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SELECTION PROCESS

Will Little Guy Get Pushed Around?

March 14, 2004|Elliott Teaford | Times Staff Writer

Gonzaga and Saint Joseph's, two tiny Jesuit schools located 2,500 miles apart, in Spokane, Wash., and Philadelphia, could be No. 1 seeded teams in their regions when the NCAA selection committee announces its picks today.

Or perhaps not.

In fact, it's difficult to know what the committee will do with third-ranked Gonzaga and top-ranked Saint Joseph's.

Despite their lofty national rankings and superb records, neither is a clear-cut No. 1 team on either coast. Or in any of the four regions. The size of the schools and the stature of their respective conferences could mean neither ends up where it would like when the brackets are announced at 3 p.m. PST.

By virtue of its Pacific 10 tournament victory Saturday over Washington, Stanford probably deserves a No. 1 seeding in one of the four brackets that used to be known as East, West, Midwest and South, but now are identified by their host cities.

Plus, No. 2 Stanford (29-1) gave Gonzaga (27-2) one of its two losses this season in December at the Pete Newell Challenge at Oakland.

"The Zags got the reputation for being a Cinderella team back when they really were one," ESPN analyst and former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps told Associated Press last week when asked about Gonzaga. "Well, they're no longer the Cinderella."

With a victory today over Maryland in the Atlantic Coast tournament final, No. 5 Duke (27-4) probably deserves a No. 1 seeding.

Saint Joseph's also has some explaining to do.

The Hawks are coming off a 20-point drubbing against Xavier in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 tournament that ended their hopes of becoming the first undefeated team to enter the NCAA tournament since 1991. Saint Joseph's is 27-1 after suffering the worst loss of any top-ranked team to an unranked opponent in NCAA history.

In the cases of Gonzaga and Saint Joseph's, it would seem a stretch to imagine either team moving to another region to secure a top seeding, especially when you consider that teams such as No. 4 Mississippi State (25-3), No. 7 Oklahoma State (26-3), No. 9 Connecticut (27-6) and No. 8 Kentucky (25-4) merit consideration as No. 1s.

"I'm assuming the television where that committee is meeting didn't work," Saint Joseph's Coach Phil Martelli said after the Hawks' 87-67 loss Thursday to Xavier at Dayton, Ohio, the chants of "Sloppy Joe's," still ringing in his ears.

"This was our 20th game away from our own fieldhouse," Martelli said, defending the Hawks' status as a No. 1-seeded regional team. "We're 19-1 in those games. [The committee] will understand that. The committee will do us right because of our body of work.

"Not 40 minutes."

Of the two, Gonzaga's strong finish, including a 14-0 West Coast Conference record and tournament championship, gives the Bulldogs an edge in any head-to-head matchup.

But the Bulldogs, playing at the time without injured big man Ronny Turiaf, lost to the Hawks, 73-66, when they played Nov. 14 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

So there's that to consider.

And there are many points to be discussed by the committee, including a team's record against Division I opponents, its nonconference and conference records, its road record and its record in the last 10 games.

Much could change today if, say, Duke loses to Maryland and/or Kentucky loses to Florida and/or Oklahoma State loses to No. 11 Texas.

The Big Ten championship game between No. 12 Illinois and No. 10 Wisconsin is not expected to have a significant impact on the selection process. After years as one of the nation's top conferences, the Big Ten has had a down season.

UCLA and USC are sitting out the tournament for the second consecutive season, leaving local rooting interests little more than tepid.

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