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Selecting the NCAA tournament's field of 68 is no easy task.

A 10-member committee comprised of university athletic directors will sit down Sunday and complete what's expected to be another compelling and controversial bracket.

Thirty-two automatic qualifiers earn a spot by either winning their conference or conference tournament. The committee then determines the "best" 36 at-large teams.

Each team selected will receive a seed, with the No. 1 seeds going to the best four teams in the country.

Much of the debate surrounding the selection process comes from the "bubble" teams, which are a varying number of schools that are usually the last few picked to be in or out of the tournament.

The committee typically has tough choices selecting between the majors, which are teams from Power 5 conferences, and the mid-majors from lesser-known conferences.

"When you have 351 Division I teams, how are you going to kind of shoehorn so many mid-majors into 36 at-large spots? It's just not going to happen," ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. "And it's not a question of favoring mediocre major teams. That's not the issue. The issue is there's no way for all these teams to get quality games during the course of a season. They can't do it."

To help the bubble issue, the NCAA expanded to 68 teams in 2010. Four teams meet in Dayton, Ohio, for a play-in scenario. The winners of the two games are then placed in the field of 64, and their seeds are predetermined.

The NCAA uses a "pod" system, which was first introduced when Greenville hosted in 2002, for the first and second rounds. Greenville will serve as a host again this year as Bon Secours Wellness Arena is one of eight venues to house action the first week, which runs March 16-19.

Depending on which of the four regions they're placed in, the 16 winners advance to the regional semifinals in either Memphis, Tennessee (South), New York (East), Kansas City, Missouri (Midwest), or San Jose, California (West).

The Final Four will be held in Phoenix, Arizona, April 1, and the championship game is set for April 3.

Teams that are designated as "host" schools for each pod and regional are not allowed to be placed at those sites if they qualify for the tournament.

The selection committee attempts to place teams in pods geographically, but that's not always applicable.

In 2002, Kent State, which is in Ohio, was sent to Greenville.

"For the 15th time, the NCAA men's basketball committee will not predetermine the regional designation of each of the eight sub-regional sites (what it calls the "pod" system),"

ESPN's bracket expert Joe Lunardi recently wrote. "This gives the committee increased flexibility to reduce travel for teams and fans, as well as create more local interest at sub-regional sites that may not be traditional basketball areas."

In a season like this, where 10 ACC teams could be selected, it won't be possible to keep every one of them in Greenville or Orlando, the southernmost pod.

Traditionally, a host site in the Carolinas draws at least one team from the ACC. Powerhouses Duke and North Carolina have benefited from years of playing their first couple of tournament games in North Carolina cities Greensboro, Raleigh, Charlotte and Winston-Salem.

The committee must ultimately fill holes in the bracket, too. Sometimes a team that under-performs late in the season, like a South Carolina squad that's lost four of its last six games entering this week's SEC tournament, might not receive a seed worthy of staying close to home and will likely have to play outside the region.

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Brad Senkiw Columnist
March 8, 2017


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