The Washington Times - January 5, 2009, 01:09PM

Today marked the start of the ACC teleconference.

And as such, also marked the beginning of politicking from league coaches for NCAA tournament bids.

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It’s never too early, I suppose.

(This is where, for the first of many times in the next few months, it will be pointed out TEAMS and not conferences earn NCAA berths. But coaches haven’t listened for the last umpteen years, and they won’t start listening now.).

“It doesn’t hurt anything if you say it,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “People can disagree, and that’s what is great about sports. But we shouldn’t be afraid to say it.”

A very rational approach. But there’s something it seems like virtually no one is really talking about, and it’s actually quite striking.

For whatever reason, there aren’t as many non-power conference teams in possession of great resumes at this stage.

The number of at-large berths for the non-BCS leagues, contrary to popular belief, is actually declining. There were nine in 2005, eight in 2006, and then six in both 2007 and 2008. Granted, the Big East’s annexation of most of Conference USA’s good teams had something to do with that.

But guess what? That number could easily be lower this year.

Really, the list of credible teams isn’t that large. And some of them will win their league tournaments.

But it would be really difficult for any team outside the six power conferences to make the NCAA field without

(a) Building an insanely gaudy conference record like 13-1 or 14-2 or 15-3.

OR

(b) Already owning a place on this list, which includes pretty much any non-major program that can credibly argue for an at-large berth today:

A-10: Xavier, Dayton, Rhode Island (maybe)
C-USA: Memphis, UAB (big maybe)
Horizon: Butler
MVC: Illinois State (14-0 is 14-0)
MWC: UNLV. Brigham Young
Southern: Davidson
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky
WAC: Utah State
WCC: Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

Fourteen teams seems like a big list, but the list is already larger than it probably needs to be. Plus, some of those teams will win their league tournaments. And a couple of them will produce some workmanlike 11-5 or 12-6 records in conference play and knock themselves out of at-large contention.

Some might even do both.

The point is, there are only so many decent resumes out there from outside the power conferences, and some of them are merely a product of gaudy records (hello, Illinois State and Utah State).

It’s sort of laughable to hear the possibility of 10 Big East berths or eight ACC berths. But with a decent chance for a down year among the non-majors, coupled with a lousy SEC, there will be some at-large spots on the table – and it’s not like the tournament will be contracted to 61 teams.

So all the posturing by the Big East and ACC and others? It may well come to fruition. But it won’t be exclusively because those leagues are having great seasons. They’ll need some help, and very well might receive it.

Patrick Stevens