NCAA tweaks First Four rule in NCAA tournament selection process

ByAndy Katz ESPN logo
Monday, July 20, 2015

UCLA was one of the most questionable at-large additions to the NCAA tournament's field of 68. But since the Bruins weren't technically one of the last four at-large teams in the field, they weren't eligible to play in the First Four in Dayton.

Now a team like UCLA, which reached the Sweet 16, could easily be slotted for the First Four after the men's basketball selection committee tweaked its principles and procedures during its summer meeting in San Diego.

The NCAA released the new wrinkle that could have an effect on who plays in Dayton and must play five games instead of four to reach the Final Four -- something VCU did in 2011.

Under the old rules, the last four at-large teams voted into the field were automatically slotted into the First Four. The last four No. 16 seeds are also slotted for the First Four, and that won't change.

Last March, the last four at-large teams were Dayton, Boise State, BYU and Ole Miss. UCLA and Texas, two teams which were late at-large adds but not the last ones, weren't compared to those teams. Now they can be.

The men's basketball selection committee can now take teams who were already voted into the field and compare them against the last four. That means the selection committee could have compared Ole Miss [the highest-ranked team among the last four] with UCLA and decided the Rebels were more deserving of a regular spot in the field and avoid the First Four.

The committee also tweaked the ruling on where a No. 2 seed can be placed. Prior to selections, there was a potential backlash brewing against the committee if it had placed Wisconsin as a No. 2 in the region with top No. 1 Kentucky -- solely based on geographic proximity to Midwest site Cleveland -- even if the Badgers were the top No. 2.

Wisconsin won the Big Ten tournament, making the decision moot as the Badgers earned a No. 1 seed out West.

Now, the committee can move the top No. 2 -- or the fifth team on the seed line -- if it determines a move is necessary, regardless of proximity. In last March's case if Wisconsin had been the top No. 2, then it could have been placed as the No. 2 in the East with Villanova in the Syracuse region instead of Cleveland.

This also gives the committee the flexibility if two teams from the same conference were the top No. 1 [let's say Duke] and the top No. 2 [Virginia, for example] to be placed in different regions.

"It's a small, yet significant, alteration to the language outlining our seeding process," Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione, the chair of the 2016 NCAA tournament, said in a statement. "Making this change gives the committee the opportunity to properly seed every team, whereas previous procedures did not permit appropriate scrubbing of the last four at-large teams.

"Selecting teams usually involves looking at teams in groups of eight. Scrubbing is comparing two teams against one another and sometimes there's greater clarity during that process due to head-to-head competition, record versus common opponents or wins against tournament teams. This tweak provides us with the opportunity to scrub teams even more thoroughly."

The tweaks don't address one issue that nearly arose on Selection Sunday. The First Four is limited to at-large teams for the non-No. 16 seed games. On Selection Sunday this year, UConn, which wouldn't have made the field without winning the American Athletic Conference tournament, lost to SMU in the American title game.

Had UConn won, then the Huskies would have vaulted into the regular portion of the field, even though they would have been the last team in the field on a nonautomatic qualifier seed line.

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