- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

Selection Sunday assumed a more familiar if not traditional look yesterday for area teams.

Last year at this time, George Mason earned an NCAA men’s basketball tournament at-large berth to begin an improbable run to the Final Four. Meanwhile, Maryland was left behind.

But miracles rarely happen twice, and George Mason is out of the NCAA picture after a so-so regular season and a loss in its conference championship game. That left it to the local Big Three — Georgetown, Maryland and George Washington — along with four teams from Virginia, to camp in front of their television sets and learn what the tournament selection committee had in store.

Georgetown, which lived up to lofty preseason expectations in the Big East, earned a No. 2 seed in the East Region by virtue of a 26-6 record, the best record in the Big East during the regular season and its first conference tournament championship since 1989.

The Hoyas, winners of 15 of their last 16 games, begin play Thursday in Winston-Salem, N.C., against No. 15 seed Belmont (23-9), champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Most of the so-called “experts” on TV last night deemed the East, headed by North Carolina, as the strongest overall bracket.

Maryland (24-8) suffered an upset loss to Miami in the first round of the ACC tournament Thursday, but the committee seemed not to mind. The Terrapins gained an at-large berth and an attractive No. 4 seed in the Midwest Region. Returning to the NCAA tournament after missing out the last two years, Maryland will open tournament play Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., against Southern Conference champion No. 13 Davidson (29-4). The Terps had won seven straight before the Miami loss.

Georgetown and Maryland were assured of participating in March Madness regardless of what happened in their conference tournaments. Not George Washington, which had to win the Atlantic 10 tournament to guarantee a third-straight NCAA appearance for the first time in the history of the program.

The Colonials did exactly that Saturday to claim an automatic berth, and yesterday they got a No. 11 seed in the East Region. GW (23-8) takes an eight-game winning streak to Sacramento, Calif., for a Thursday date with No. 6 Vanderbilt (20-11), an at-large pick from the Southeastern Conference.

Virginia, which tied for the ACC regular-season title but fell to N.C. State in the conference quarterfinals, is seeded No. 4 in the South Region as an at-large entrant. The Cavaliers (20-10) will play No. 13 Albany (23-9), champion of the America East Conference, on Friday in Columbus, Ohio. This will be Virginia’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2001.

Virginia Tech (21-11) lost to N.C. State in the ACC semifinals, but still got a No. 5 seed in the West Region. The at-large Hokies will play Friday in Columbus against No. 12 Illinois (23-11) from the Big Ten, one of the last teams to be selected.

Two teams from the Colonial Athletic Association — Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion — also earned tournament berths. VCU (27-6) won the conference’s automatic bid and a No. 11 seed in the West Region by beating George Mason in the CAA title game. The Rams will play sixth-seeded Duke (22-10) in Buffalo on Thursday.

Old Dominion (24-8) gave the conference its second at-large bid in as many seasons. The 12th-seeded Monarchs will play fifth-seeded Butler (27-6) in a first-round Midwest Region game Thursday in Buffalo as well.

Upsets notwithstanding, Georgetown appears best equipped of the area teams to go the furthest. The Hoyas feature the nation’s field goal percentage leader, 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert, and the Big East player of the year, forward Jeff Green.

Despite missing out on a No. 1 seed, Georgetown might be emerging as a “trendy” pick to reach the Final Four in Atlanta. Both CBS analysts, Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis, made that prediction on yesterday’s selection show.

“When you look at their size, versatility and talent of the Georgetown Hoyas, that’s going to be a challenge for whoever they face,” Mr. Kellogg said.

Mr. Davis said the Hoyas should virtually breeze to the Elite Eight, a sentiment echoed by ESPN’s Jay Bilas: “Georgetown, they’re going to the regional final.”

Of the positive predictions, Georgetown coach John Thompson III said: “That’s great, but that’s irrelevant. We’ve got to play Belmont on Thursday. Not looking ahead has worked pretty well for us so far this season. So we’re not going to change that.”

As Maryland players gathered at Comcast Center to watch TV, there was some trepidation over where the Terps might be seeded after the Miami loss. Relief followed.

“Everybody was just focused on where they were going to put us,” junior forward James Gist said. “Seeing our name pop up on that screen, that’s a memory I’m always going to keep.”

The Terps have been up, down and up this season. They started 14-2, lost five of their next eight and stood 3-6 in the league before running off the seven-straight wins.

“I really felt good with this team all year in terms of their work ethic and all those things we talked about all year, even in January when we didn’t have a good record,” coach Gary Williams said. “To go from there to the seed we have today is very gratifying for our program.”

In what was presumed by many to be a rebuilding year for George Washington, the Colonials stood at 15-4 overall and 6-1 in the conference before a four-game losing streak put them on the tournament bubble. Then they reeled off eight straight wins.

“It’s been very rewarding,” sixth-year coach Karl Hobbs said. “Things that we have been working on all year finally came together. They came together in the three most important games of the season, which is the [Atlantic 10] tournament. It was great to see so many different guys respond.”

Staff writers Barker Davis, Jon Siegel and Patrick Stevens contributed to this report.

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