The selection committee never sleeps

"It's healthy debate. I'd say it's spirited. Certainly not contentious," he said. "I think that is because we all come into that room with a college basketball hat, not a [conference or school] hat. We all take it seriously. No one is in there pounding a table for their team. It's not structured that way."

Injuries and/or player suspensions are part of the discussion, as they fall in line with understanding a team's body of work. Take Oklahoma State, which had a monthlong tailspin from mid-January to mid-February that included a three-game suspension for star guard Marcus Smart.

The Cowboys already had lost four games in a row with Smart playing, but it also lost all three when he was suspended. Then, when he came back, they reeled off four consecutive victories before falling in overtime at then-No. 16 Iowa State.

"We can't assume those games don't matter just because Marcus Smart didn't play," Zaninovich said. "They still played with five people. But by the other token, it's not exactly the same, either. That's where it becomes more art than science.

"You can't treat them as the same team because they are not the same team."

Ultimately, the committee has to make difficult distinctions and decisions, both with selection and seeding. Despite all the metrics available to the committee, the reality is these are subjective judgments. The committee also is well aware of which decisions will be most controversial.

That means when Wake Forest athletic director and committee chair Ron Wellman goes on CBS to discuss the new bracket on Sunday, he will be armed with several talking points to help explain the most controversial inclusions, exclusions and seeding decisions.

"We're not going to make decisions based on public reaction, but you've got to try to anticipate it and address it versus looking reactive," Zaninovich said.

Just after Gonzaga guard David Stockton, son of John, sank a layup with 1.4 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a 77-75 win over pesky Santa Clara, a happy Zaninovich says, "A good television game. That's how commissioners think." He also is happy there were no officiating controversies on the day. That's also how commissioners think.

More than once, when commissioner duties call him away from his courtside laptop and tight basketball games going on across the country, he notes, "Well, we do have a tournament to run."

That, of course, is part of the challenge of being on the tournament committee. You think like a commissioner or athletic director 80 percent of the time, then the committee requires you to pretty much ignore that aspect of your professional life and to become as objective and widely knowledgeable as possible, instead of representing and advocating for a specific institution or collection of institutions.

The resulting public perception of potential conflicts of interests on the committee, which some fans and media members often cite as root causes for various conspiracy theories, is the reason why the NCAA has moved toward more transparency with its selection process. The NCAA has hosted a "mock" selection committee for media members the past four years. The "team sheets" used by the committee members are available online. Just about the only part of the process that is off-limits is the actual committee deliberation.

The committee, in fact, has even taken to social media with a #wearewatching hashtag on Twitter.

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