Something Unnatural About These Selections

March Madness is thinking 10 selection committee members could gather in a room and get it right.

Madness is setting up a possible classic game between Kentucky and Arizona -- in the national semifinals.

It is handing Texas a No. 1 seeding in the South and locking the Longhorns on course to play host to the regional final in San Antonio despite the fact Texas won neither the Big 12 Conference's regular-season nor tournament title.

Madness is putting Auburn in the tournament and pushing Boston College out. It is making the West Regional tougher than a two-dollar steak and the East weaker than 10 cups of water over one tea bag.

It is putting Alabama in the field instead of Texas Tech, even though the absence of Bob Knight made every NCAA volunteer he has ever cursed sleep 10 hours Sunday night.

Madness is putting Brigham Young in a Friday-Sunday bracket when, for religious reasons, the school doesn't play on Sundays.

It is this pod system, designed to reward quality teams by keeping them close to home even if that means Syracuse receives a Boston-Albany pass through the first two rounds while Big East tournament champion Pittsburgh eventually gets routed through Minneapolis.

Madness is making us think conference tournaments mean something when in fact winning the Big Ten tournament bought Illinois a No. 4 death-sentence in the West while Duke and Pittsburgh each received official NCAA face slaps.

Madness is Billy Packer asking the tournament chairman why the selection committee couldn't re-seed the Final Four schools and the chairman saying "that's not part of the area we work in," as if these guys work construction Mondays through Fridays.

Madness is the University of San Diego being the only team from Southern California to make the NCAA tournament despite the fact that we have the best players, weather, facilities and one of the nation's largest population bases.

Madness is being subjected to a recent Pacific 10 tournament played out by schools that didn't want to be there (Arizona and Stanford) and schools that didn't belong there (UCLA and USC).

Here's a thought: Rather than compromise the integrity of the tournament, let the regular season champion stay home next year and sit on its bid.

Thank Phil Knight for the Oregon Ducks, because sending USC into the field of 65 with a losing record would have done for the Pac-10 what North Carolina Asheville's advancing has done for the Big South (read: nothing).

Madness is watching Arizona's first-round loss against UCLA and thinking A) the Wildcats lacked only a get-away car and B) the school's purse ought to be held pending review from the California Boxing Commission.

Madness is trying to imagine what Arizona's itinerary might have looked like:

Wednesday: (Arrival in Los Angeles). Blow off news conference, take express bus to hotel, order take-out Chinese for players, pickup Pac-10 team picture at one-hour photo, listen to Coach Olson's pregame pep talk in which he stresses Pac-10 tournament "really means nothing."

Thursday: (Game Day) Express checkout at hotel, arrange with sky cap to have bags sent to LAX before departing to Staples Center for 1:20 p.m. tipoff. Players should wear uniforms underneath street clothes to save time. Keep watches on Tucson time.

Do not run the shot clock down before shooting -- we have a plane to catch. Don't worry about losing top seeding in West because NCAA tournament chairman this year is Jim Livengood, your athletic director.

Keep post-loss comments to a minimum. No showers -- we have a plane to catch! Put clothes on over uniforms. Assistant athletic director Dick Bartch has arranged for team to catch last Southwest flight back to the desert. Players back in Tucson by midnight (11 p.m. Pacific 10 Conference time).

Madness is UCLA Coach Steve Lavin dragging out his extended stay at Hotel Westwood an extra five days with a win over Washington and then an extra 24 hours in the Pac-10 tournament. His hitch here should be remembered as one of the first "reality" shows.

Plot premise: Hire a kid out of Chapman College to coach college's most famous franchise, put the cameras on him 24-7 and see what happens. It was "Fear Factor," minus having to eat a bowl of snails.

It certainly made for interesting theater. Lavin's seven-year reign proved as uneven as cobblestone -- low/highlighted this year by a loss to Northern Arizona and win over Arizona. He somehow advanced the Bruins to five Sweet 16 appearances even as he failed to advance the program -- no easy trick. He won ugly, but often enough to keep earning bonus time when everyone knew he was gone the first time he had a year like this one.

Madness is starting the NCAA tournament under a dark cloud.

How about a mini-tournament for programs disgraced by scandal? Call it the "Fraud Four." Start with a play-in game between Villanova and St. Bonaventure -- as if the Bonnies would bother to show. Winner takes on Fresno State in one semifinal while Michigan and Georgia square off in the other.

Winner could read the loser pages out of the NCAA manual.

Madness is knowing the nickname of Vermont is the Catamounts and knowing they'll be checking out of the tournament very, very soon.

Madness, also, is loving every minute of this.




Only three California teams qualified for the NCAA basketball tournament, a year after the state became the first to send seven teams to the tournament. A look at the most entries by state:

*--* State (Teams) Year Teams California (7) 2002 California, Pepperdine, San Diego State, Stanford, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, USC California (6) 1997 California, Pacific, St. Mary's, Stanford, UCLA, USC California (6) 2001 California, CS Northridge, Fresno State, Stanford, UCLA, USC Indiana (6) 2000 Ball State, Butler, Indiana, Indiana State, Purdue, Valparaiso


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