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Wednesday, February 28, 2001
Losing isn't an option at this point




So, the six major conferences think they have pressure to get into the NCAA Tournament.

Hah!

Try going into a three or four-day tournament where every team is looking at your team as fresh meat, and the only chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament is to beat you.

That's the mindset in almost all mid to low-major conference tournaments, which get under way with the Ohio Valley Conference on Tuesday.

(An at-large bid) can happen at our level but it's rough. You need a couple of real marquee wins before the NCAA selection committee will take a serious look, no matter how well you do in the conference.
John Kresse,
College of Charleston head coach

Gonzaga is in, perhaps, the toughest position. The Bulldogs (20-6) should be in the NCAA Tournament if they get to the West Coast Conference final and lose in San Diego next Monday night. The Bulldogs were 13-1 in the WCC, the best record for the Bulldogs ever in the league. They swept Pepperdine and only lost one game with Dan Dickau in the lineup. They swept the awards in the league -- coach (Mark Few), player (Casey Calvary), freshman (Blake Stepp) and defensive (Mark Spink).

Past performance isn't supposed to count, but the Bulldogs are one of only six teams in two seasons to have five NCAA Tournament wins (Duke, Michigan State, UConn, Purdue and Florida are the others). The RPI of 85 isn't good, but the team is better than the previous two entrants. Losing to a third-place team on the road (Santa Clara) shouldn't put the Bulldogs out of the field as an at-large.

But that's the pressure the Bulldogs are feeling right now. If the seeds hold to form, Gonzaga will play host San Diego in the semifinals while Pepperdine would meet Santa Clara in the other bracket.

"So, you're saying that we would have to beat Pepperdine a third time to just get in?" Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

Possibly.

Similar fear is settling in for Hofstra (23-4, 61 RPI), where the Pride is the favorite to come out of the America East with the automatic berth. But the first two rounds will be in Delaware. The final would be next weekend at Hofstra, assuming the Pride is in the game. Hofstra doesn't have the RPI to stand alone, but the Pride does have the longest win streak in the nation (15) and potential for a 25-5 record.

"We've got a strong case with 13 road wins," Hofstra coach Jay Wright said. "I understand we have a negative RPI but we would have won 17 of 18 games if that occurs (lose in final). We've got to take care of business and if we don't then we won't feel cheated. We know what we have to do to get in."

That negative, pressure-filled feeling is hovering above the Mid-American Conference. Kent State (18-8, 90 RPI) and Central Michigan (16-6, 93 RPI) understand they can't get in as at-large teams, too.

"I told my team we've got to win the MAC tournament," Kent State coach Gary Waters said. "We were at 35 in the RPI at one point and they said no. We've got to win this thing. It's a great league but we're beating each other up too much."

Georgia State (22-4, 41 RPI) might look strong, but the TAAC's power rating of 22 doesn't help. Neither does the fact that the tournament is on Georgia State's homecourt, making a potential loss look even worse for an at-large berth.

"I feel good about our chances because it's on our homecourt," Georgia State's Shernard Long said. "We don't want to depend on an at-large bid, because you have no control over it. We don't want someone else to make the decision."

The College of Charleston (20-6, 74 RPI) is in the same position in the Southern Conference.

"We've had some nice wins, but we know we've got to go to Greenville to get to the NCAAs," College of Charleston coach John Kresse said.

Butler (18-7, 39 RPI) and Creighton (22-6, 25 RPI) could get in without winning the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and Missouri Valley Conference. But the Bulldogs will be the target, like the Blue Jays.

"We got in as at-large once before we weren't eligible for the TAAC tournament," Kresse said. "But we beat Alabama, Penn State and Charlotte that year. It can happen at our level but it's rough. You need a couple of real marquee wins before the NCAA selection committee will take a serious look, no matter how well you do in the conference. It still depends on your RPI, your big-time wins and major upsets around the country."

