee. Rather, we can have a computer do the math and spit out a Tournament bracket. The truth is, that would probably yield just as good of a Tournament field, but it wouldn’t be quite as interesting.
On where we draw the line:
We don’t draw the line. While there are certain principles the Committee uses, there is no reason for strict rules for selection and seeding. If that would lead to a better result, I would be all for it. The only thing that would lead to better results would be more basketball expertise on the Committee. Right now, there simply isn’t enough of it. That is not to say the Committee does a poor job. It does not. But, with more basketball expertise, the Committee would do a better job.
SEAN FARNHAM, ESPN
Yes I think it is important to get a fair look at the team when they are whole vs. when parts are out due to injury, transfer rules or coaching suspensions. If a team is a .500 team without two starters in the non-conference and gets two starters back and become a .750 team, which one most accurately paints the picture of that collection of talent?
The line for me is when a player is not returning like Gonzaga. There is no chance Karnowski returns for better or worse. They are who they are, so this is an example where injuries can be evaluated in the selection/seeding, in my opinion, only if that player is returning. Like what we have seen with Fred Van Vleet and Wichita State, they clearly in Orlando over Thanksgiving week were not the same team they were when he got back. You right now could use this thought process with Derek Willis and Kentucky. If his ankle keeps him out, it drastically changes their offense and the plays called by Coach Cal, while limiting the outside shooting for UK. So we will see how it plays out if he misses any time.
NICOLE AUERBACH, USA TODAY
I think they do take this into consideration. They do not completely throw away results, but we have seen for years how these factors can impact seeding (usually seeding, not selection). What’s most important when thinking about these factors is the timing. Was it a short-term injury (like Denzel Valentine’s) that the player returned from? Or is it a season-ending injury to a star player that’s suffered on March 1 and will impact the way the team plays in the tournament? The committee pays attention to who is available when, but also who will be available heading into the tournament.
I personally think this issue is a bit overblown, to be quite honest. The committee is very transparent on how it handles injuries, and it does the same thing every year. It discusses them (as it would a controversial ending, or any other factors that come into play) but never ignores a game’s outcome because of them. But I will say I would think this impacts seeding much more than selection. And I don’t think it excuses teams who lose without their star players (otherwise we would see players “fake” injuries or illnesses and skip marquee games every single season) — or completely knocks a team down six seed lines if their star player has a season-ending injury. There are a LOT of rational people in that committee room.
RPI is important, and it’s affected by a lot of things. I would argue that even without a couple of key players, LSU has no business losing to the College of Charleston, no matter what time of year. It also isn’t helping LSU that the SEC has a few teams (notably Missouri and Auburn) that are dragging down RPI numbers for the whole league. I think the committee will look at how the Tigers are playing with the roster they’ll be taking into the tournament, but I think the team also has some bad losses that won’t be erased simply because Hornsby and Victor weren’t there. They still had arguably the best player in the country on the court in those games.
I will add, though, in light of reports that Hornsby may be out for the rest of the season … well, that’s a completely different story. The committee won’t have to speculate how LSU would play without him; they know, and it’s not good. So, that particular season-ending injury is a worst-case scenario type of deal for LSU.
On Michigan and LeVert:
Yes, if LeVert returns, plays well and is available for the tournament that should affect Michigan. I also think it’s helped the Wolverines quite a bit that they haven’t suffered any bad losses without LeVert (and, in fact, have accumulated a few huge wins). But like I said, a lot of player injury/availability discussion should center on who will be available for the tournament. And if that player is significant to the team’s success.
On Gonzaga and Wichita State:
Sure, Gonzaga might get dinged a little bit because Karnowski isn’t available the rest of the season. But I think the Zags have enough to worry about at the moment — more losses than normal in the nonconference, two league losses already — that they might need to win the WCC tournament to secure the auto-bid to make the tournament to begin with. Let’s start there, then worry about seeding later.
Those early-season losses for Wichita State are nothing compared to TWO sub-100 losses to Illinois State and Northern Iowa. The early-season losses make the margin for error smaller because normally the Shockers have an incredibly solid resume built by conference play and are almost guaranteed an at-large bid. This year, that’s not the case and it’s compounded by the two really damaging league losses. Like Gonzaga, I’m starting to think Wichita State might need to nab the auto-bid to be safely in.
If in the field, I do think the committee will definitely consider VanVleet’s absence in the four early games and they could end up a slightly higher seed than expected because of that.
MIKE DECOURCY, SPORTING NEWS & BIG TEN NETWORK
I’ve never been a believer that the committee should take injuries into account when assessing teams for at-large selection. It’s part of the game, just like bad calls, bad decisions and missed shots.
The committee opened this door for themselves years ago and now every team that loses a star player for a month and winds up .500 because of it believes they should be in the field. In the NFL playoffs, if you lose your starting QB they don’t grade you on a curve. You get in or you don’t.
As far as player or coach suspensions and considering those in the selection process, that’s absolute nonsense. You want credit for bad behavior? Garbage.
One area where I am in favor of considering the impact of injuries is with seeding. If a team is 24-9 but lost five of those games while a star player was absent, it’s quite likely that team is better than 24-9. For me, in that circumstance it’s not about rewarding the team that had the player miss games so much as it is protecting the team it might play.
Let’s say that 24-9 record on its face might translate to a No. 6 seed. But overall the team had otherwise played like a 3. Well, if the team is placed on the 6 line then a true No. 3 seed has to play them in the second round. Is that fair to the team that compiled a 3 seed’s body of work beginning to end? I think not. That’s why I’d incorporate the impact of injuries — and yes, maybe even suspensions — in considering where to place an otherwise qualified team on the bracket.
JERRY PALM, CBS SPORTS
Everyone has problems, some worse than others, but it’s rare for a team to go through a season without some sort of roster issue. I don’t think too much consideration should be given to that. I certainly don’t think the committee should ever make the mistake of ignoring games not played at full strength, or worse, assuming a loss would have been a win. I think that even if you set out to do something like that, you would find the task overwhelming. After that, people would want you to overturn or ignore results affected by officiating errors late in games (actually, they already do). And if they ever do decide to ignore, overturn, or just “discount” a game because of a roster issue, don’t they have to do it for both teams?
As an example, kind of, take a look at Wichita State this year. People like to make excuses for their early losses without Van Vleet, but they took their two worst losses of the season at full strength just in the last two weeks. If they can’t beat UNI at home at full strength, how can you assume they would have won any of those other games they lost?
The job of selecting and seeding the field is hard enough as it is. Trying to divine the impact of injuries and other roster issues, especially when there are such a tremendous number of them, is not something that can be done in a reasonable and fair way across the board. So, I think it’s better that they are left out of the equation.