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By JUSTIN TOSCANO
PHOENIX – When Arizona State men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley won back-to-back national championships as a point guard at Duke in 1991 and 1992, he didn’t know officially where his Blue Devils might be seeded until Selection Sunday.
That’s the way it always has been, until this year. Tuesday the NCAA announced that its Tournament Selection Committee will provide a sneak peek of March Madness by releasing the top four teams for each of the four regions — 16 total — on Feb. 11, a full month before Selection Sunday.
“I think some of the last things the coaches may want to see is that they’re a top-4 seed with a month left because you’re constantly driving your team, you’re pushing for more, you’re asking for more, you’re telling them they need to do better,” Hurley said. “Whether it’s having a target on your back or losing your edge, it may not be the best thing.”
This year’s tournament culminates in April with the first Final Four in Arizona, to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
The one catch in the advanced look at the seeding is that the season continues for about a month after the release, so the seeding is subject to change as the final conference games and conference tournaments play out.
Mark Hollis, chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee, said the idea originated in a meeting with the National Association of Basketball Coaches. In that meeting, the two sides discussed ways of improving the tournament selection process.
“One way was to give a mid-conference season barometer of where teams sat and coaches felt that would provide a comfort level,” Hollis said following a press conference Wednesday at the Phoenix Convention Center with NCAA, state and city officials.
The early release is similar to college football, in which the College Football Playoff Committee reveals its top 25 rankings on the first Tuesday in November and each week after that until the final selection show in December. However, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee will only release one-fourth of its bracket next month and will not disclose any further tournament rankings until the Selection Sunday show in March.
Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president of basketball, said he believes the committee’s glimpse of the tournament will enlighten everyone who follows or is a part of college basketball.
“I think it’s an opportunity for the basketball community to share their perspective with student-athletes, coaches, fans, media and to help to educate them on the process of how the selection seeding works,” he said. “There’s so many great bracketologists that follow our game, but there’s only one group that’s ultimately responsible for selecting the field and bracketing the tournament.”
Hollis said some coaches expressed a desire to see a full bracket of 68 teams before the final field is released, but he said it would be nearly impossible to do so a month before Selection Sunday.
However, he said releasing part of it is a step in the right direction.
“The one reason I like the fact that we are bracketing, we’re not just listing the 16, is that it has the potential to let to public see how we do the bracketing and it has the potential to be an educational tool on how teams end up where they end up,” Hollis said.
Following the early release, Hollis said the group will remain committed to correctly seeding teams for the full bracket release on Selection Sunday in March.
“Up until selection week, we’re listening constantly,” he said. “That’s why we travel to games, that’s why we talk. It’s ‘What do you think? Where are we at?’ And it’s important to hear that as you go into the selection room.”
At 9-11 overall and 2-5 in Pac-12 play, Hurley’s ASU team does not appear to be in position to be in the tournament field and certainly is not among its top 16 teams at this point. But if his Sun Devils were a part of the early seeding, he said he would tell the team the selection is “meaningless.”
“The season’s not over, we’re not in that Selection Sunday right now, there’s a lot of games in between now and then,” Hurley said. “We would address it, we would probably minimize it. Or appreciate to a degree the season you’re having and then move on.”