Looking back
Team of the Week
Virginia: Rule violation of storming the court No. 5 -- coaches and players shouldn't stand on scorer's table. No penalty, but just a reminder. The Cavs' took out North Carolina on Sunday for a crushing victory. Granted, it was at home, but it shows the Cavs' are good enough to knock off both of the ACC's elite teams. Their press will have to do wonders on neutral courts in the ACC and NCAA Tournament for a deep run.
Player of the Week
Melvin Ely, Fresno State: The junior center scored 43 points and had 18 rebounds in the Bulldogs' sweep of SMU and Nevada last week. He had his fifth double-double of the season against the Mustangs. He was 16 for 28 in the two games. Ely snapped a streak of 23 consecutive free throws in the Nevada game, the longest streak of his career. He has four 20-plus point games in the last five to take over as the Bulldogs' leading scorer (16.2 ppg). Ely is making a bid to be the WAC player of the year and led the Bulldogs to their first ever WAC title.hopes.
Past players of the week:
  • Feb. 19: Dan Gadzuric, Jr. (UCLA)
  • Feb. 12: Troy Murphy (Notre Dame)
  • Feb. 5: Kirk Haston (Indiana)
  • Jan. 29: Luke Recker (Iowa)
  • Jan. 22: Shane Battier (Duke)
  • Jan. 15: Clarence Gilbert (Missouri)
  • Jan. 8: Troy Bell (Boston College)
  • Jan. 1: Greg Stempin (Toledo)
  • Dec. 26: Darren Kelly (Texas)
  • Dec. 18: David West (Xavier)
  • Dec. 11: Kareem Rush (Missouri)
  • Dec. 3: Jason Williams (Duke)
  • Nov. 27: Preston Shumpert (Syracuse)
  • Nov. 20: Trenton Hassell (Austin Peay)
  • Nov. 13: Joseph Forte (UNC)

    Climbing up
    West Virginia: The Mountaineers weren't even being considered a bubble team until they survived an double-overtime win against Villanova and beat Seton Hall on the road Sunday. Gale Catlett has done a nice job keeping this team together through a few speed bumps this season (Chris Moss spitting incident at Notre Dame and three of four losing skid). But the Mountaineers are in position to earn a bid if they keep winning.
    Better watch out
    Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons probably should still make the tournament. But the last-second loss to Duke could have similar ramifications to what occurred at Maryland. Wake Forest has to put that loss behind them and earn a bid. The talent is still there to be a factor in the ACC tournament.
  • Bubbling Over
    Baylor at Oklahoma State, Wednesday: The bubble Cowboys tough stretch continues after Monday's Texas Tech road game.

    Seton Hall at Villanova, Wednesday: Are the Wildcats really still alive? Possibly with a win.

    LaSalle at Temple, Wednesday: The Owls' slim at-large hopes rest on this game.

    Arkansas at Alabama, Wednesday: The Hogs' aren't safe yet, but beating the Tide would do wonders for resume.

    Georgia Tech at Florida State, Wednesday: This is the kind of game the Yellow Jackets can't lose and still make the tourney.

    Memphis at Southern Mississippi, Wednesday: The loser can forget about the bubble, while winner still has a pulse.

    West Virginia at Miami, Wednesday: The Mountaineers improbable ride to the bubble would continue with a win in South Florida.

    Mississippi State at Georgia, Wednesday: Neither team will go away but the loser might not have a choice.

    Cincinnati at South Florida, Thursday: The Bearcats are still an at-large possibility but how many more chances do they get?

    BYU at New Mexico, Thursday: The Cougars need this one to catch the Utes, while the Lobos quest for a share of the MWC title could still be alive with a win.

    Wyoming at San Diego State, Thursday: The Aztecs are looking like the perfect spoiler in the MWC race.

    Cal at UCLA, Thursday: This is the undercard to Saturday's title matchup.

    Stanford at USC, Thursday: If the Cardinal fall to the Trojans then the Bruins can move ahead on Saturday.

    Temple at GW, Saturday: This should be a war, an ugly war between two teams who can beat you up inside.

    Boston College at West Virginia, Saturday: The opportunity is there for the Mountaineers to raise the RPI with the Eagles in the finale on senior day.

    Villanova at Miami, Saturday: Will the Wildcats' bubble status still matter Saturday?

    South Carolina at Mississippi State, Saturday: This game might end up determining only seeding in the SEC tournament.

    Wisconsin at Iowa, Saturday: The Hawkeyes might need this game to feel secure about their chances if they lose to Penn State.

    Georgia at Arkansas, Saturday: This has SEC bubble written all over it.

    Utah at New Mexico, Saturday: Utes could clinch MWC title and be a strong bubble team.

    Oklahoma State at Oklahoma, Saturday: The Cowboys will have a strong case with a win in Norman.

    Cal at USC, Saturday: A sweep by the Trojans would ensure a bid, a split probably gets them in but being swept could spell N-I-T.

    Wake Forest at N.C. State, Sunday: The Demon Deacons need every win they can get before the ACC tournament.

    Top Five
    Jason Collins, Stanford: His 33 points and eight rebounds led to a rout at Washington. It was another impressive performance by the twin who made waiting for his arrival after injuries worth every minute.
    Jared Jeffries, Indiana: The freshman who had the world on his shoulders in November has finally calmed down in Bloomington. He scored 18, including 8 of 8 from the field, to go along with Tom Coverdale's six 3-pointers in a rout of Wisconsin.
    Marvin O'Connor, St. Joe's: O'Connor averaged over 20 points in three straight games, including 30 at Dayton during the week. Freshman guard Jameer Nelson gets a lot of the pub but O'Connor is just as deserving.
    Maurice Evans, Texas: Big Mo scored 18 points in a win over Baylor and then put up 28 in a rout of Iowa State to send a strong message that the Longhorns could be a factor in the Big 12 tourney and beyond. It has taken Evans a few months to get comfortable after transferring from Wichita State.
    Greg Stevenson, Richmond: He put up 34 points in a 20-point rout of George Mason to give the regular season title to the Spiders. But a move to the Atlantic 10 is keeping Richmond out of the CAA tournament.

