Counting it down: Title field cut to 145

It was something of a scandalous night in the great countdown -- among the key developments were an officiating meltdown in the Big East tournament and an 11th-hour NCAA suspension in the Big 12.

Both contributed heavily to eliminating teams from national championship consideration.

Rutgers was rubbed out by the complete abdication of officiating duty in the final seconds of its loss to St. John’s. The end of that game might serve as a flashing neon “RETIRE” sign for two of the best (but also two of the oldest and most voluntarily overworked) refs in the game in Jim Burr and Tim Higgins.

And Baylor was dismissed after the suspension of star freshman Perry Jones III by the NCAA before the Bears played Oklahoma on Wednesday. The NCAA reportedly said Jones received pre-enrolled improper benefits, but apparently failed to find the conference tournament to be the same postseason “unique opportunity” for a rule-breaking student-athlete to compete in as, say, the Sugar Bowl. So Jones sat and Baylor ended a thoroughly poor season with an emphatic loss to the Sooners.

Those were two of the 26 teams bounced from Big Dance consideration Wednesday. The full list of the departed, as we cut the field to 145:

Big 12: Nebraska (beaten by Oklahoma State); Iowa State (beaten by Colorado); Baylor (beaten by Oklahoma); Texas Tech (beaten by Missouri to end the Pat Knight Era in Lubbock).

Big East: Rutgers (beaten by St. John’s); South Florida (beaten by Cincinnati). (Fellow Big East losers Georgetown and West Virginia will be in the NCAA tournament as at-large teams and remain alive in the title chase.)

Big Sky: Montana (beaten by Northern Colorado).

Conference USA: Central Florida (beaten by East Carolina); Tulane (beaten by Southern Mississippi); Houston (beaten by Marshall); SMU (beaten by Rice).

MEAC: Howard (beaten by Norfolk State); South Carolina State (beaten by Bethune-Cookman); Maryland-Eastern Shore (beaten by Hampton).

Mountain West: Wyoming (beaten by TCU).

Northeast: Robert Morris (beaten in overtime for the automatic bid by Long Island).

Pac-10: Stanford (beaten by Oregon State); Arizona State (beaten by Oregon).

Southland: Northwestern State (beaten by UT-San Antonio); Stephen F. Austin (beaten by Sam Houston State); Nicholls State (beaten by McNeese State); Southeastern Louisiana (beaten by Texas State).

SWAC: Prairie View A&M (beaten by Jackson State); Arkansas-Pine Bluff (beaten by Texas Southern)

WAC: Hawaii (beaten by San Jose State); Fresno State (beaten by Nevada).