5 toughest decisions facing the NCAA men's tournament selection committee

Shortly before midnight Saturday, NCAA media coordinator for March Madness David Worlock sent out a telling tweet.

He said the 12 members of the men's basketball selection committee are still working hard to evaluate the teams in the field of 68.

For the past five days, committee members have been holed up in a hotel in Carmel, Indiana, watching games and analyzing resumes. Here's a look at the biggest decisions they'll have to make before 6pm ET on Sunday when CBS reveals the final bracket:

1. Who should get the final No. 1 seed?

It has been a near certainty for weeks that UConn, Purdue and Houston will claim three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

The most interesting race was for the final No. 1 seed.

Tennessee appeared to be in first place before a faceplant against Mississippi State in the SEC quarterfinals sent the Vols back into the fold. North Carolina State looked poised to capitalize before an ACC title game loss to 10th-seeded NC State left the door open for someone else. That someone could be Iowa State, which jumped from the fringes of the conversation to the forefront with a stunning 69-41 win over Houston to capture the Big 12 tournament title.

It's a close call for the eventual No. 1 seed

It's a close call for the eventual No. 1 seed

Glance at the comparison above, and it might seem like this is a two-team race between North Carolina and Iowa State. The Tar Heels have the best winning percentage in first quarter games. The Hurricanes had the most wins in the first quarter. Both have fewer losses than Tennessee.

However, dig a little deeper, and it's possible to make an argument for Tennessee as well. The Vols have more Division I wins over teams in the NET's top 25 than North Carolina or Iowa State. They also have yet to lose to a non-NCAA tournament team assuming Texas A&M heard its name called Sunday.

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If the committee is torn apart, the tiebreaker could be North Carolina's 100-92 blowout win over Tennessee on Nov. 29 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels never trailed and led by as many as 24 points early in the second half.

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The benefit of the final No. 1 seed is not seeing UConn, Houston or Purdue until at least the Final Four. North Carolina, Iowa State, or Tennessee would be first in the West Region with Arizona coming in second.

2. Who is the No. 1 overall seed?

UConn coach Dan Hurley made his case for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night after the Huskies won the Big East tournament title.

Hurley candidly told reporters that he feels UConn “has been the best team in college basketball” since the season began more than four months ago.

“Obviously next week for March Madness, who knows what's going on there, but obviously we were the best program in the country this year,” Hurley said.

At its best, UConn was undoubtedly the most dominant team in the country. Now the Huskies may also boast the strongest resume.

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Around the same time that UConn put Marquette away on Saturday night, fellow No. 1 seed Houston suffered a stunning 69-41 defeat in Big 12 play at the hands of Iowa State. Hours earlier, Purdue was knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament in the semifinals with an overtime loss to Wisconsin.

While UConn's conference tournament title may be a tiebreaker, the margin between the Huskies (31-3), Houston and Purdue remains razor-thin. Houston (30-4) won the nation's strongest conference ever and had the most first-quarter wins in the nation. Purdue (29-4) still has the strongest collection of Division I wins, 11 wins over NET Top 25 opponents.

The good news for all three contenders is that it doesn't matter who actually gets the top seed this year. The biggest advantage is usually the chance to pick your way to the Final Four, but the more geographically convenient paths for UConn, Purdue and Houston don't seem to overlap.

UConn's preferred path in pursuit of repeat national title numbers is first- and second-round games in Brooklyn before traveling to the Eastern Conference in Boston. Purdue's preferred path would likely be Indianapolis to Detroit's Midwest Regional. Houston's preferred path appears to be Memphis to the Dallas South Regional.

UConn coach Dan Hurley believes his team is the best in the country.  (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)UConn coach Dan Hurley believes his team is the best in the country.  (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

UConn coach Dan Hurley believes his team is the best in the country. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

3. What will the committee value when assessing the bubble?

The committee faces a tougher challenge than usual this year when trying to choose among the final contenders for the NCAA Tournament.

There is a surplus of deserving bubble teams after a few overall hopefuls made brave last-minute charges and bid thieves reduced the number of places available.

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What this means is that the gap between the teams under consideration for the final places is smaller than ever. The deciding factor may be what qualities this particular committee values ​​most in a bubble team.

