- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

Listen up, class.

File your RPI numbers away. This concludes the on-the-bubble portion of the season.

Pull out your bracket sheets and No. 2 pencils.

That is not a typographical error. The NCAA suits have added a 65th team, if you're obligated to count George Mason University.

Another nobody from the pool of 319 Division I men's basketball programs increases the paperwork and the likelihood of an improbable outcome. Caution is advised. No hair-pulling, eye-gouging and groin-kicking tactics are allowed, and that means all you representatives from the black-and-blue Big East.

Welcome to the party, Craig Esherick. Long time no see. Where did you come up with your last game plan on offense, from Jim Larranaga at George Mason?

They score 35, you score 40. Jackie Stiles sometimes scores between 35 and 40 points in the first 10 minutes of a game.

Check out Gonzaga. John Stockton U. refuses to go away after reaching the Elite Eight in 1999 and the Sweet 16 last year.

I like the following all-area team: Kevin Braswell, Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Lee Scruggs and George Evans.

Evans is older than dirt, and a spit-polished military man to boot, and he has come out of the CAA shadows this season. What's that they say in Fairfax, that he held Oliver Stone's hand during the Tet Offensive?

Beyond the Foot Locker schools, it sometimes is hard to tell which program is which, and nothing against the Butler Bulldogs. They lost to Florida in overtime in the first round of the tournament last March.

Florida advanced to the Final Four, and coach Barry Collier advanced up the professional ladder, moving from Butler of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference to Nebraska of the Big 12.

The sideline maestros do not have to sit out a year, Bob Knight excluded. Knight and Rick Pitino are the first two names being uttered from the mouths of the brokenhearted. This is their March, too.

If you're keeping score at home, UNLV is 0-for-2 with the Ricks, Pitino and Majerus.

March is fun, as long as you pop an antacid around the NCAA and ignore the cheerleaders with tear drops on their cheeks.

March produced Jimmy V., Michael Jordan, Keith Smart, Danny Manning and Christian Laettner. John Thompson hugged Fred Brown, and Villanova hit shot after shot. The obsession with March seemingly started with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and 22 years later, look what it has become. CBS is paying the NCAA $6.2 billion to televise the tournament through 2013.

Who loves you, Ruben Boumtje Boumtje? He has the double-double name, just not the double-double game.

The Lefthander is taking another postseason bow, this time at Georgia State, after building his team with transfers, JUCOs, two former cashiers from 7-Eleven and the top player from the local rec league.

How about those Eastern Illinois Panthers? This is their moment, their time to raise their index fingers to the sky and dare to be somebody. Who knows? It happens.

That remains the event's principal appeal. Everybody loves the underdog, and no sports event celebrates the underdog like the NCAA tournament.

The single-elimination format is not designed to be a true measure of the strongest, only a rough estimate. In one game, anything can happen, and often does: a bad call, a lucky bounce, an inexplicable lapse in judgment.

Jeff Ruland, one of the Beef Brothers in a previous basketball life, is back with Iona, as imposing as ever. The scouting report on the Gaels: Their coach can beat up your coach.

Turn the volume down, Dickie V. Your deference around coaches is unbecoming.

Welcome, Hofstra.

You, too, Winthrop.

Hear the understated eruption coming from Brookland? Catholic University is celebrating the Division III version of March after earning a trip to the Final Four in Salem, Va. This was the next step for Mike Lonergan, the program's chief architect who was stopped in the Elite Eight last season.

Now fill out your bracket sheets, class. Take the advice of the 65 coaches, which is: Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.


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