    Speaking of Seeds
    Missouri at Texas, Monday: Missouri is probably in but is playing for a seed in the Big 12 tournament. Maryland at Duke, Tuesday: This could affect Duke's chances of catching North Carolina and a No. 1 seed.

    Michigan State at Wisconsin, Tuesday: The Spartans' Big Ten title hopes and No. 1 seed could be gone with a loss.

    St. John's at Boston College, Wednesday: The Red Storm is in a spoiler role now. BC still has a shot at a No. 2 seed.

    Rutgers at Georgetown, Wednesday: The Scarlet Knights are playing for the Big East West Division's final spot in the conference tournament.

    Minnesota at Indiana, Wednesday: The Hoosiers obviously want to avoid the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament until the final. They can still get to third.

    Northridge at Eastern Washington, Thursday: First place and hosting the conference tournament is on the line.

    Princeton at Yale, Friday: The Bulldogs still have life left for a chance at the Ivy title.

    Penn at Brown, Friday: Don't count out Brown. Tied with Yale, Brown could win the title with a weekend sweep and some help.

    Penn at Yale, Saturday: New Haven could be rocking if Friday is successful.

    Princeton at Brown, Saturday: The same could occur in Providence, setting up a potential Ivy league showdown with Yale March 7.

    Alabama at Ole Miss, Saturday: The Tide need help to catch Ole Miss. This would help.

    Tulsa at Fresno State, Saturday: The Bulldogs can send a message to the WAC tournament hosts with a clean sweep yet again.

    Stanford at UCLA, Saturday: The Pac-10 title is on the line, who would have thought that two months ago?

    Kentucky at Florida, Sunday: If Florida wins, the Gators could make a run toward a No. 2 seed with an SEC tourney title.

    Duke at North Carolina, Sunday: The epic _ Chapter II. ACC title. No. 1 seeds. Everything on the line before the ACC tourney starts.

    Five who helped themselves ...
    Utah: The Utes are 38 in the RPI, 9-3 in the MWC and 18-9 overall after beating BYU. It took time for two JC points (Kevin Bradley and Travis Spivey) to get used to a complex system. Britton Johnsen is finally in a groove after coming back from a Mormon Church mission. Chris Burgess has been in and out of the lineup. Oh, and it took some time to get used to assistant Dick Hunsaker as the head coach instead of Rick Majerus.

    UCLA: The Bruins put themselves in position to make a run for the Pac-10 title with the overtime win at Oregon State. The Bruins needed a tight game on the road to show that they can handle adverse situations. If they beat Stanford and Cal at home, they should win the Pac-10 with road games at Washington and Washington State to end the season.

    Indiana: The Hoosiers were faced with a must-win game against Wisconsin. They won it and now they should be in the dance barring a complete collapse against Minnesota, at Purdue and a first-round flameout in the Big Ten tournament.

    Georgetown: The Hoyas needed a win over a quality Big East team to ensure they were a legit NCAA team. They're backs were against the wall and they responded with a win over Syracuse. The Hoyas are still a dangerous team and have now shown they can get through adversity.

    Maryland: The Terps shut down a lot of the criticism with convincing wins this week over N.C. State and Oklahoma. Both games were at home, but they showed the Terps ability to respond to being labeled a team that is done. Maryland showed spunk and resiliency and appears ready to make a decent run in the tournament.

    Five who didn't ...
    Utah State: The Aggies were on thin ice with an at-large berth. Losing to Boise State canceled any chances Utah State had of getting in without winning the Big West tournament.

    Central Michigan: The Chippewas are having a tremendous turnaround season, but losing consecutive games to Ball State and Kent State isn't going to get CMU in as an at-large team.

    Kent State: Dropping a home game to Ohio means the Mid-American Conference is looking at one bid. The Flashes have begun to accept that they weren't able to get on a decent enough run to warrant at-large status.

    Miami: The Hurricanes' slim at-large hopes were based on continuing their improbable run in the last 10 games. Beating Connecticut was asking a lot but the 'Canes had little room for error.

    Penn State: The Nittany Lions blew a chance by losing at Northwestern by one. Had they won that game, losing to Michigan State wouldn't have hurt as much. Now they've probably got to win out and win a game or two in the Big Ten tournament.

    Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Watch, a look back at the week and a preview of the week ahead, runs every Monday.

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