For sheer drama conference
tournament drama, it’s going to be tough topping that Gerry McNamara 3-point push/floater
that gave Syracuse a 74-73 victory over
Cincinnati in a first-round game of
the Big East Tournament Wednesday afternoon in
But Jihad Muhammad did almost that, barely
missing on his half-court heave at the buzzer.
By the way, watch the replay of
McNamara’s drive that culminated in his game-winning (and NCAA Tournament
at-large bid-hope extending) shot. First Muhammad and then Cedric McGowan were in position to cut
off McNamara’s penetration but couldn’t get it done.
So the Bearcats, who could have
approached Sunday’s NCAA Tournament bracket and pairings announcement with
something approaching confidence if McNamara had not connected on his shot, will
have a long and nerve-wracking at-large bid wait Sunday.
But Jim Boeheim’s team didn’t guarantee
itself anything with the victory other than an opportunity to face the nation’s
best team – Connecticut – in a
If Boeheim’s players want the NCAA
committee members holed away in their Indianapolis conference room to give a
little less credence to that three-game losing streak (including a 39-point loss
at DePaul, which didn’t even make the Big East Tournament 12-team cut) they
closed the season with and more to that thrilling win Wednesday and their
overall “body of work”, here’s a suggestion: Play the Huskies very competitively
Thursday. I didn’t say they have to beat them. Just use the game against
Connecticut to convince the
majority of those folks in Indy that they are entitled to one of those precious
34 at-large bids.
BOUNCING AROUND THE OTHER
Barring a major upset in the
tourney title game Sunday afternoon in
Nashville, the conference’s NCAA
Tournament representation is pretty well locked up.
The only exceptions might arise if
Georgia) were to
drop first-round games Thursday. But, even with one or both of those situations,
the Wildcats and Hogs would still be relatively comfortable – relatively being
the operative word – barring an inordinate number of upset conference winners
that would swell the pool of viable at-large candidates.
Alabama will be in the NCAA
Tournament field regardless of how quickly they are eliminated in the conference
I inadvertently left Jeff Bzdelik of Air Force off the
Tuesday list of those that I feel have done especially exceptional coaching jobs
Taking a team, minus its best
player (Nick Welch, out all season
with injuries), to a 24-5 overall record (and 12-4 in conference) in your first
season with the program is a pretty good working definition of
Even if it doesn’t win the
conference tournament on its home floor in
Reno Saturday, look for
Nevada to become one of the sexy
choices to be a “surprise” Sweet 16 participant.
But it should be all that
surprising to see Mark Fox’s club
playing in the second week of the tournament, as the Wolf Pack did two years ago
under Trent Johnson.
which takes an 11-game winning streak into its Thursday night opener against No.
8-seed Idaho, is led by one of the
10 best players in college basketball in 6-11 Nick Fazekas and has one of the
nation’s most underrated sophomores in Marcelus Kemp.
Regular-season champion UCLA lost
four times in Pac 10 play but, because of the way the tournament bracketing is
aligned, the Bruins couldn’t face one of the three teams that knocked them off
in the regular season until the championship game Saturday in the
No. 2 seed Washington (twice), No.
3 Cal and No. 6 USC handed the Bruins their conference losses.
Bruins’ Coach Ben Howland is hopeful that his team
will be rewarded with a No. 2 NCAA Tourney seed with a Pac 10 tourney title to
go along with the regular-season version, which would bring UCLA’s record to
But the other part of that equation
would probably include either Ohio
Illinois (probable two seeds right
now) being tripped up in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Or, could the NCAA committee
members decide that Gonzaga, despite an impressive RPI and seemingly every other
number in its favor, should rate only a No. 3 seed because of its considerably
less-than-impressive last few weeks of play – even in Spokane – within the West
Before the start of the conference
season, who could have imagined that
State (assuming it beats Purdue
Thursday) and Illinois could be
hooking up as early as a quarterfinal tournament game?
The Illini closed fast (with wins
at Minnesota and Michigan State) to finish – along with Iowa – just a game
behind first-place Ohio State while the Spartans dropped five of their final
seven games to finish 8-8 in conference.
Yet, with Paul Davis, Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown in the lineup and Tom Izzo coaching them, how many would
be surprised if the Spartans are the last team standing in Conseco Fieldhouse
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com’s national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at