At least once every few years, the committee seems to close the door on a bubble team that hasn't adequately challenged itself in non-league play. If that happens again on Sunday, the most vulnerable bubble team by far will be Pittsburgh, which has compiled a non-conference strength of schedule that ranks 343rd in the NET.

Other committees were adamant about rewarding bubble teams that showed they could overcome NCAA Tournament-level competition. If this is the No. 1 criteria for this year's committee, Texas A&M can expect to hear its name called. The Aggies have had more first-quarter wins than any bubble team. They also happen to have something ridiculous five 3rd quarter losses

This committee probably relies too heavily on predictive metrics to differentiate bubble teams. This would be welcome news for Michigan State, which is a top 25 WNBA and KenPom team despite having 14 losses. It would be disastrous for Seton Hall, which hovers in the 60s by both metrics despite more impressive wins and fewer losses than the Spartans.

Whatever this committee's estimates, the choices will be the subject of heated debate. Expect the final few offers to come down to a group of teams that include Texas A&M and St. John's. John's, Virginia, Seton Hall, Indiana State, Pittsburgh, and Providence.

4. Is 28-win Indiana State in or out?

The longest week of Indiana State basketball coach Josh Schertz's career began last Sunday when the Sycamores lost to Drake in a thrilling Missouri Valley Conference title game.

Since then, Indiana has watched helplessly as other bubble teams bolstered their resumes with late fees while playing for the conference championship.

At 28-6, Indiana boasts the bubble's most impressive record and strong overall rankings in NCAA team sheet metrics. The Sycamores rank 30th in the NCAA's NET rankings, 41st in scoring power and 45th in KenPom, all numbers that suggest this team belongs in the public conversation.

Indiana State's .500 record versus the first two quarters is respectable for a bubble team. Sycamore's 15-5 record away from home is impressive. It's a solid resume, except for the fact that Indiana State has rarely beaten any NCAA Tournament caliber team.

Sycamore is 1-4 in first-quarter games this season. They lost two of the three games they played against Missouri Valley Conference runner-up Drake. In their only two games this season against Power Conference opponents, they lost by 22 points at Alabama and by 12 points at Michigan State.

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What should the commission do with Indiana? A fairer option would be a trip to Dayton for a top-four matchup against a Power Conference bubble team. This would give the sycamores a chance to prove their affiliation.

What will Does the commission do with the state of Indiana? The Sycamores could be one of the last teams taken off the field, a victim of conference championship thieves or another bubble team's last-minute rush.

5. How does the committee seed injury-plagued Kansas State?

Earlier this week, Kansas coach Bill Self provided an update on injured All-Americans Hunter Dickinson and Kevin McCullar.

Self “probably could have” played in the Big 12 tournament with a bone bruise in his left knee if Kansas' season was on the line, McCullar said. The persistent injury has bothered McCullar since January and got worse after the 6-foot-7 senior had it repaired earlier this month.

The prognosis for Dickinson's right shoulder dislocation is similarly optimistic, according to Self. Doctors wanted Dickinson to pass some tests before being cleared to play, but the 7-footer “should be ready to play next week,” Self said.

These are the kind of answers you would expect to be given to you days before the scheduled Sunday. Now it's the committee's job to decide what to do with those responses and whether the injuries should impact Kansas' rankings.

At full strength, Kansas (22-10, 10-8) is devoid of depth but dangerous. This is the team that has wins both of them UConn, Houston and also beat the likes of Tennessee, Kentucky and Baylor. The starting five are among the best in the country. The resume doesn't deserve any worse than the No. 4 seed despite the Jayhawks' late-season swoon.

With McCullar and Dickinson at less than full strength or out of the lineup, Kansas goes from thin to undermanned. The Jayhawks lost by 30 to Houston in the regular season finale and then by 20 to Cincinnati in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. A quality No. 13 seed will drool when you draw this version of this team.

While top-ranked Cincinnati was demoted to a No. 2 seed in 2000 after National Player of the Year Kenyon Martin tore his ACL, subsequent selection committees have been very cautious in punishing teams with injured players. We expect the commission to take a similar approach this year with Kansas.

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