- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2006

The area’s more visible men’s college basketball programs nearly made it a clean sweep on “Selection Sunday” as George Washington, Georgetown and George Mason were picked as at-large teams for the NCAA tournament.

Conspicuous by its absence was Maryland, which, as expected, was not invited to the party. The Terrapins went to the second of successive Final Fours and won the national championship in 2002, but that seems like a long time ago.

Maybe Maryland needs to add “George” to its name. The Terps this season went 19-12 and broke even in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Then they sealed their fate by losing decisively to Boston College in the ACC tournament. After 11 consecutive NCAA appearances, Maryland has now failed to make it for two straight years.

“Going 8-8 in the ACC didn’t help us very much,” Terps coach Gary Williams said. “I guess we have to do better in the future.”

George Washington could not have done much better. The Colonials (26-2) posted their best regular-season record in school history and went 16-0 in the Atlantic 10. That made them an NCAA lock despite losing to Temple in the conference tournament. Seeded No. 8 in the Atlanta Region (and not happy about it), GW will play No. 9 seed University of North Carolina at Wilmington in the first round Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

Georgetown, 21-9 under second-year coach John Thompson III, is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. The Hoyas also were a sure thing even though they suffered a last-second defeat to Syracuse in the Big East tournament.

Georgetown is the No. 7 seed in the Minneapolis Region and will play its first-round game against 10th-seeded Northern Iowa Friday in Dayton, Ohio.

“They beat LSU at LSU, Iowa and Bucknell. Those are three very good teams, and they played in a very good league [Missouri Valley],” Thompson said. “That’s all I really know about Northern Iowa right now. But let’s face it: The reality of it is that at this time of the year, you are going to see an excellent team that’s been coached very well.”

While GW and Georgetown had wondered about seedings, opponents and where they would play, George Mason, a so-called “bubble” team, did not even know whether it would get into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001. The answer came when the Patriots were picked as a No. 11 seed in the Washington Region. They will play sixth-seeded Michigan State in the first round Friday in Dayton.

Not only do the Patriots (23-7) play in the lightly regarded Colonial Athletic Association, one of their top players, guard Tony Skinn, will serve a one-game suspension for punching a Hofstra player in the groin during a loss in the conference tournament semifinals. But George Mason made the cut by the skin of its teeth.

“I was just ecstatic,” Patriots coach Jim Larranaga said. “As much as you feel you deserve to be there, you know there are a lot of teams that feel that same way. What separates these teams is minuscule.”

The NCAA tournament selection committee awarded Duke the overall No. 1 seed. The other No. 1 seeds are Connecticut, Villanova and Memphis.

Connecticut is the featured attraction in the Washington bracket, in which four teams will compete in the regional semifinals and finals March 24 and 26 at Verizon Center. If form holds, the Huskies will be joined by the other top seeds in the region — Tennessee, North Carolina and Illinois. But form rarely holds, which helps to explain March Madness.

Speaking of mad, GW coach Karl Hobbs and his players tried to downplay their feelings about the seeding, but the discontent was palpable. The players watched the announcement on television in silence. Not only do the Colonials face a tough opponent in UNC-Wilmington, in its home state, they would be almost certain to play Duke on Saturday.

Hobbs, diplomatically, said, “What I said all along is we are George Washington University. I make no bones about being realistic about who we are and what we are. Those things never really concern me.”

Last year, GW was not wild about its No. 12 seed, but was happy just to make the tournament. This year, the Colonials expected to get in and hoped for a better seed than what they got.

ESPN commentator Doug Gottlieb termed the GW seeding as “obscene.” But another ESPN commentator, Jay Bilas, said the committee again was not impressed with GW’s schedule. Mr. Bilas did not seem that wowed by the Colonials, either.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see North Carolina-Wilmington walk away with that [game],” he said.

Not only was the schedule a factor, but GW also has been playing without one of its stars, senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu. A 6-9, 240-pound forward, Mensah-Bonsu has missed the last four games with a knee injury. He is expected to play in the tournament, although he will not be at full strength.

After the announcement, Mensah-Bonsu was more outspoken than his coach.

“My initial reaction was one of shock,” he said. “If you look at what we’ve accomplished over the season and what we have done, I guess they used our nonconference schedule against us, and that hurt us.”

cStaff writers Jon Siegel, Patrick Stevens and Barker Davis contributed this article.

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