Like the actual 10-person committee will do this week, we first selected 34 at-large teams. Then, we seeded them, along with the 31 teams we deemed to have automatic bids, from 1 to 65 and constructed a bracket, trying, as best we could, to follow the actual guidelines.
The coaches agreed to join the three DN hoops writers, not really knowing what it was they were getting into. Neither, of course, did we.
We gave the automatic bids for the 31 conferences to the regular-season champion unless that team had already been eliminated or some other team had claimed the championship.
Then, we set out to find those at-large teams. We did not have the computers the committee uses to record a series of votes when selecting the teams. We skimmed over the obvious teams (Connecticut, Duke, Villanova, etc.) without discussion. Then, we started to discuss the teams on our "under consideration" list.
We did not exactly go by the rules here. We were tossing as many teams as we were adding. But we were trying to get to 34.
"It is hard to judge the mid-
majors," Dunphy said, "because they don't get the same chances."
He wondered aloud if he "could play Texas home-and-home."
Martelli was checking the score of the Robert Morris Northeast Conference semifinal game. His son, Jimmy, is an assistant coach there. His other son, Phil, is an assistant at Niagara.
"It's a tough winter when your sons have better records than you do," Martelli said.
Somehow, we arrived at our 34 in about 90 minutes. It will take the real committee several days.
Vetrone's laptop was singing as he keypunched teams in or out. The teams appeared on a screen across from our seats.
We moved on to seeding. We had five teams for our four No. 1 seeds - Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Memphis.
Martelli and I were lobbying for Memphis over Oklahoma. I mentioned that Memphis had not lost since Tyreke Evans had been moved to point guard.
Dunphy casually got up, walked to the other side of the table, grabbed some chalk and drew a point guard and a wing on the board.
"Is there really any difference if he starts here or there?" Dunphy asked politely. "He can still dribble past people."
Point made, Dunphy sat back down. Memphis was a No. 2.
In the interest of saving time, I did what the real committee calls the "fourth quadrant" on Saturday, seeding all the teams from the one-bid leagues into the bottom of the bracket. We filled in the rest from the top.
Now, a bracket appeared on the screen. We started filling it in with the No. 1 seeds, adhering to rules that say, among many things, that teams can't play on their home court or at a site where they are host. The rules also mandate that teams from the same conference can't play until a regional final.
The Big Ten was perplexing because Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan looked so much alike that they were all seeded within a line or two of each other.
We had to move some of them a seed line to make that conference rule work. By this time, Dunphy and I were fading. Kern was not. He saw the bracket like a great golfer sees the best opening to the green. He was moving teams all over the place until the bracket adhered to just about every rule. I was lost, but Kern and Vetrone orchestrated it all. Kern was the clear Bracket MVP.
"I have one suggestion," Kern said.
"That we never do this again," offered Cooney. I don't think he was serious.
We did one thing the committee would never do, but it was our bracket. We had North Carolina as the No. 1 seed in the South, with Duke as No. 3. In reality, the committee would separate the top four teams from a conference, as we did with the Big East.
Duke and UNC play twice each year, sometimes three times. But they have never played in the NCAA. We thought we'd give it a shot in a potential regional final.
As Kern finished maneuvering those Big Ten teams, Martelli asked how many Big Ten teams we had. Then, he stopped himself and said: "How long have we been here? Three hours? And we never talked about a conference."
"Some of us have been here a little longer," Dunphy said, dryly.
The answer, by the way, was eight. But it is never about conferences. It is about team vs. team.
And, when we were done, we had our 65 teams. By this time next week, we will all see if the real committee can do better. I am thinking that could happen. *
Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org