Blair Kerkhoff

The NCAA selection committee's MPJ problem & this week's projected bracket

The potential return of Michael Porter Jr. to the Missouri basketball team is good news everywhere, but at least one group of observers would withhold judgment until they see Porter and Tigers in action.

Officially, it’s known as the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. You know the group this time of the year as the selection committee for the NCAA Tournament. In less than two weeks, they’ll meet to begin the process of choosing the at-large teams and seed the 68-team men’s bracket.

Missouri, if Porter, reportedly cleared to play after undergoing back surgery in November, returns and plays, presents a unique case. Porter arrived in Columbia as the most heralded recruit in program history, a projected NBA Draft lottery selection. Check out his highlights.

What Porter hasn’t done is what everybody wants to see and what the committee must see to help complete their evaluation of the Tigers — play.

Reputation of a player and projection of a team’s performance with him aren’t part of a selection committee’s checklist.

When word spread of Porter’s possible availability, I spoke with a former committee member about this, asking if Missouri’s tournament profile could be enhanced based on the type of team the Tigers could be with him.

First, we agreed there seems to be no precedent for this situation. It happens the other way, with the committee considering the reduced strength of teams losing players to injury late in the year, but not essentially introducing one to college basketball at the season’s end.

“I think in this case there would still be too much unknown,” the former committee member said. “And because of that, there’s probably not too much the committee can do besides evaluate (Missouri) based on that it’s accomplished.”

If Porter returns and changes the dynamic of Mizzou, that will be welcomed by the 18-10 Tigers, who have dropped two straight headed into Saturday's game at Kentucky and seem to own a NCAA Tournament profile of a team seeded anywhere from 7-10. It will also be a committee room hot topic.

They’d have to consider the bracket balance. If the Tigers got a favorable bounce in seed, that means another teams near them got an unfavorable nudge.

But if the committee ignores the potential of a Missouri team that just added a possible lottery pick, the opposing coach in the first round will turn his news conference into NCAA target practice.

“It’s why there are 10 on the committee, 10 votes,” the committee member said. “There will be plenty of discussion, plenty of evaluation.”

What we know: Missouri would love to find out how it would shape up with Porter Jr.

Here are my seed projections for the 68-team field if it were announced today:

1: Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Kansas

2: Michigan State, Purdue, Duke, Auburn

3: North Carolina, Texas Tech, Cincinnati, Gonzaga

4: Clemson, Wichita State, Tennessee, Arizona

5: West Virginia, Ohio State, Rhode Island, Arizona State

6: Nevada, Creighton, Kentucky, Michigan

7: St. Mary’s, Missouri, Houston, Oklahoma

8: Butler, Florida State, Alabama, Seton Hall

9: Utah, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Florida

10: Miami (Fla.), Arkansas, TCU, Providence

11: Baylor, North Carolina State, Loyola, Middle Tennessee State, Southern California

12: St. Bonaventure, Washington, New Mexico State, South Dakota State, Louisville

13: Vermont, Buffalo, Rider, Murray State

14: Louisiana, Montana, East Tennessee State, Charleston

15: Bucknell, UC Santa Barbara, Wright State, Wagner

16: Savannah State, UNC Asheville, Nicholls State, Penn, Southern, Florida Gulf Coast