The agony and ecstasy of NCAA tournament Selection Sunday

Picking 68 teams is all toil and trouble for the selection committee, and for 'bubble' teams — which this year include 2012 champ Kentucky — the suspense is unbearable.

The hours before Selection Sunday are what Lakers announcer Chick Hearn used to call "nervous time."

Defending national champion Kentucky might want to chew on some of Jerry Tarkanian's old towels after probably blowing its bubble bid with an early SEC tournament ouster against Vanderbilt.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari needs to move Sunday morning's team breakfast into the beggars banquet room.

Those eight NCAA titles are of little use now.

"The good news is everyone seems to be losing," Calipari said after his team "laid an egg" against Vandy. "I just hope we're the best of the bad right now."

Sorry, boys, but it looks as if you're going from national champs to NIT.

Members of the NCAA basketball selection committee, currently snuffing out dreams and cigarette butts in Indianapolis, can't be sentimentalists.

Their coldblooded mandate is to take 31 automatic conference bid winners and weave them into a 68-team symphony. It matters not that one conference champion, Liberty, has a 15-20 record.

The committee selects 37 at-large schools to feed and seed into a geographically considered bracket.

The great misnomer is that the NCAA tournament determines the best team every year. It doesn't even include the best 68 teams. The tournament is not a playoff, but rather a Big Tent circus "event" that ends with syrupy music and a confetti drop.

Before you complain that your alma mater was biblically robbed, understand the ground rules.

Only 68 schools get in: The tournament expanded in 2010 to provide more entry access. Eight schools will play into four spots in Dayton, Ohio, early next week. The four worst automatic qualifiers (give us Liberty) spar for two No. 16 seats at the table while the last four at-large teams play for two spots on the No. 12 line.

The top four lines in the bracket curve get preferential placement.

"They've earned that position throughout the regular season," Mike Bobinski, chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said last week.

The top four at this minute appear to be Indiana (Midwest), Louisville (East), Duke (South) and Gonzaga (West).

Wait another minute, though, didn't Duke just lose to Maryland in the ACC tournament in a game that prompted Coach Mike Krzyzewski to say "I didn't think we were hungry tonight"?

Yeah, well, but Duke is still Duke, although the Blue Devils are now vulnerable to being overtaken for a No. 1 regional seeding.

Indiana, despite Saturday's loss to Wisconsin, probably remains a No. 1 and makes a short, Wright Brothers Airlines puddle jump to Dayton for a subregional. Louisville gets spoon-fed to nearby Lexington, Ky., with Gonzaga receiving the time-zone break to Salt Lake City and Duke probably heading to Philadelphia.

Bracket doctrine dictates the top three schools from a conference must go to different regionals. The committee desperately tries to prevent same-league schools from meeting until the regional finals.

And never forget this: Injuries matter.