The NCAA tourney selection committee’s five toughest decisions

If Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith thinks fielding questions about his scandal-tainted football coach is difficult, wait until the selection committee chairman takes his turn getting grilled Sunday evening on CBS once the brackets are revealed.

It's an annual tradition on Selection Sunday for outraged fans to gripe about the at-large hopefuls who got snubbed or the teams seeded unjustly. Before the complaining begins, here's a look at the five toughest decisions Smith and his fellow committee members have to make before the brackets are released at 6 p.m. EST:

1. Who are the last four at-large teams in the field?

Unlike previous seasons when the bubble picture crystallized by the weekend of Selection Sunday, this year it's still murky as ever. The margin is extremely narrow differentiating the 11 teams I'd suggest are competing for the final six remaining at-large bids. I believe Georgia and Colorado are the safest of the 11, Penn State, Alabama, USC and Virginia Tech will be the last four teams in the field and Clemson, Saint Mary's, Boston College, UAB and VCU headline the list of snubs. (For a more detailed explanation of why, click here). One more team could join the snubs list, however, since the number of vacant at-large berths could shrink by one on Sunday. If Dayton defeats NCAA tourney-bound Richmond in the Atlantic 10 title game, that will likely give the league four bids instead of three.

Prediction: The last four at large-bids will be Penn State, Alabama, USC and Virginia Tech. {YSP:MORE}

2. Who's the fourth No. 1 seed?

Assuming Ohio State, Kansas and Pittsburgh will be three of the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, the last one will probably come down to Big East regular season runner-up Notre Dame (26-6) and ACC tournament champion Duke (30-4). If the committee rewards marquee wins, the Irish will likely be the choice. They have 11 top-50 victories this year, most among Division I programs and three more than Duke. The knock on Notre Dame's candidacy is that it didn't win either a regular season or Big East tournament title. If that's an issue for the committee, expect to see the Blue Devils claim the final No. 1 seed.

Prediction: Notre Dame is the fourth No. 1 seed.

3. Where should BYU be seeded?

Streaking toward a potential No. 1 seed after completing a regular season sweep of San Diego State on Feb. 26, BYU (30-4) suddenly hit a snag the following week when sophomore forward Brandon Davies was suspended for the rest of the season. Since then, the Cougars have split with New Mexico, struggled for stretches with bottom feeders TCU and Wyoming and gotten pummeled in their third meeting with the Aztecs. BYU's resume remains strong enough to merit a No. 2 or 3 seed, but the committee will take the team's diminished effectiveness without Davies into account. As a result, a No. 3 or 4 seed appear the most likely for the Cougars.

Prediction: BYU receives a No. 4 seed

4. Does Villanova have any reason to be anxious today?

Normally a team that has lost five straight and 10 of 15 would have no reason to even bother to gather to watch the Selection Show, but Villanova is an unusual case. The Wildcats notched enough marquee wins early in the season that they're likely a shoo-in on Sunday, having already defeated the likes of UCLA, Temple, Louisville, Cincinnati, Syracuse and West Virginia. The more pressing question will be how much the committee penalizes Villanova in the seeding for its late-season collapse. The Wildcats, ranked seventh in the AP Top 25 as recently as January, are unlikely to receive any better than a No. 8 or 9 seed and could potentially fall all the way to a No. 10.

Prediction: Villanova receives a No. 9 seed

5. Does Alabama belong in the field?

Seldom does a team that went 12-4 in the SEC have to sweat out Selection Sunday waiting to see whether its name is called, yet that's the position Alabama will be in this afternoon as a result of a disastrous non-league performance. Believe it or not, Alabama's most impressive victory came against Lipscomb, the fourth place team in the notoriously weak Atlantic Sun Conference. The Tide also lost to the likes of St. Peters, Iowa, Providence and Seton Hall, accounting for their awful No. 79 RPI. Are 12 SEC wins, a pair of victories over Georgia and wins over Kentucky and Tennessee enough to cover up Alabama's many flaws in the eyes of the selection committee? Some mock brackets say yes, others no. Either way, Alabama has lived up to the title of this year's most fascinating bubble team.

Prediction: Alabama receives an NCAA tournament bid, but the Tide will have to win a game in the First Four to advance to the second round.

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