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NCAA PREVIEW / INSIDE THE TOURNAMENT | Chris Dufresne
SECOND THOUGHTS

Selection Committee Gets Almost Everything Right

March 15, 2004|Chris Dufresne

NCAA tournament bids have been finalized (sorry Utah State) and, as usual, we can't wait to get this pod party started.

Unlike Conference USA play, in the NCAA tournament there will be no biting, eye gouging, kicking, or punching in the groin -- unless CBS announcer Billy Packer and Saint Joseph's Coach Phil Martelli end up in the same elevator at the Final Four.

We confess the NCAA selection committee did a lot better job this year with the brackets, but how hard was that?

Last year, it placed Brigham Young in a Friday-Sunday bracket even though the school, for religious reasons, doesn't play on Sundays.

This year, Brigham Young opens in a Thursday-Saturday pod in Denver.

Amen.

The committee also did a smart thing by ranking each of the four No. 1-seeded schools to avoid a national semifinal between the top two teams.

But we're paying no attention to this new bracket "branding."

In case you missed it, the NCAA decided to name each regional after the host city: East this year is East Rutherford, West is Phoenix, Midwest is St. Louis and South is Atlanta.

Why mess with traditional NCAA geography?

This is reminiscent of when a beverage company based in this year's "Atlanta" region tried to foist a "new" cola on the public. We know how that turned out.

Quick tournament takes and impressions:

* Best first-round matchup: Packer vs. Martelli.

Packer said Saint Joseph's didn't deserve a No. 1 seeding. Martelli said Packer was full of CBS beans.

Both men could use timeouts and hair transplants.

It's amazing the fuss that's made over tournament seedings when you can obviously slip down the board simply by playing too late in the day.

Bob Bowlsby, chair of the NCAA selection committee, said Oklahoma State lost a possible top spot because the bracket was pretty much set by the time the Cowboys beat Texas in the Big 12 championship game.

Now doesn't that beat all?

Memo to Big 12: Hope this television exposure money grab doesn't cost your conference a national title.

Bad timing also affected the Big Ten. Wisconsin won the conference's tournament title Sunday and was rewarded with a No. 6 (whoopee!) seeding.

On the flip side, Duke lost the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament title to Maryland but did not lose a No. 1 seeding. See, Duke lost early enough in the day for the committee to realize, as always, that any Duke loss is better than any Oklahoma State win.

Do top positions really matter?

Yes and no. Since the tournament was expanded in 1985, 11 of the 19 champions have been top-seeded teams. But it's no guarantee. Villanova won as a No. 8 in 1985 and Syracuse won last year as a No. 3.

* Congratulations to Conference USA, which earned as many tournament bids, six, as the Pacific 10 and Big Ten conferences combined.

You say "break up Conference USA?"

Well, they are.

* Let's get this straight before we get started: nobody owes anybody anything. Just because you coached a long time doesn't mean you deserve to win the NCAA title.

Steve Fisher won it all in his sixth game at Michigan, while Roy Williams' quest for basketball's holy grail has been tear-filled and well documented.

That said, the basketball gods seem to be cashing more checks these days.

Two years ago, Maryland's Gary Williams lost his "best coach never to have won a title" hair shirt tag when his Terrapins tripped up Indiana.

Last year, it was long-suffering Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, who took out a one-year lease on a Car (melo) and cruised to a title.

Will this year be a three-peat?

Breaking down, in order, the breakthrough chances in this year's field:

1. Mike Montgomery, Stanford. His 1998 team came close, making the Final Four before a semifinal loss to Kentucky, in overtime. In 2001, his team was No. 1 in the West but fell short in the regional final.

2. Eddie Sutton, Oklahoma State. He has to be the sentimental favorite. Sutton turned 68 last week and has been through a lot in recent years -- most notably a 2001 plane crash that killed members of the Oklahoma State basketball family.

Sutton was the first coach to ever take four different schools to the NCAA tournament -- nothing would be sweeter than bringing home a title to his alma mater.

3. Bob Huggins, Cincinnati. He got one of the raw breaks in NCAA tournament history in 2000 when star forward Kenyon Martin suffered a broken leg in a conference tournament, wrecking the Bearcats' national title hopes. Cincinnati was No. 1 in the country but, after Martin went down, the selection committee showed all the compassion of a tax collector and demoted Huggins' team to a No. 2 seeding.

Cincinnati lost in the second round.

4. Roy Williams, North Carolina. He returned home to Tar Heel Country after a terrific run in Kansas produced four Final Four teams but no enchilada.

Wouldn't it be something if Williams finally came through in a year when no one was expecting it?

* Southern California whiffs again. Late Saturday night, way past deadline, Cal State Northridge missed a three-point shot at the buzzer and lost by two points to Pacific in the Big West tournament final, assuring for the second consecutive season that no Southland team would make the NCAA field.

For what it's worth, Concordia University of Irvine is defending NAIA champion.

* And finally ... every year we like to find a coach and have him pick the tournament bracket.

Unfortunately, lawyers for Rick Neuheisel said he would "probably" not be available.

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