Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Bubble teams lobby anyone who will listen

In SEC, seven schools make pitch

The Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama was ranked No. 1 briefly, Indiana reached last year's national title game, and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight always has his teams ready when it matters.

It matters now.

Those three schools are among 10 or so prominent programs that might not even make the NCAA tournament field unless they impress during this week's conference tourneys.

In a bit of good news for those "bubble teams," one NCAA berth suddenly opened up Monday when Georgia - ranked 21st and a lock to make the field - withdrew from the SEC and NCAA tournaments after an internal investigation uncovered academic fraud involving three players.

"I think every basketball player and coach in America is looking at the NCAA tournament and what needs to happen or how it will play out," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, presumably looking harder than most.

No team has failed to get an NCAA invitation after rising to No. 1 since North Carolina State in 1974-75, when only one team from each conference made the field. Now, with an expanded, 65-team field, the Southeastern Conference alone has three available teams considered locks and as many bubble teams, with Alabama trying not to fall all the way from No. 1 to the NIT.

Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee are hoping to erase doubt with strong league tournament performances this weekend in New Orleans.

Indiana's woes

Indiana can relate. So can Texas Tech and former head Hoosier Bob Knight, North Carolina State, Seton Hall, Minnesota, DePaul and Oregon, among others.

Already no sure bet, the Hoosiers (18-11, 8-8 Big 10) closed the regular season with a 74-66 loss to Penn State, a team that finished 2-14 in the league.

The teams meet again Thursday in the Big 10 tournament in Chicago, and coach Mike Davis figures a win or two should convince the selection committee.

"We'd be six games over .500 if we lose Thursday," Davis said, "but I don't think we're going to lose Thursday."

Knight and Co. will need a huge run at the Big 12 tournament to make the NCAA field. It won't be the same without him: No Knight-coached team has had to play in the NIT since 1985. Three of his IU teams won NCAA national championships.

He said Tech (16-11, 6-10) will probably need to win the league tournament to make the NCAA field for the second straight year.

Buzzsaw in SEC

The SEC's situation is wild enough that stress rather than excessive consumption could lead to a run on antacids in the Big Easy this weekend.

Coaches of the highly rated league have lobbied for placing seven teams in the tournament, but the SEC's never gotten more than six. Florida, Kentucky, and Mississippi State all are considered sure bets with the four hopefuls.

"If the NCAA is serious about getting the best teams in the tournament - and I think that's the goal - there's no question the SEC should get seven teams," LSU's John Brady said.

Not necessarily, according to the team power ratings. Only Alabama (33) and Auburn (39) are rated in the Top 40 while LSU (41) and Tennessee (50) aren't too far behind - bubble territory for at-large berths.

Making matters tougher, the Volunteers ruled senior guard Jon Higgins ineligible Monday for failing to pass enough classes in the fall. Two bubble teams - Auburn and Tennessee - will meet after first-round byes due to Georgia's withdrawal.

LSU was the only one to bolster its case in the stretch run, winning its last five - including victories over the league's other three bubble teams.

Auburn's Cliff Ellis thinks being the SEC West's No. 2 seeded team should count for something.

"I don't think No. 3 and No. 4 should jump ahead of No. 2," Ellis said.

Gottfried, meanwhile, said a tough nonconference schedule - including wins over Oklahoma, Ohio State and Xavier and a close loss at Utah - negates a 7-9 SEC mark.

Don't forget about ...

Seton Hall (16-11, 10-6 Big East) also boasts solid power ratings at No. 36. The Pirates lost their final two games after winning nine straight.

No problem, said forward Marcus Toney-El.

"We'll start another streak," he said. "Our glass is always half full."

Oregon (20-9, 10-8 PAC 10) has the wins but is a modest No 53 in the power ratings and lost its final two games heading into the tournament opener with Arizona State.

"We're a bubble team now," guard James Davis said.

Spikes leaves No. 51, Cincinnati in his past
Lewis makes James a Bengals believer
Washington is still busy

Moseley, Basham get taste of action
Reds' split squads sweep O's, Red Sox
No surprises as Reds trim roster
Pitch comes to shove in Expos-Marlins brawl
Frank Robinson passes on hard-nosed passion for baseball
Monday's other games
Yanks, Wells agree to a $100,000 fine

$10 million gift will help build UC's Varsity Village
C-USA honors UC's Stokes
Huggins reinstates Flowers
A-10 wants shot of postseason enthusiasm
A-10 tourney: George Washington 85, Massachusetts 74
MAC tourney: Hunter drops in buzzer-beater as Bobcats advance
No. 19 Creighton 80, S. Illinois 56
Sun Belt tourney: Western Kentucky shooting for third straight title
NKU doubles pleasure in Div. II
Bubble teams lobby anyone who will listen
Georgia withdraws from SEC, NCAA play
Scandals, firings overshadow March Madness
Top 25: Kentucky closes gap on No. 1 Arizona

Neltner big for Bluebirds in win
Simon Kenton slips past Dixie
Thomas, Finnell are second-team all-state girls
Beechwood happy to have Yeagle back

Holtz says he returned to coaching to help others
Marshall football players plead innocent to charges

Hoch sees the light, wins at Doral

Jordan loses patience with younger Wizards
Malone scores 29 points as Utah handles Miami

Vanbiesbrouck quits after using racial slur
Flyers get Amonte from Coyotes before trade deadline

Capriati outlasts Dementieva at Indian Wells

Tuesday's sports on TV, radio