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As Usual, Brackets Offer Plenty of Big Questions

March 13, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE

CHICAGO — The field of 64 is set, but probably wasn't set in stone until CBS demanded it because of a certain highly watched selection Sunday program it needed to televise.

"This was the most difficult process," Craig Thompson, chairman of this year's NCAA men's basketball committee, said. "I've been involved in five of them. With the injuries, the suspensions, the tournament upsets, it was a phenomenal weekend."

OK, not so phenomenal if you were Cincinnati, which had to stomach two bad breaks, or several of the deemed lilies of the field that got the stem: Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Virginia, Villanova, Southwest Missouri State or Arizona State.

What about that 7-10 split the NCAA pinsetters handed Bowling Green?

There will plenty of racket about this bracket, unless you're postal address is in Chapel Hill, and your devotion is to the North Carolina Tar Heels, who side-slipped their first NCAA miss since 1974 because of their tough schedule and storied NCAA pedigree.

Or, unless you've been waging war with the NCAA your entire adult life, went to Fresno to turn a program around but instead, until this year, presided over a raisin in the sun.

Welcome back to the tournament. . . . Jerry Tarkanian and his Fresno State Bulldogs!

Or, unless you are Indiana State, which made the tournament for the first time since 1979 and will play a first-round game at the Jon Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, site of that epic Larry Bird-Magic Johnson title game.

Or, unless you are Indiana, a state that qualified six teams for the tournament, which averages out to one Indiana team per 10.66 qualifiers.

The selection committee calls the tough calls it had to make "the nitty-gritty," so let's get down to it.

First, the easy stuff.

Duke is the top-seeded team in the East and will open a gallon of gas from home in Winston-Salem against Lamar.

Michigan State claimed its second consecutive Big Ten tournament title Sunday with a 76-61 victory over Illinois at the United Center and was the no-brainer choice to be No. 1 in the Midwest region.

The Spartans open play Thursday against Valparaiso, in Cleveland.

"One, two, three," Coach Tom Izzo said of his team's seeding, "You still got to play a lot of good people and beat a lot of good people to move on."

One of those good people might be Utah Coach Rick Majerus in the second round.

Stanford, a cinch for West's top spot before losses to UCLA and Arizona, retained a No. 1 seeding but got shipped to the South.

Arizona, despite consecutive losses to the Oregons last weekend and the loss of injured center Loren Woods, ends up with the No. 1 spot in the West.


Cincinnati got demoted to No. 2 in the South and is hotter than catfish on a skillet.

"It's ridiculous," Bearcat Coach Bob Huggins said. "Totally ridiculous. We must be the first team in history to be No. 1 in the RPI and not get a No. 1 seed. That's a historical thing those guys just did."

Those guys said they did it because Cincinnati's best player, Kenyon Martin, is out of the tournament after breaking his leg Thursday in the Conference USA tournament.

"The case with Cincinnati is that they're clearly a different team without Kenyon Martin," Thompson said. "The issue we had was how different a team were they without Kenyon Martin."

So how does that square with giving Arizona a No. 1?

Friday night, the selection committee received word from Arizona that Woods, who has missed six consecutive games because of a mysterious back injury, would not play in the NCAA tournament.

Thompson said it was a tough call, but there was a difference.

Arizona had proven it could defeat quality teams without Woods, and Cincinnati had no way of proving it could do the same.

"We were able to see Arizona play Stanford, another team seeded No. 1, and beat them without Loren Woods," Thompson said of the Wildcats' win over the Cardinal Thursday night in Tucson. "We had a test there."

It's not as if the committee didn't plant a seed of doubt by placing Lute Olson's team in Salt Lake City, site of No. 15 Santa Clara's upset win over No. 2 Arizona in 1993.

Other beefs:

What about North Carolina instead of Virginia?

The schools finished tied for third in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 9-7 records, with Virginia defeating North Carolina twice.

The cynics would say no way North Carolina is left out of the NCAA tournament if there's a choice.

"That's a tough one," Thompson conceded.

He said the committee gave North Carolina the nod because it played a superior schedule: Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Louisville, UCLA, Miami.

North Carolina is No. 41 in the latest RPI power figures, with a schedule strength of No. 13, while Virginia has a No. 76 RPI and a schedule strength of 135.

"Virginia's nonconference schedule was probably a determining factor," Thompson said. "They were 1-4 against top-rated opponents and played a number of people in the lower third of the rankings."

With an 18-13 record, North Carolina Coach Bill Guthridge almost scheduled himself out of a job.

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