Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bracket Time: Breaking Down the Big Dance; Down Year for Big Ten and Pac-10 Helps Bubble Teams across the Country

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bracket Time: Breaking Down the Big Dance; Down Year for Big Ten and Pac-10 Helps Bubble Teams across the Country

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette, Times-Union sports writer

If this was football, the Big Ten and Pac-10 Conference wouldn't have enough eligible teams to fulfill all their bowl contracts. Those bowls would be scrambling mightily to find suitable replacements.

Fortunately, the 10-person NCAA basketball tournament selection committee will have no shortage of viable candidates to make up for the Big Ten/Pac-10 shortfall when it picks 34 at-large teams for the Big Dance today.

In the past five years, the leagues who normally compete in the Rose Bowl have had 10 or 11 teams in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. But the Big Ten and Pac-10 are experiencing down seasons, likely forcing each to settle for three teams when selections are announced. The Big 12 may also get only four bids -- one or two below its norm.

Somebody has to fill those vacated spots. Conference USA, which figures to get a personal-record six schools in the field, will make up for part of that void. Where the rest comes from is anybody's guess.

The three other high-profile leagues -- ACC, Big East and SEC -- will likely get a minimum of six teams. The question is, do they all get a seventh bid, maybe an eighth? Or does the selection committee chaired by Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby look to smaller schools like Air Force or the UTEP-Nevada loser in the Western Athletic Conference championship to fill out the field.

Air Force's stunning first-round tournament loss to Colorado State, after dominating the Mountain West regular season, is the kind of scenario that makes the final calls on at-large teams a lot tougher. The same applies to Southern Illinois, which lost in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, forcing the committee to hand that league an extra bid.

"The more that happens, the more people have the potential to get bounced out," Bowlsby said. "Anybody that's on the bubble has to wish for conference tournaments to run according to the predictions. That is even more true as you get into the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Big East because you tend to see some upsets in those."

Going into the conference tournaments, there were probably 10-15 teams still in contention for the last six at-large spots. The SEC had the most to gain, and lose, because it had five teams (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and LSU) with league records of 8-8 or 7-9. All of them needed to win one or two games to assure themselves of locking up an at-large berth. Georgia and LSU may have fallen one game short, depending on how the committee looks upon their non-conference schedule and RPI.

Other schools like Florida State, Missouri, Notre Dame and Richmond are also looking at the NIT as their postseason destination because they didn't go deep enough into their conference tournaments.

But none of those bubble teams would even be up for serious consideration without a couple of major conferences failing to uphold their usual load. …

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