On Wednesday morning, NCAA tournament Selection Committee chair Ron Wellman declared his group ready. Everyone was in the room. Some had taken red-eye flights overnight to get there. They were reviewing their “important information,” as Wellman put it. And as of 1 p.m. ET, they would begin the process of bracket-related deliberation and voting that ultimately would fill the tournament field – and inevitably fill certain sectors of fans with withering fury about those decisions.
One issue that they will watch closely, while others will watch them closely for it: Joel Embiid's back, and what missing him this week means for Kansas' seeding and placement.
“Where that puts the Jayhawks next week, we haven't even started those discussions yet,” Wellman said on a teleconference Wednesday morning. “I can assure you that the committee members are well aware of the that injury. We will be following it throughout the week. We will be in contact with Kansas to get various updates.
“So we will be in as good a position as we possibly can be to place Kansas in the right seed line and the right location in following that injury and the impact that injury could have upon Kansas. You need to remember, too, that we have seen Kansas play three times without him now. We'll have the opportunity to see Kansas play a number of times possibly this week in their conference tournament without him.”
Embiid, the 7-foot freshman and Big 12 defensive player of the year, will miss the Big 12 tournament with a stress fracture in his back and is a “longshot” for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, per Kansas' official release on the matter Monday.
Wellman, the athletic director at Wake Forest, said the committee will gather all possible information on any injury – and then it's up to each committee member to interpret it.
But discussion of Kansas with or without Embiid will not be reduced solely to what games the Jayhawks won and what games they did not. Clearly, Kansas was able to win without Embiid in the lineup or with his minutes significantly reduced for one reason or another, but the impact of his absence – especially on the defensive end – was notable regardless.
“In any situation whether it regards an injury or an overall evaluation of a team,” Wellman said, “the committee not only looks at the victory or the won-loss record, we look at how the team played, who they played, where they played that particular team. So it is a very deep evaluation of a team that goes way beyond whether they won or lost that particular game.”
And then there's the matter of what Kansas or any other school deems fit to tell the committee. What the Jayhawks believe to be the case with Embiid – that he can hopefully play during the regionals weekend (March 27-30), should the team advance that far – might not actually be the case. But there, again, the committee can only proceed with what information it has.
“We have to rely upon what the schools tell us,” Wellman said. “We don't have a CIA operation here where we can go in the backdoor and find out information that they are not giving us. So we do rely upon the school's truthfulness with us and we believe they do tell us the truth.
“Sometimes it doesn't pan out the way they predict. But they believe they do their best to give us the very best diagnosis.”
Here's an assortment of what else Wellman said, non-Kansas division:
On whether this is the most wide-open he's seen an NCAA tournament field: "I'm looking at some of the committee members right now and they're all shaking their heads yes. I think it is, in the five years I've been on the committee anyway. But we say this every year, so maybe there's more and more parity in college basketball every year. This year is unlike any of the five years that I have seen. There is an awful lot of parity and balance in the game which will make it more challenging for the committee, but should produce a really exciting tournament as well."
On the breadth of data the selection committee uses: "The committee is very aware of everything. The committee looks at every piece of data that we can put our hands on. Kenpom, RPI, all that data, we have a list of data points that we can use. Sagarin, the LRNC, it just goes on and on. Various committee members will emphasize and use that data to various degrees. Some of them will reply on certain data more than others. So it just depends upon the committee member. This process can be very subjective."
On the impact of Sunday afternoon conference tournament title games: "It can have an impact, obviously, depending on which teams are in that championship game. The committee will be prepared for that eventuality if it does occur by having a number of contingency plans, whether it be selection, seeding or bracketing. There have been a number of years where there have been four or five brackets active very late in the game, whether it be the SEC championship or other reasons. But the committee will be well-prepared for any possibility late Sunday afternoon." On attendance issues at some second- and third-round sites recently: "We believe this year is going to be an attractive tournament and the tickets will eventually be sold out. We're very encouraged by the ticket sales that have occurred thus far. There are a number of issues nationally that are going on that are affecting attendance of not only college athletics and college basketball, but other sports. Look at professional sports, they are being affected as well, with the options that fans have today to view games, whether it be big-screen TVs or a number of other options probably, as well. But we are encouraged that this tournament is going to be a very attractive tournament to the fans."