One subject seems to be on the mind of everyone in the United States. Yet, the NCAA's men's basketball committee talked very little about the state of the nation's economy during its two days of meetings in Indianapolis that ended Thursday.
The nine-man committee began laying the groundwork to select the field of 65 for the NCAA tournament next month. As usual, the NCAA will attempt to protect the first five seeds in each region and keep those teams relatively local in the first two rounds. However, it will not place a great emphasis on rearranging the brackets to keep lower-seeded teams closer to home for tournament games, which would reduce travel costs.
"The bracketing principles have been designed for several years to place teams as geographically close [to their campuses] as possible," said committee chairman Mike Slive, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. "We are certainly sensitive to the economic times and we will certainly think about those issues as we go, but we think the bracketing principles that are in place deal with that issue. We won't compromise those provisions.
"The goal is to ultimately have a nationally competitive and geographically spread tournament. So to the extent that we can stay with the economic principle, we will."
Perhaps the most heartening news to come out of Slive's teleconference with the media was that the committee will not place special emphasis on late-season games. The committee has left the impression in many years that it almost throws out what happens before February and concentrates primarily on what a team does in the second half of the conference season and tournament play.
"There's always been discussion about the last 12 games," Slive said. "The importance of the last 12 games can vary from committee member to committee member, but I think the important thing here, and I think I speak for all my colleagues, is you have to look at the entire year. You have to drill down very, very carefully in what the last 12 games represent, particularly when in conference schedules they're not playing home-and-home.
"A team could have a terrific record and maybe play a lesser group of teams at the end of the year. Another team could have a poor won-loss record but play the higher-ranked teams at that time of the year. So the quality of competition is a point of consideration for us and we have to be very careful. I think it's important to see how a team is playing at that time as we enter into the tournament but we don't want to lose sight of the fact that it's really not the entire season. We're only talking about the last 1,500 games and there's been 5,000 games played.
"At least from my perspective, the last 12 games can't outweigh what a team did, particularly if it were successful early in the year."
One of the great debates throughout this season has been whether the ACC or Big East is the best conference in the nation. The Big East has had as many nine teams ranked in the Associated Press' top 25. Conversely, the SEC currently has no ranked teams.
However, Slive said the committee will not consider overall conference strength in determining the 34 at-large teams that will join the 31 conference champions who gain automatic entry into the tournament field.
"We look at the body of work for each team," Slive said. "We have a tremendous amount of data for each team. Each team's body of work is what in fact will determine whether or not that team is eligible to be selected as an at-large team. There's always talk about conferences. For the committee, it's about teams, it's really not about conferences. That's why there are no artificial limits on how many teams from a conference can participate in the tournament.
"The committee is not going to consider conference RPIs. It will not be a factor. It's not going to be part of the nitty gritty. It's not going to be on the team sheet. It's not going to be available in the room."
Tom Crean's first season as Indiana's coach figured to be an emotional one as he left Marquette to take over a program rocked by penalties from the NCAA for rules violations that occurred under former coach Kelvin Sampson, and the ensuing departure of every key player on the roster. Not surprisingly, the Hoosiers are 6-17 overall and 1-10 in the Big Ten.
The emotions of a difficult year spilled over last Saturday when Indiana lost at Michigan State. Crean made his first return to East Lansing since serving as an assistant there from 1995-99 under current Spartans coach Tom Izzo. Junior guard Devan Dumes was ejected for throwing a flagrant elbow at the groin of Michigan State's Goran Suton.
Izzo credits Crean with playing such a large hand in Michigan State's success that he gave Crean a national championship ring in 2000, a year after he left to take the job at Marquette. When Crean led Marquette to the Final Four in 2005, he gave a ring to Izzo.
"To have been here and to be part of building this program up to where Jud Heathcote had it and now to see where Tom has taken it, to be part of that is one of the great memories of my life," Crean said. "We had a child born here. It was great. I wouldn't trade any of it. At the same time, I never want to get used to feeling the way I feel right now. I know that."
Izzo admitted to feeling hollow about beating Indiana and being pained to see his friend's team bringing up the rear of the Big Ten standings.
