'Selection Sunday' Sets NCAA Tourney Field As conference tournaments wrap up, the NCAA's college basketball tournament selection committees are setting the field for the men's and women's Division I tournaments. Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated magazine helps clarify the process.

'Selection Sunday' Sets NCAA Tourney Field

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Hey, it's not just any old Sunday today, it's selection Sunday. This is when NCAA committee members sequester themselves behind closed doors in a smoke-filled room and badly argue their cases for the most deserving college basketball teams to join the big dance, also known as college basketball's championship tournament.

Okay. It's probably not that dramatic, probably no smoke anymore, but their decisions will dramatically affect office pools around the country.

Those infamous brackets are about to be filled in, and to tell us what those are and explain how, we're joined by Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated. Hello, Luke.

Mr. LUKE WINN (Sports Illustrated): Hi, how are you doing?

LYDEN: So, explain the bracket system to me, would you please, Luke?

Mr. WINN: The bracket is a field of 65 teams for the NCAA tournament separated into four regions. It's a 64-team field with one play-in game (unintelligible) two of the most unfortunate teams get stuck in that last game to play their way into the field.

LYDEN: And what goes on in the selection? Is it really as dramatic as we described?

Mr. WINN: Well, it's ten committee members inside a conference room in a Westin in Indianapolis who have been there for much of the week. I wouldn't call it as dramatic. If you looked in that room, it would kind of look pretty boring. A lot of laptops, just piles of paper everywhere. Eight different school athletic directors are in there and then two conference commissioners. And they're just debating the merits of these teams from a lot of different angles.

Some are statistical, their strength of schedule, their record, their conference record, their momentum. And some are subjective. Just these guys are also watching games. You know, what they've seen out of these teams. Do they think that, you know, Team A would be a better candidate to actually pull off an upset in the tournament than Team B?

LYDEN: I guess the drama moves to the Internet because within seconds of the NCAA's announcements, the brackets get emailed out to prospective gamblers. So does this mean that office gambling is legal?

Mr. WINN: Well, I mean, I think that it's just something that's permitted everywhere. I mean, we can tell on our Web site, you know, we can keep statistics and on Sunday night, I mean, everyone's coming just to get the bracket to join pools. You know, it almost makes you feel marginalized as a writer 'cause I don't know if people even care what you have to say that night. They just want the field, they want to make their picks and then they eventually want to hear who you're picking.

LYDEN: Now, women get a chance to have their turn at the brackets today. Tomorrow the women's brackets are announced. And there's an interesting story this year in the WNBA.

Mr. WINN: Yeah, I mean, Candace Parker, who's a star for Tennessee, is a junior and she's actually going to be the first women's basketball player to even leave school early after this season. She has been at Tennessee for four years. She was hurt during her true freshman year. So it's not like this is a, you know, a crazy thing that's happening.

But, I mean, she is kind of this, you know, almost a once in a generation kind of player. She's actually listed on Tennessee's roster as not just one position but guard/forward/center. She's a 6'4" player who can play inside and out, and if so I think people are really looking at her. You know, she is, like, the unquestioned star of this women's NCAA tournament.

LYDEN: I guess as a Sports Illustrated writer, Luke, you couldn't tell a solid journalist who I should be betting on without both of us getting in a lot of trouble.

Mr. WINN: No, I mean, I think that's what people come to us for this week. I don't know. I'm fine with that. I really like UCLA. They have a couple of key injuries that happened this weekend in the Pac-10 tournament that I think people need to pay attention.

Their freshman star Kevin Love has pulled a back muscle. You know, people are going to have to make a decision based on whether they think UCLA is healthy enough to do it.

The team that I think most people are going to pick to win it all is North Carolina. They just won the ACC. They won through the ACC tournament, and they have, you know, kind of the flip side of Candace Parker on their team, Tyler Hansbrough, who's going to be the national player of the year on the men's side.

LYDEN: Okay. Luke Winn writes about college basketball for Sports Illustrated. Thanks for those tips, Luke.

Mr. WINN: All right. Thanks for having me.

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