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The Big Picture: Packer questions committee's job

Monday, March 17, 2003

Billy Packer was some kind of hacked off last night. His anger was over a flight connection, but those untrained monkeys, er, scientists known as bracketologists will have to check his Really Peeved Index on that one. This color commentator also was mildly ticked at the NCAA tournament committee that put together the programming schedule for his network the ensuing three weeks, provided CBS doesn't have to broadcast something more important, such as a war.

The local angle: Packer believes that, in the process, Pitt got screwed.

"You have to look at these brackets and wonder about the job done by the committee," Packer fairly spewed into a cell phone while making his way to a Chicago airport. There were " ... some real questions about the decisions they had to make."

Like, say, the one that had the country's two best Division I-A teams, Arizona and Kentucky, on the same side of the bracket. Right there on CBS, live, questioned by Packer and sidekick Jim Nantz via satellite from their Big Ten Conference tournament Chicago site, selection committee chair and Arizona Athletic Director Jim Livengood absurdly stumbled over an answer that basically proclaimed: We didn't look past the first round.

"But that's the job, that's the dictum of the committee," Packer said of seeding from the start. "The object is to pick 1, the best team in the country, ... and the 64th team. You have to make sure if the top seeds get to the Final Four, the best team in the country has to play the fourth team overall."

"I've been part of the Selection Show ... for 18 years," added Nantz, launching into a dissertation about the selection committee's integrity, intentions, fairness, yadda yadda. "But this was the most disappointed I've ever been after the brackets have been released. I'm really baffled. I don't think any of the conference tournament results were hardly factored in at all. [The geographic pod system] has this committee so flummoxed, they don't have enough time to figure these things out."

After all, Texas as the No. 1 overall seed, playing the Nos. 64-65 play-in game winner? Oklahoma as the No. 4 overall and Kentucky-Arizona bunched together? And the geographic placement of teams had Nantz scrambling for is Mapquest.com: Was Kentucky indeed closer to home in the Midwest Region's Minneapolis rather than the East Region's Albany, N.Y.?

The difference was 20 miles and, probably more vital here, 1,500-plus arena seats for wild 'Cats fans.

"Pitt deserves to be playing as close to home as possible," Packer said. "Syracuse ... has a super home situation in Albany [in the East Region final], and Pitt has to go out to Minneapolis. They did the regular season better than Syracuse and they did the conference tournament better than Syracuse."

Yet the second-seeded Panthers get farmed out 866 miles, and the third-seeded Orangemen potentially get games 143 miles from home. Packer added: "That doesn't make any sense to me at all." Should Nantz show the committee how to use Mapquest, or should I?

By the way, CBS has discussed several contingencies in the event of war -- the tournament games likely would move to Viacom sister-station TNN. "On the larger scale, it doesn't seem to matter so much," Nantz said. "But we do have a responsibility, which the president has said before, to keep life as normal as possible."

Bonner's brackets

While changing flights in Pittsburgh International Airport last night, CBS color commentator Dan Bonner -- a former Avonworth High School standout -- proffered his predictions for the sixth consecutive year:

"Why don't we pick Weber State over Wisconsin?" But Dayton should win a couple of games in the middle of the Midwest.

Troy State over Xavier if the score gets high in the South he calls a refuse pile -- not a major conference tournament winner in the dumpster.

His Final Four: Kentucky, Kansas, Maryland (with Connecticut making a push) and Syracuse.

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1724.

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