"I never like facing my assistants but I said that [Crean] is one of the guys I like playing against the least because I feel so many of the banners up there are because of him as well," Izzo said. "He was the first guy I hired when I got the job and we had a goal to take the program to an elite level. We worked countless hours to get this program to where it is today and I have special respect for him."
Meanwhile, Dumes has been suspended indefinitely by Crean for the elbowing incident. The transfer from Eastern Michigan has only a 93.9 offensive rating but has been the focal point of the Hoosiers' offense as he is 117th in the nation in percentage of shots (29.7) and 190th in percentage of possessions (26.8).
Dumes has been dealing with a number of personal issues recently. His eight-month-old daughter spent part of last week in an Indianapolis hospital because of breathing problems and Dumes' mother underwent emergency surgery on her jaw.
"Devan isn't a normal college student," Crean told the Indianapolis Star. "He's a young man with a young child, who he loves, and when she's not feeling well, he's not feeling well. I think that's the way it is with any parent but that doesn't excuse what he did. Even more now, as a father, he has responsibilities as a parent and that's something I've been telling him. It's not all about him anymore. Once you have that child, it's not about you anymore."
Big Night for the Dukes
Duquesne was understandably excited when it upset Xavier, then ranked No. 9 in the AP poll, last Saturday night at home. After all, the Dukes can count their number of big wins over the last four decades on less than two hands.
Duquesne hadn't beaten a top-ten team since upending Florida State during the 1992-93 season. The Dukes also haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 1976-77 when they won the Eastern Eight, the predecessor to the Atlantic 10, and Norm Nixon was their star player. When the Dukes went 17-13 last winter in Ron Everhart's second season as coach, it marked their first winning season since 1993-94.
In a city where the Pirates are redefining baseball futility as they go after their major league-record 17th losing season this year, Duquesne is the college basketball equivalent.
"This was a big win for us," senior guard Aaron Jackson said, who was part of a 3-24 team as a freshman three years ago. "This puts Duquesne basketball back on the map."
Well, maybe not so fast. The Dukes turned around and lost at Richmond on Wednesday. Nevertheless, they are 15-8 overall and 6-4 in the Atlantic 10 as Jackson's 122.7 offensive rating is 54th in the nation and he ranks 60th in percentage of minutes (87.8), 63rd in fouls called per 40 minutes (1.7), 75th in assist rate (31.2) and 80th in true shooting percentage (62.9).
Bad Night for the Wildcats
Davidson learned that all good things come to an end as the Wildcats' streak of 43 consecutive regular-season wins inside the Southern Conference was stopped in a home loss to the College of Charleston last Saturday. Davidson came up one short of the conference record by West Virginia.
There was greater buzz around Belk Arena than normal as ESPN2 televised the game nationally and Dick Vitale was the color analyst. Davidson star guard Stephen Curry said it was "one of the greatest honors I've had" to have Vitale in the house.
Yet, Davidson coach Bob McKillop was surprised by his team's lack of emotion in such a rare big stage for a Southern Conference game.
"I thought we were in cement," said McKillop, whose team was playing for the fifth time in eight days.
Meanwhile, it was a potentially touchstone victory for Charleston, which raised its record to 18-6 overall and 10-4 in the conference in Bobby Cremins' third season as coach. Cremins seems to be building the Cougars into a power just as he did programs at Appalachian State and Georgia Tech before taking a seven-year hiatus from coaching after the 1999-2000 season.
"It was a great win for us," Cremins said. "It reminded me of why I got back into coaching."
Games to Watch
Five games to watch in the next week according to the Pomeroy Ratings, with all times Eastern:
No. 6 UCLA (19-5) at No. 42 Arizona (17-8), Saturday, Feb. 14, 1 p.m., CBS
No. 1 North Carolina (22-2) at No. 27 Miami, Fla. (15-8), Sunday, Feb. 15, 7:45 p.m., Fox Sports Net
No. 5 Pittsburgh (22-2) at No. 2 Connecticut (23-1), Monday, Feb. 16, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 11 Michigan State (20-4) at No. 18 Purdue (18-6), Tuesday, Feb. 17, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 17 Washington (18-6) at No. 6 UCLA (19-5), Thursday, Feb. 19, 11 p.m., Fox Sports Net
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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