After the final name of the 64-team women's NCAA Tournament bracket is unveiled Monday night, the nitpicking will start.
Why did one team get in over another? Why did the Big East get so many teams? Is it fair that a team that won its regular-season conference championship didn't make it in the field?
How could the committee overlook the Lady So and Sos? How did my team with its massive fan base get banished to Spokane?
They'll all be valid questions. But they won't be coming from my mouth, not this year, anyway, not after spending 48 hours in the chairs of the NCAA women's selection committee members during a mock selection. I was one of 20 media members and conference representatives who took part in such an exercise in February.
I won't oooh and ahhh over bracket omissions.
I will just quietly be amazed that it got finished at all.
It's an intricate, difficult, confounding and stressful process.
Greg Christopher, chairman of the NCAA Division I women's basketball committee this year, explained that as a group we were there to "see how the sausage was made."
It wasn't always appetizing. But I did come out of the process with more admiration and appreciation for what those actual committee members do, not just in the five days they're huddled together in Indianapolis, but for the months leading up to it.
The process of selecting the field starts with a list of all 366 teams that are eligible to get in. The committee thinks of each team as an independent, and you fill in marks next to teams you believe should be at-large and teams that should at least be in the discussion.
This bubble sheet isn't a pop quiz, either. It was estimated that the 10 committee members see at least 1,500 games before they begin.
Our sample bubble sheets were fed into a computer and it spit out teams that we all agreed should get into the field. In our first round of ballots, it was 26 teams (some won their conference tournaments, others were agreed upon at-large teams).
Also, keep in mind that for our mock selection purposes, we were given a list of automatic qualifiers. UK was listed as the Southeastern Conference's automatic qualifier. The pre-determined automatic qualifiers did make selecting the field more tricky, but mirrored actual issues the committee will have this weekend, like whether or not the Sun Belt's top team, Middle Tennessee State, should get into the tournament despite losing its conference tournament title.
After this, there is another ballot (we must have done at least 50 computerized ballots) where committee members can take that first list of teams that are under consideration and vote to weed them out of the field. If a team gets seven "no" votes, it gets tossed.
One of the other myths I had about this process was that a team was considered by itself, but honestly, teams are never discussed in a thumbs up and thumbs down kind of way.
They are moved along through the balloting process, never less than four at a time. At-large teams sometimes make it into the field after more than 10 ballots, and they go in with a group of three other teams.
This leads to another myth that was debunked. I know that it was naïve to believe that every team that gets in the final field of 64 is worthy.
It's just not true.
Nearly every tournament résumé is flawed, some of them way more than others. As a committee, our group had a list of seven teams left for the final four at-large spots, leading me to ask: "Can it just be a field of 60 this year?" You hold your nose as you put in the final teams.
As a committee member, you judge teams based on what the chairman referred to as a "firehose of information." Screens in front of you show you more than you ever wanted to know about a team (RPI, strength of schedule, record in last 12 games, record against teams in the top-50 RPI, whether a team's star was out hurt and so on).
With so many statistics involved, I found it hard to believe that there was much decision making involved. Any computer program could look at these numbers and decide who stays home.
But that's where the interesting human angle comes into play. The way I evaluated a team based on these numbers was quite different than the way the woman across the table from me was evaluating the exact same teams. She might be into wins over teams in the top-50 RPI and I might be swayed more by a team's performance in its last 12 games.
When the résumés start to run together — and, wow, do they run together — someone inevitably asks: If these two teams we're stuck on actually played each other, which would win?
The other thing I had always convinced myself of when staring at a finished bracket was that the committee had certain pre-determined story lines in mind. Of course it wants to set up a Louisville vs. Kentucky rematch, I remember thinking.
Not the case. Not at all.
On the first night of our adventure in bracketing, we had the top eight teams seeded and ready to move into the bracket. Because of NCAA "policies and procedures" as well as its desire to make sure fans show up to watch the games, teams always are put into the bracket based on location. So unlike the men's bracket where the overall No. 1 seed of the tournament would be lined up to face the lowest of the No. 2 seeds, that's not how it is for the women.
The eight teams are seeded along an S-curve and as each team is moved in, they go to the region site closest to them geographically. So when our bracket had Connecticut as a No. 1 seed and Tennessee as its No. 2 seed, it wasn't intentional. But it was interesting.
The other thing that was intriguing during the bracket-building process was that seeds were not sacred. Because of the extra problems created by the women's tournament's use of home courts and a location-based bracket concept, there has to be some flexibility to the process. That comes in the committee's ability to move a team up or down one seed.
There are dozens of other things the committee considered that I didn't know, all things that made this both a mind-numbing and mind-altering experience.
So I'm probably not any closer to being able to tell you what seed UK will be or where the Cats will end up (although I've tried several times to work out the bracket).
But on Monday night when the last name is unveiled, I will be amazed that the bracket even got finished in the first place.