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DIANE PUCIN

Irvine, not Georgia, Should Have Been on the NCAA's Mind

March 20, 2001|DIANE PUCIN

Any minute now, UC Irvine Athletic Director Dan Guerrero should be getting that apology from Mike Tranghese, head of the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee.

That would be the apology where Tranghese says, "Oops, we should have noticed Irvine beat Cal and then went on to win its conference regular-season title while Cal finished fifth in its conference. We should have taken the team that won the head-to-head meeting [that would be Irvine] and not the team that lost [that would be Cal, which went to the NCAA tournament and immediately lost to Fresno State]."

While he's making that apology to Irvine, Tranghese might want to call up the folks at Pepperdine, Valparaiso and Tulsa.

For it was with a special arrogance that Tranghese had said, during the nationally televised selection show, that Georgia and its 16-14 record was deserving of an NCAA bid instead of teams that had won conference titles.

Tranghese said Georgia, which lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, unlike Indiana State, Hampton, Utah State and Georgia State, was worthy of selection because the Bulldogs had played the toughest nonconference schedule in the country. And that in the future strength of schedule was going to be even more important.

In other words, nuts to you so-called mid-majors.

Tough noogies to all you Irvines and Valpos and Pepperdines, you teams whose only opportunity to schedule those "ratings" games is to promise to go on the road to every Pac-10, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC or Big East school around.

Forget about going to class, apparently.

If you're the coach at Irvine or Pepperdine you'd better take your kids out of class and travel around the country. You'd better go play in hostile gyms with refs from the big conference. If your kids get tired or flunk a test, if they get their brains beat and lose their confidence, too bad.

Irvine played three Pac-10 teams this year, beat two of them and was within a point of UCLA at Pauley Pavilion before losing by five.

Now that Irvine beat Washington and Cal and almost UCLA, how many Pac-10 teams do you think want to play the Anteaters, who finished 25-5 this year?

"None," Coach Pat Douglass said on NCAA selection Sunday. "Not even if we go to their place."

Valparaiso, which won the Mid-Continent Conference regular-season title and lost by a point to Southern Utah in the conference tourney final, didn't get an NCAA bid or even an NIT bid. Valpo beat Ohio State this season, in a preseason tournament on a neutral floor.

Ohio State got an NCAA bid, of course, then lost to the Big West tournament champion, Utah State. If Irvine had won the Big West tourney, Utah State wouldn't have gotten an NCAA call either.

But, but, Utah State won an NCAA tournament game, you say?

Doesn't matter.

Strength of schedule, you know.

Gonzaga, which has gone Elite Eight, Sweet 16, Sweet 16 in the last three years, was so respected by Tranghese and Co. that it got seeded No. 12 and the second-best team in the West Coast Conference, Pepperdine, got the NIT. Even though Pepperdine beat Indiana last year in the NCAAs.

Georgetown starts out the year 16-0 because Coach Craig Esherick felt his team was young and still adjusting to the switch from John Thompson as coach. He wanted to schedule some early-season victories so his team would gain confidence and learn to win.

Good strategy.

The Hoyas are here in Orange County, ready to play Maryland Thursday night at the Arrowhead Pond in the West Regional semifinals.

Douglass does that with an Irvine program trying to grow from a two-win season two years ago, and Tranghese and Co. in effect spit in his face. Don't even think about an at-large bid, Tranghese was saying to Douglass and Homer Drew at Valpo and Buzz Peterson at Tulsa.

Heck, Tulsa made it to the Elite Eight a year ago, then lost in overtime to Hawaii in the conference tournament final this year. No at-large bids there.

Those go to tired-looking sixth-place teams from the Big Ten like Wisconsin and Ohio State, to 16-14 Georgia. And those teams get seeded higher than Gonzaga too. Then they lose immediately and go home. But the Big Ten gets to keep seven shares of NCAA tournament money. The Big West gets one and should be grateful.

So here's a thought.

If the NCAA selectors want to make strength of schedule and RPI computer rankings all that matter, then let's pass another rule. Let's say that everybody from the big conferences has to schedule somebody from the mid-majors. That's not all. The schedule has to be home-and-home. If Irvine goes to Pauley, UCLA comes to the Bren Center.

Otherwise let's stop giving Wisconsin a free pass and making Irvine stay home. If Kent State is good enough to beat Indiana, maybe the second-place team in the Mid-American Conference, on a neutral floor, is good enough to beat Iowa. When Butler absolutely demolishes Wake Forest, then why can't an Irvine be in and Wake Forest out?

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