Izzo: NCAA selection process needs more nuance

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said his experience on the NCAA tournament bubble this year was both exciting and a reminder that the way teams are selected might need to change in the future.

Ahead of his team’s matchup with Mississippi State, Izzo said Wednesday that he agrees with St. John’s coach Rick Pitino, who argued the NCAA tournament selection committee needs more input from former players and coaches rather than relying so heavily on athletic directors dissecting analytics.

“There definitely should be some coaches and players on that thing to bring some levity to as crazy as it’s gotten,” Izzo said. “I never know what the NET means, what KenPom means, what ESPN means or the Daily News. There’s so many things out there right now that do influence [the committee].”

After St. John’s missed the tournament this year, Pitino took to social media to suggest the selection committee might benefit from input from legendary — and now retired — coaches such as Jim Boeheim, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski. The current 12-person committee is made up of nine athletic directors and three conference commissioners.

Izzo agreed, saying analytics often miss the nuance and complications of a long basketball season.

“I’m appreciative of being in, and I wouldn’t have felt any different if I was out, but I think it would be best if people who’ve been in the game and have been around,” he said. “[They] understand when you lose a game and something happens — you play three tough games in a row; analytics don’t show injuries or they show when a guy misses a game but not when he plays hurt.”

The Spartans (19-14, 10-10 Big Ten) are a 9-seed in this year’s tournament, and while they seemed safe for a bid heading into March, a number of upsets in conference tournaments among mid-majors put Izzo’s team squarely on the bubble.

That confluence of events also underscored Izzo’s concerns that too many small schools could steal bids from better teams in power leagues.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has been among the influential voices suggesting the NCAA tournament should end the practice of awarding automatic bids to each conference champion — typically determined by the winner of the league’s conference tournament — in favor of more selections by the committee.

Izzo, who played in college at Division II Northern Michigan, said he has always been a fan of “the little guys” but that from a business perspective, squeezing out big-name programs like Michigan State presents problems. Izzo, whose teams have made 26 consecutive NCAA tournaments, noted that 20 of the 32 Division I conferences had a team that wasn’t the regular-season champion win the league tournament.

“What’s happening now, everybody likes the upsets on the first weekend, but I’m not sure moving on that’s what’s best for the game,” Izzo said. “I think it’s got to be looked at seriously.”

Izzo said that might offer a good incentive to expand the tournament beyond its current 68-team makeup, but that money will be the ultimate driver either way.

“It’s all about what is best for the financial part of it, if I’m going to be very blunt, more than it is the players and teams,” he said.

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