There are a lot of changes in how the NCAA tournament selection committee will assess potential at-large teams this season, with a new emphasis placed on games played at neutral sites and away from home.
One thing hasn’t changed: If everything else is equal, the committee is going to lean toward teams that played tougher nonconference schedules. That would be bad news for N.C. State, which despite its trip to the Bahamas still played one of the weakest nonconference slates in the country, if there weren’t a bunch of other teams in the same boat.
But it’s still going to be the biggest hurdle the Wolfpack will have to clear to get into the field, a problem Kevin Keatts never thought he would have in Year 1 when he scheduled just looking for wins of any kind with a patchwork squad.
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“The committee really looks at teams that have challenged themselves in the nonconference. It is a resource that we look at,” selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, the athletic director at Creighton, said Wednesday. “So we’ll look at their schedule and their intent in scheduling: Did they schedule some games away and at neutral sites in the nonconference? We call it intentional scheduling. What did they intentionally do that they didn’t have to do? Did they challenge themselves?”
Rasmussen admitted that the nonconference strength of schedule metric the committee uses can be deceptive because it’s a relatively simplistic, and the adoption of a new system that puts games in quadrants based on opponent strength and location will allow the committee to take a more granular look at things.
But it’s still hard to get past the raw numbers. Whether intentionally or as a result of the selection process, no double-digit seed has made the tournament as an at-large pick with a strength of schedule ranked 250 or worse since Air Force in 2006, according to research by freelance writer Patrick Stevens. When it comes to the final few teams in the field, that appears to be the great separator.
The best course of action for N.C. State, which currently is ranked 289th in nonconference schedule strength (and that can change between now and March 11), is still to improve its resume to the point where it removes all doubt.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock