What Georgetown accomplished by reclaiming the Big East Tournament championship didn’t just ruin Creighton’s Saturday evening and cause an outbreak of heartburn from Syracuse to Boise. The Hoyas also made a challenging job even trickier for the members of the NCAA men’s basketball committee.
Known colloquially as the “selection committee,” they now must deal with how to seed into a field filled with elite mid-major teams, successful major-conference teams and this year’s powerhouses a Georgetown team that won four games in four days and still only managed to scramble to a position one game over the .500 mark.
For the Hoyas, getting the chance to play in the NCAA for the first time since 2015 “means everything,” as coach Patrick Ewing told Fox Sports late Saturday. “We started from the bottom; now we’re No. 1 in the Big East.”
NCAA TOURNAMENT: List of automatic bids
The Hoyas were picked to finish last in the league’s official preseason poll, and they came close, placing eighth in the 11-team league with a 7-9 record. The four wins they earned this week at Madison Square Garden lifted their overall record for the season to 13-12.
But they did win four games in four days, two of them against NCAA-bound teams and one against a Seton Hall team fighting to gain an at-large spot but likely failing with a semifinal loss to the Hoyas. Which is why seeding them into the NCAA bracket is such a nightmare.
To place Georgetown on the No. 12 line would be to elevate the Hoyas, who would have had zero chance to be included in the NCAA field without winning the Big East Tournament, with teams such as Drake and Syracuse. They likely earned their spots in the field over the course of the full season and might be required to play an extra game, in the First Four, to gain the right to face a No. 5 seed in a first-round game.
To place the Hoyas too deep in the bracket, say as a 14th seed, would be forcing a team that excelled all season and earned a No. 3 seed to deal with a team that just got done smashing Creighton 73-48. The Hoyas’ best-known player, center Qudus Wahab, averages 12.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Guard Jahvon Blair averaged 15.7 points. Freshman guard Dante Harris was the breakout star of the Big East championship, getting 18 points against Villanova, 15 against Seton Hall and 10 in the Creighton win, nearly doubling his total of double-figure scoring games for the year.
The NCAA hasn’t dealt with such an issue in more than a decade. The automatic qualifiers from the major conferences in 2019, the last time we had March Madness, had an average record of 28-8. In conferences accustomed to producing multiple tournament entrants, usually someone who would be qualified as an at-large team claims the AQ spot.
The last time anything like this occurred, interestingly enough, was the last time a major conference tournament was completed in a relatively empty gym.
In 2008, the Southeastern Conference was staging its championship tournament at the Georgia Dome. As Mississippi State and Alabama were contesting overtime of their quarterfinal game late on a Friday night, a tornado blew through downtown Atlanta and damaged the building. The teams were able to complete that game, but the damage was significant enough that the league moved the remainder of the event to the Alexander Memorial Coliseum at Georgia Tech.
Because most of the ticketholders could not be accommodated, the SEC chose to allow only bands, cheer squads and family members to attend. From all of that, a Georgia Bulldogs team that had entered the SEC championship at 13-16 won four consecutive games — three of them over NCAA Tournament-bound opponents — and claimed the automatic bid.
The Bulldogs were placed on the bracket with a 14 seed. That certainly was not a great team, but it was led by future NBA guard Sundiata Gaines and two more players who became 1,000-point scorers in a legit high-major league. The coaches at Xavier, whose team earned a No. 3 seed with a 27-6 regular season, were not pleased about having to cope with that degree of talent in a first-round game. The Musketeers won the game and went onto the Elite Eight. But they would rather have faced a mid-major conference champion.
Someone near the top of this year’s NCAA bracket will be dealing with a first-round opponent like few others: a high-major conference champion assigned a double-digit seed.
Based on how the Hoyas performed during the Big East Tournament in a similar circumstance, it might be just the draw they’re hoping to see.