- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 12, 2002

This is, without a doubt, one of the craziest college basketball seasons since the invention of the peach basket. Who outside of Dionne Warwick, maybe could have foreseen what has unfolded so far? Certainly not the hoopheads who put out that Street & Smith's magazine every year.
I was glancing at their preseason top 25 Sunday as the men's NCAA tournament pairings were being announced. Are you ready for this? Nine of the 25 teams Iowa (7th), St. Joseph's (10th), Virginia (11th), Georgetown (12th), Temple (13th), Memphis (15th), Syracuse (16th), North Carolina (20th) and Fresno State (21st) didn't even make the tournament. And two others, Missouri (8th) and Boston College (14th), barely squeaked in.
The magazine usually does better than that a lot better. Last year, only four of its top 25 weren't invited to the Big Dance. The year before that, every one of them were. But this year there were miscalculations from sea to shining sea.
It's not like tragedy (e.g. injuries, academic casualties) befell any of these teams, either. For the most part, they just performed beneath their capabilities. St. Joe's, for instance, returned all five starters and somehow got worse. You tell me what happened.
Locally, the last week has been about as fun as a funeral. Georgetown lost in overtime in the Big East tournament. George Mason got knocked off by the 10th seed in the CAA tourney. Howard lost the MEAC title game. American, going for its first NCAA bid, lost the Patriot League title game (on its own floor, no less).
On the women's side, GW got snubbed despite going 15-1 in the Atlantic 10 during the regular season. Howard posted the same record in the MEAC and suffered the same fate. So it goes for schools in one-bid conferences. Either you win your conference tournament, or you get filed under Chopped Liver.
The team I feel sorriest for is Craig Esherick's Georgetown Hoyas. They might have had the hardest luck of anybody in the country. Not only did they lose four overtime games one in quadruple OT they also lost two other games by a point. They finished 19-11, but they were eight points away from being 25-5. In a major conference. Ouch.
No wonder the Hoyas turned down the chance to play in the NIT. They're probably lined up outside the Team Shrink's office as I type. Mr. Braswell, the doctor will see you now.
Maryland, meanwhile, must feel like it's living a dream. The last 12 months have been one, long advertisement for Terps athletics. First, the men's basketball team reaches the Final Four for the first time. Then Ralph Friedgen leads the football team to the ACC championship and the Orange Bowl. And now Gary Williams' club has beaten out Duke for the conference title and earned itself a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs another Maryland first.
But wait, there's more. In the tournament, the Terps will have the stage all to themselves. None of the other Division I schools in the Washington area made it. (Think they might get a little mileage out of that on the recruiting trail?) Finally, as an added bonus, they get to play their first two games at MCI Center in front of crowds that figure to be decidedly pro-Turtle. It's enough to make you wonder if this isn't their year.
OK, let's talk about the tournament. I thought the selection committee showed great restraint by not putting Indiana and Texas Tech on a collision course even though most fans would love to see Bobby Knight go up against his old team. The committee is famous for doing dastardly things like that, things like arranging a Sweet 16 match-up between Kentucky and Louisville (back when they refused to schedule each other). The Hoosiers are the fifth seed in the South, and the Red Raiders are the sixth seed in the East. The only place their paths can cross is in the final, and that's about as likely as Butler (25-5) getting into the tourney on appeal.
The committee wasn't so nice, though, to Cincinnati. Did you see Bob Huggins on CBS's selection show after the brackets were unveiled? He looked like he'd just swallowed one of Steve Logan's sneakers. The Bearcats, the top seed in the West, are in a bracket that's right out of "Fear Factor." They're looking at facing UCLA in the second round, Ohio State in the Sweet 16 and Oklahoma or Arizona in the regional final. That's assuming, of course, they survive their Round 1 death match with Boston University.
One last thought: If Kwame Brown had decided to go to college instead of turning pro, would Florida be the odds-on favorite to win it all?
I'm picking Maryland, Duke, Arizona and the Connecticut women's team to make the Final Four, by the way. And if the Terps can keep Sue Bird under control, well, the title could be theirs for the taking. But that's a big if.


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