- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

That “bubble” many teams found themselves precariously clinging to finally burst, along with their hopes. Count out Maryland and Georgetown.

The speculation is over. It’s time to break out your brackets, dive into the office pool and let March Madness begin.

Yesterday was Selection Sunday for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball tournament, a day of suspense for all — of relief and exhilaration for the 65 teams that got in and disappointment for those left out.

Most of the lucky ones, such as George Washington University, already knew they had made it. The only questions concerned their seedings, their regions and the destinations that fans and boosters would have to pay expensive airfares to reach.

GW clinched its first NCAA berth since 1999 by beating Saint Joseph’s on Saturday in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament championship. In doing so, the Colonials made a bit of history, winning the A-10 tournament for the first time since it began in the early months of the Carter administration in 1977.

The victory probably was necessary because GW was seeded 12th in the Albuquerque regional. The Colonials will play their first-round game Friday against fifth-seeded Georgia Tech in Nashville, Tenn.

“It means a great deal,” said Colonials coach Karl Hobbs, who took over a struggling program in 2001. “You look at where the program was four years ago and where we are now, to be in the NCAA tournament means the world. It truly does. The excitement around the campus, the alumni are now showing great interest. It’s just great.”

GW was the only D.C.-area team to get into the tournament. Both Maryland and Georgetown accepted bids to play in the National Invitational Tournament. Maryland will play host to Oral Roberts on Wednesday at 9 p.m., and Georgetown will play host to Boston University at MCI Center that same night at 7:30.

The news was not surprising — both teams damaged their chances by slumping at the end of the season — but Maryland clung to the slight chance that the prestige of its name might get it admitted. Georgetown was an even longer shot.

This was especially discouraging for the Maryland program and coach Gary Williams. A streak of 11 straight NCAA tournaments ended. Three years after winning the national championship, the best Maryland could manage was an NIT bid, a consolation prize that usually provides scant consolation to programs whose sights were set much higher.

“There’s no griping or complaining,” Williams said. “We didn’t get to the NCAA, but there was an opportunity.”

Georgetown had a successful season under first-year coach John Thompson III, but it now has been four years since the Hoyas played in the NCAA tournament.

The biggest surprise yesterday likely was the University of Washington, better known for its football program, earning a No. 1 seed along with the overall top-seeded team, Illinois, and Atlantic Coast Conference rivals North Carolina and Duke.

Oklahoma State and Wake Forest were discussed as possible No. 1 seeds, but Wake hurt itself by losing to N.C. State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals without its suspended star, Chris Paul. Duke’s win over Georgia Tech probably cemented its No. 1 seed.

The talking heads on TV unanimously agreed that the Syracuse regional is the toughest. With North Carolina, Connecticut, Kansas, Florida and Villanova as the top five seeds and other good teams as well, it was hard to argue.

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