Inside the room: Tourney committee facing toughest decisions in years

>> More Bracketology: Bubble Watch | Compare any two teams

NEW YORK — The NCAA men’s basketball selection committee continues to improve its analysis and transparency process.

This is, naturally, a good thing.

Bracketology

Jerry Palm’s projected bracket

On Saturday morning, for the first time in history, the NCAA invited select members of the media into the room where the big decisions on the big bracket are made. We spoke informally, and on the record, about how the process has been going, the fun but grueling discussions and what these past few days have been like.

The specific details on teams, seeds and selections were not disclosed of course — that remains off-limits until the two-hour Selection Show on CBS, starting Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET — but we do know this: As of Saturday morning, 21 teams were battling for seven at-large spots.

“We could see a couple more spots open up, but it might not be any more,” vice president of the NCAA tournament Dan Gavitt said.

Multiple people in the room told CBS Sports this season amounts to the toughest selection process in years — more than a decade. There is a clog with at-large teams’ résumés and a lot of conflicting data in those résumés. It is inevitable that some teams will get in and have weaknesses as opposed to others who are left out. Get ready for Sunday night, because this bracket is going to be hard to predict, harder to explain and so difficult to project in terms of seeding.

When it comes to Wichita State (read this), Syracuse, Valparaiso, Saint Mary’s, Hofstra, Monmouth, etc. it’s about determining the 36 best at-large candidates. Committee members told me résumés help whittle the conversation with those teams. This will not be about “most deserving.” It will be about who they think is best.

Also revealed on Saturday morning: The committee will have its 68-team field determined later Saturday night. Now, there will be contingency brackets — because either Tulane or Memphis will move on to AAC title game, and neither of those teams has been good enough to warrant at-large consideration — but general template of 68 teams will be agreed upon before committee members go to bed.

Come Sunday, it’s about arranging a 1-68 list of teams in the bracket, then seeding those teams, reorganizing, seeding against and so on.

Will there be disagreements? Yes. Multiple people in the room said there have been some very heated discussions — and not just about the bubble teams, but about seeding. Seeding with teams in the “top quadrant,” meaning teams who will fall on the 1, 2, 3 and 4 lines.

One more thing to note: The American Athletic Conference tournament’s title game tips at 3:15 p.m. ET on Sunday. If that game’s ending bumps up against the 5:30 p.m. Selection Show, the committee will prepare two different brackets clearly labeled, depending on each outcome.

Wanna have a look at what the room is like? Here are a couple of photos I took inside the committee room. The deliberations are being done high up in the Marriott Marquis, right in the middle of Times Square.

>> More Bracketology: FAQs on selection process | Selection Sunday by the numbers

Matt Norlander, center, speaks with members of the Selection Committee on Saturday morning. (NCAA)

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