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Mr. Holland's Opus Is Keeping Dean at Home

March 10, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

GREENSBORO, N.C. — It won't count in Dean Smith's assault on Adolph Rupp's record, but North Carolina actually picked up two victories Sunday, first winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title game and later picking up another "W" when the NCAA pairings were announced.

The Tar Heels rode their 12-game winning streak into a No. 1 seeding and home-conference advantage in the first two rounds as members of the NCAA selection committee apparently teared up over the prospect of having Smith break Rupp's record in North Carolina.

Smith needs two wins to surpass Rupp's win total of 876 and--dang it, boys--why not have him do it next weekend in Winston-Salem, where the Tar Heels will open against 11-18 Fairfield on Thursday? And then, here's the great part, Smith can break the record against Bob Knight's Indiana team on Saturday.

Wonder if CBS will want to televise that?

"We talked about whether that was almost too good a location for North Carolina," said Terry Holland, Director of Athletics at the University of Virginia and the chair of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee.

The committee decided it was not, though the Tar Heels, if you'll check the records, finished third in the ACC standings, behind Duke and Wake Forest.

"I don't think there's any doubt North Carolina is one of hottest teams in the country," Holland said. "I don't have any question we did the right thing in that particular case."

Anticipating the problem Duke fans might have had with it, the committee saw to it that the second-seeded Blue Devils also stayed close, with opening-round dates in Charlotte.

None of the other top-three seeded teams really could beef.

Kansas, the real No. 1 team in the country, lobbied hard and won the right to open in the Southeast instead of the Midwest. Why? The Jayhawks could not play a first-round game at Kansas City because the school is hosting the sub-regional there, and Kansas did not want to open at Auburn Hills, Mich.

Kansas preferred Memphis in the Southeast. Wish granted.

Kentucky? Yes, the Wildcats got shipped out West, but what could they say? The defending champions were only too pleased to pack after winning the No. 1 seeding over Southeastern Conference rival South Carolina, which swept Kentucky in league play.

"That was one we wrestled with for a long time," Holland said.

The moral? It's good to be Kentucky.

South Carolina ended up with a No. 2 seeding in the East.

Minnesota? The Gophers get to stay in the Midwest and open in Kansas City with a freebie against Southwest Texas State on Thursday. Call this payback for snubbing Minnesota from the tournament last year.

Holland said that, because of the lack of upsets, this was the least gut-wrenching process in his five years on the committee. He said most of the bracket was finalized after lunch on Sunday.

Michigan won't want to hear that.

The Wolverines, who believed they were on the bubble and needed to beat Ohio State on Sunday to make the tournament, actually were penciled out before the national anthem.

"We did make the decision before that game was played," Holland said.

The decision was that Michigan--4-6 in its last 10 games--was out.

The job of eliminating bubble teams was also made easier when Texas Tech pulled out of contention after admitting it had used two ineligible players.

Holland wouldn't say whether Texas Tech would have made the field otherwise.

"It's impossible to tell," Holland said. "To their credit, they called us very early in the process and withdrew their name from consideration. We weren't even close to even voting for teams. It was never a factor for us."

None of this mean schools that were left out weren't steamed, but Holland had a pretty good answer for those bounced from the bubble:

--Southwest Missouri State. The Bears had a strong case, with a 24-8 record and a respectable 42 in the Rating Percentage Index rankings. If any mid-major conference deserved an at-large bid, it seemed to be the Missouri Valley. But Holland said eight losses were too many for a mid-level school that did not win either its regular season or tournament title.

Southwest Missouri State, coached by Steve Alford, was also 10-1 against teams ranked 150 in the RPI or higher.

"A lot of their wins came against that bottom 150," Holland said. "You can't afford eight losses if you are in that category.

--Syracuse. The Orangemen were 19-12, but only 9-9 in the Big East.

"I look at some of the teams in the tournament and I'm amazed," Coach Jim Boeheim told the Associated Press.

Syracuse, however, was a shaky No. 60 in the latest RPI and played only the 69th strongest schedule.

--Fresno State (20-11). Jerry Tarkanian said he had no problem with not being selected. If you have been following the news, he's got other things on his mind.

--West Virginia. A great case on paper. The Mountaineers finished 19-9, and 11-7 in the Big East, numbers that figure to get you in. But the Big East is down this year, and West Virginia ranked only 87 out of 305 in strength of schedule.

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