At-large names change, but not questions

Tourney tidbits:

It doesn't matter who heads the NCAA tournament selection committee -- Dick Schultz, Dave Gavitt, Gene Corrigan, Cedric Dempsey, Jim Delany -- they're always asked the same question after their painstaking work is done: How come (fill in the blank) didn't get in?


This year's chairman, Big Ten commissioner Delany, handled the answer last night. "The charge of the committee," he said, "is to select the best 34 teams at large after the [30] conference representatives have been determined."

It has been that way for years, but there's evidence many don't bother listening to the explanation.


First, Dick Vitale did a bunch of politicking by screaming, "I think it should be a rule that 50 percent, max, come out of any conference."

The reference was to the Big Ugly (uh, East), with its seven picks, if not the ACC with six and the Big Ten and Southeastern with five apiece. Vitale gets around quite a bit, he knows who belongs and who doesn't, so he must have been kidding when he suggested Siena should be a second Metro Atlantic representative along with St. Peter's. We're checking to see if he has an appearance booked on that campus soon.

Fordham also got a big mention from the networks for, as we all know, the Rams hail from New York, home of all the studio shows. They lost a play-in game and get a slice of the $143 million pie anyway, enough said?

Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, working for ESPN, seemed to accept the field, pointing out, "The committee stayed with its criteria for selection," meaning record, strength of schedule, strength of conference, etc.

* One-upmanship was in evidence all over the tube as the moment of decision approached. NBC, which barely had a hand in college hoops with five games this season, got the jump with Bob Costas picking Al McGuire's brain well ahead of the competition even coming on the air.

Long before knowing the brutal West Regional lineup facing heavily favored UNLV, McGuire opined "the Rebels could lose in the 'Elite 8' to Arizona . . . or the first game of the Final Four when guys like Bobby Knight or Mike Krzyzewski have a week to prepare for them."

Locally, Channel 11 had a brilliant afternoon. By picking up the CBS network feed of the selections and pairings and inserting it in its regular news, WBAL ran local commercials and made a pile of dough. In addition, it spared us the network studio chatter, which is just as well since Billy Packer and Mike Francesa were their usual, predictable selves.

Surprisingly, ESPN, with correspondents littered hither and yon, compliments of ABC, failed to deliver. Jim Valvano, a hotshot in the studio and when sitting courtside analyzing a game, becomes a fool when on one of his self-serving rolls. This one involved a who-cares Rutgers-Temple thing with Bill Cosby that dragged on and on and, yes, it did get Coach V a shot on "The Cosby Show" -- assuming it makes it back for its eighth season.


ESPN did have one coup: UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian was on live. To a question about teams going to a slowdown game against him, Tark said, "We can play at any pace," as befits his 30-0 juggernaut.

* It was somewhat surprising that no program included a moment of silence for the passing of U.S. International University into Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its hoopsters rang up a classy 2-26 mark.

* Starting the day, many feared that Tennessee would win the SEC title and make it to the Big Dance (ugh) with 21 defeats. Pshaw! Bradley and Oklahoma City made the much smaller 1955 tournament (two dozen teams) with 7-18 and 9-17 marks, respectively.

* If Duke hadn't been robbed out of a No. 1 seed, three of last year's Final Four would have been top guns in their region, UNLV and Arkansas being the others.

* Just because UNLV has a dance card that is apt to include Georgetown, Michigan State and Arizona just to make the Final Four, it has been hinted the NCAA might be stacking the deck against its longtime adversary Tark the Shark. Naw!

rTC * Combined, last year's regional finals had to be the best of all time. Judge for yourself: UNLV 131, Loyola-Marymount 101; Duke 79, UConn 78 (OT); Arkansas 88, Texas 85; Georgia Tech 93, Minnesota 91.


* Only three of the preseason top 25 -- Oklahoma (16), Missouri (19) and Louisville (23) -- failed to make the 64-team field and Big Eight champ Missou would have, but it's on probation.