NCAA field's crystal ball may take crazy bounces

March 01, 1991|By Don Markus

Picking the top half of the 64-team field for the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament is fairly routine. Take at least four teams from each of the country's elite conferences, toss in an automatic bid for the Ivy League champion, Princeton, and wait for the invitations to come out March 10.

But picking the bottom half of the field -- the have-nots and never-will-bes -- is like getting a tooth pulled: Sometimes, it's pretty painless; others, it's a mess. "By the time you get down to the last 18 or 20 teams, they all start to look alike," said Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, chairman of the selection committee.

The selection process will be made even more difficult this year, because several regular invitees won't be there. Some, including Illinois and Missouri, are sitting out this dance after being grounded by NCAA probation. Others, such as Louisville and Notre Dame, have developed a terrible case of the uglies.

And some, most notably Georgetown, ate too many cupcakes earlier in the season and might find themselves candidates for the National Invitation Tournament. The Hoyas, with four non-Division I wins that will be erased from their 16-10 record, could be the team that attracts the most discussion this year.

But plenty of teams aside from Georgetown remain on the bubble, which means you either have won 20 or more games in a bad league or fewer than 17 in a good league. There are so many who fit this category that, instead of a bubble, the NCAA just should rent the Goodyear Blimp. "With the exception of about 15 teams, all of us are on the bubble," said one Midwest coach who doesn't want the committee to think his team might not be deserving.

So, with 10 days to go before the invitations are sent out, and a little less than two weeks before the 1991 tournament begins, the accompanying chart provides a look at who's in and who's out, and who's somewhere in between. (Actually, the whole process might be moot unless the NCAA can figure out how much room service it takes to put Nevada-Las Vegas on probation again.)

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