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SPORTS EXTRA / NCAA TOURNAMENT | SOUND AND VISION

Bruins' Glass Can Be Considered Hof-Full or Hof-Empty

March 12, 2001|MIKE PENNER

Opinion was sharply divided over what exactly happened Sunday to UCLA, dispatched by the NCAA selection committee to Greensboro, N.C., to the East Regional, where the Bruins were seeded fourth and paired in the first round against a Hofstra team that has won its last 18 games.

The Bruins were jobbed, said the KCBS studio analyst.

The Bruins were rewarded, said the UCLA coach.

"I'm a very angry Steve Hartman," said the KCBS studio analyst, clad, somewhat surprisingly, in charcoal and green, instead of the baby blue of his beloved UCLA.

"This," Hartman said, " is how [the selection committee] starts their day: 'All right, how are we going to ruin UCLA's day?' "

At this point, local viewers hanging on after the network's national NCAA selection show deserved a flash-graphic, a public service announcement: Will you prefer this whine chilled or served at room temperature?

No, instead, all they got was Hartman, co-host of XTRA 690's "Loose Cannons" sports talk show and shameless UCLA homer, fuming about a first-round matchup with Hofstra--Hofstra!--because, well, this is an opponent that "has won 18 consecutive games, this is a team with seven seniors, they're a team that was in the NCAA tournament a year ago."

Therefore, Hartman surmised, "Hofstra is certainly a legitimate team. UCLA, a four seed--all right, that's where everybody had projected them. [But] Hofstra should have been at least an 11 seed. Doesn't 18 straight wins count for anything?"

What's more, Hartman railed, Hofstra "beat St. John's at Garden!"

Well.

Bruin fans, better get out the blindfolds and the cigarettes and get ready for spring football.

Turning to fellow analyst Sonny Vaccaro and host Jim Hill, Hartman somberly noted that "Hofstra is a team that's certainly capable, guys. For UCLA, again . . . I just don't understand how an RPI of 6 ends up a fourth seed."

And a few minutes later: "Just unbelievable. Hofstra? I mean, come on! That team is the hottest team in the country! They do it every year to UCLA."

Meanwhile, over on ESPN, Steve Lavin, a man who draws his paychecks from UCLA, who needs UCLA to win its first-round game to ensure his drawing of future paychecks, was talking gratefully about the committee granting his team the No. 4 seed in the East.

"We were rewarded by the committee," Lavin said. "When you look at the other [No.] 4 seeds, they all had great seasons. Kansas. Indiana had a strong finish. And even Oklahoma, winning [Sunday], they had a pretty special year.

"So our kids are excited. We think we were rewarded with a 4. We may have been a 3--I don't think we could have crept up to a 2 . . . When you look at the 1s and 2s, I don't think we would have cracked that group."

Lavin, of course, is entirely right. If UCLA is in the same neighborhood as Kansas, Indiana and Oklahoma, UCLA is in the right place.

Kansas is ranked ninth by the Associated Press, four notches ahead of UCLA . . . and did not lose at home to Cal State Northridge--which it opens the tournament against.

Indiana reached the final of the Big Ten tournament . . . and did not lose by 29 points to California.

Oklahoma is 25-6, won the Big 12 title game . . . and did not, with a No. 2 or 3 seed hanging in the balance, lose to the last-place team in its conference.

UCLA did, losing to a 10-20 Washington team Saturday, and as Vaccaro had to remind Hartman, "You reap what you sow. . . . [The Bruins] screwed up."

So did UC Irvine, which won 25 games this season, but only one in the Big West tournament, which left the Anteaters two short of what they needed. At 25-4, Irvine is headed to the NIT. At 16-14, Georgia is eighth seeded in the NCAA's East Region.

As such, Irvine and Georgia became visual aids for ESPN as its crew of commentators wrestled with the question: Is the NCAA selection process "elitist"?

Mike Tranghese, chairman of the selection committee, told ESPN's Mike Tirico that the committee wanted to send "a message" by rewarding a team that schedules high-quality nonconference competition, such as Georgia, which defeated 14 teams ranked in the top 100 and did not lose to an opponent outside the top 50.

"This committee put more emphasis on nonconference play than any other," Tranghese said. "Too many teams in the power conferences skirt the responsibility to play top teams. How do we send the message about [the importance of] strength of schedule if we overlook Georgia?"

Irvine, by contrast, padded its victory total with decisions over the likes of Howard, UC Riverside, UC San Diego and Belmont--the college, not the Long Beach neighborhood.

Tranghese conceded that "mid-majors" such as Irvine are faced with a dilemma--they need to schedule big-name opponents, who in turn have little incentive to schedule them--and then, unwittingly, underscored the problem: The chair of the NCAA selection committee doesn't even know the proper name of the Big West regular-season champion.

"Syracuse is not going to go to UCI Irvine," Tranghese said. "Georgetown is not going to go to UCI Irvine. That's just the way life is.

"On the other hand, I think that teams in conferences that are ranked, let's say, 15 to 20, in that area, they can play other mid-majors. They can play other people. There are some mid-majors, unfortunately, who complain they can't get Duke or Syracuse to come out and play them--and they elect not to play anybody and they go out and win 23 games.

"That in itself is not going to get them in."

What Tranghese was trying to say, Anteaters: In the future, you need to schedule fewer games against UCR-Riverside and more against UNLV-Las Vegas and BYU-Brigham Young.

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