JOHN MARSHALL,AP Basketball Writer
The NCAA, for the first time this season, is giving the public the same information the men's basketball committee uses to select teams for the NCAA tournament.
Even with all those numbers available, there's sure to be plenty of scrutiny when the final 68 teams are selected next month.
"There are frankly a lot of good basketball teams out there that are playing very good basketball and that adds to the challenge for the 10 committee members here in the selection room," NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee chairman Jeff Hathaway said Wednesday during a teleconference.
Selecting the teams for the NCAA tournament is one of the most dissected behind-the-scenes processes in all of sports. When the tournament added three teams to the bracket last season, the microscope seemed to zoom in even more.
This season, the NCAA added a link to its website that ranks teams by RPI, including an expanded comparison of overall and conference records, strength of schedule and records against teams within various categories of RPIs.
There's also a link for the team sheets of all 344 Division I teams, which break down the raw RPI numbers for every game on a team's schedule -- the same sheets the selection committee looks at when deciding which teams to include in the bracket.
The idea was to give the teams, fans and media a look at what the committee is basing its decisions on, though the numbers aren't the only indicators they use.
"Certainly, you need to watch teams play and I think the majority of us see teams play on multiple occasions," said Hathaway, who retired as Connecticut's athletic director last year and is now an adviser for the Big East Conference. "That gives you some further insight. How a team looks is crucial and we get out and see games throughout the season. We need to go beyond the numbers."
Last year proved that.
Virginia Commonwealth was considered a bubble team last season, one many thought more deserving of the NIT than a spot in the NCAA tournament. The Rams not only got in, they proved nearly everyone wrong with an improbable run to the Final Four, where they joined fellow mid-major Butler in Houston.
VCU's unexpected finish and the strong class of mid-majors this season give the tournament selection committee another thing to factor in during what is already shaping up to be a tough process to fill the bracket.
"The bottom line for us as a committee is that there is more quality spread throughout college basketball than we've seen in the past couple years," Hathaway said.
One change the committee will make for this year's NCAA tournament involves the final four teams that make the bracket.
When the NCAA expanded to a 68-team field last season, it decided to have a pair of play-in games called the First Four, to be played in Dayton, Ohio, the Tuesday before the main bracket started.
Clemson was among the First Four and, after winning its opening game, had a short turnaround and a long trip, playing two days later in Tampa, Fla. The tired Tigers ended up losing to West Virginia in the first round.
After evaluating last year's First Four games, Hathaway said changes will likely be made this year to avoid the travel troubles Clemson experienced, possibly putting those first teams in a bracket where the next games aren't so far away.
"You won't see them play in the first afternoon session and that's what occurred last year in the Clemson situation," Hathaway said from Indianapolis, where the committee is going through a mock selection with members of the media. "The other thing you likely will see is that there are sites that are closer to Dayton -- Columbus, Pitt -- and it's an easier travel situation, also including Louisville and Nashville."