The Selection Sunday waiting game

Gregg MarshallAP Photo/Rick Bowmer

The idea was floated to John Giannini more as a joke than an actual suggestion, but the La Salle coach, just one year removed from sweating out Selection Sunday, jumped at it anyway.

What if, instead of revealing the top seeds at the start of the selection show, the broadcasts began with the unveiling of the last teams invited to the NCAA tournament. In other words, start with the bubble teams that got in?

"Oh my God, what a great idea!" Giannini said. "That's a humanistic and merciful suggestion. Unfortunately, the rest of America wants to know the 1-seeds but the people who have invested years of work, we'd sure like to be put out of our misery."

Selection Sunday is both the best and cruelest day of the college basketball season -- Christmas morning with all the trimmings for some, a Charlie Brown Halloween bag full of rocks for others.

"The best reality TV show ever," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli has called it, and he's probably not far off. It's got all of the unpredictability of "Jersey Shore" mixed with the big reveal of "The Bachelor," fortunately without Snooki, Seaside Heights and group dates in Bora Bora.

The stories and tales from the day sometimes are almost as unforgettable as the games that follow.

Last year, their bus stuck in traffic on the way out of Brooklyn, Saint Louis players heard their name called on a bank of TVs at a New Jersey Best Buy.

In 2011, VCU player Jamie Skeen, so sure his team would be passed over, didn't even bother to wipe the buffalo sauce off his fingers to answer his suddenly vibrating phone when the Rams were, in fact, added to the field.

At 6 p.m. ET, teams and fans across the country will take a deep breath and wait to see how a season's worth of work is rewarded or rejected.

But the drama doesn't begin with the show.

It begins with the sheer effort of just getting to the start of the show.

There are very few sure things in life. Wichita State, at 34-0, is a sure thing, a short-of-an-asteroid-hitting-the-Earth 1-seed lock when the bracket is finally revealed.

That doesn't mean the buildup to Sunday has been easy. The Shockers stopped playing games a week ago, wrapping up the Missouri Valley tournament and an automatic bid days before some teams even started to play their conference tourneys.

In between there has been the same endless chatter and debate that has dogged Wichita State all season -- about the Shockers' schedule strength or perceived lack thereof, and whether or not it merits a coveted top seed.

It's never easy to ignore, but certainly a little less difficult when the busy work of playing games fills up the calendar. But with no games to play and time to kill, there was plenty of white noise if the Shockers chose to listen.

They did not.

"I saw a great quote on Twitter the other day from Chadrack Lufile: 'Wolves do not fret about the opinions of sheep,'" Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. "You can't dwell on those types of things. We realize there are detractors and haters. That just fuels our fire."

Marshall is no stranger to this, not the detractors nor the waiting game. He has yet to walk the gold-paved road of the haves of college basketball. He came to Wichita by way of Winthrop.

At least his time there taught Marshall how to handle what essentially has become a bye week between conference tourney and NCAA tourney.

It's an awkward time, the intensity of games and pregame practices screeching to a halt, a team instead stuck in neutral.

Marshall has found the right mix for him and his teams, choosing to ease off the practice gas pedal in the early part of the week, allowing his players to rest and concentrate more on individual skills.

"I've always sold it as an advantage," he said. "There's time to rest, to sharpen a couple of things that have slipped. I love it. You can sit back and watch everyone else stress."

Not everyone sees the layoff quite like Marshall.

Rick Byrd has spent 38 years at Belmont, the last 13 in search of a Division I Big Dance ticket. Six times the Bruins have won their conference tournament, earning a viewing party on Selection Sunday, but even now Byrd struggles with the time off.

The first time Belmont won an automatic bid, as an Atlantic Sun member in 2006, Byrd figured he'd give his players a mini-vacation. It was spring break anyway, so he let them take it easy until Thursday.

"It didn't take long for us to get out of shape," said Byrd, whose Bruins lost to UCLA 78-44 that year.

Last year Belmont got back to work on Tuesday. The Bruins still lost, falling to Arizona 81-64.

"We're 0-for-6; I mean we're playing really good teams and we're not supposed to win those games individually," he said. "But I've often wondered if we'd be better off if we didn't have to wait 10 days to play."

No one, of course, has it as tough as bubble teams.

Last year, La Salle lost to Butler in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals, offering up a 21-9 record to the selection committee.

That was on a Friday, an endless 48 hours away from Selection Sunday.

Giannini suddenly turned into the biggest fan in college basketball. Eschewing the advice of other previous bubble-dwelling coaches, he watched every game he thought might impact his Explorers' situation, rooting for chalk wins instead of upsets that would eat up at-large bids.

"The happiness when the right team won was like my own team winning a big game,'' he said. "I think my magical rooting powers worked.''

Whatever anxiety and worry he might have felt inwardly, Giannini offered a completely different persona to his team. Like a parent preparing his kids for the worst and hoping for the best, he told his Explorers that if the worst thing that happened was an NIT bid with a chance to go to New York, they'd have plenty to celebrate.

He knew it was a hard sell but he wanted to make sure that his players weren't, in his words, "crushed" if they didn't make it.

In the meantime, he did as much reconnaissance work as he could, asking people whose opinions he trusted about La Salle's bubble chances, checking out Joe Lunardi's Bracketology regularly (Lunardi always had the Explorers in).

The biggest decision, of course, was what to do about the show itself. Ultimately, Giannini decided to open it up -- to the student body, to fans and most of all, to TV crews -- hoping that his feedback was accurate and his good karma would work.

And then they started revealing the brackets, region by region, team by team and still no La Salle.

Suddenly the anxiety in the room was a little more palpable, the TV lights a little hotter.

"All that feedback, they aren't the official word and when there's 60 names called and you're down to the last eight, yeah at that point, I doubted everything," Giannini said.

Which is why he'd like to move that for a kinder, gentler Selection Sunday.

"Unveil the bubble teams first," he said. "Please."