College basketball's regular season has ended for nearly everybody but the Big Ten and Pac-10.
The conference tournaments have begun -- and ended -- for many of the little guys and middle guys. March Madness, otherwise known as the NCAA tournament, is nearly upon us.
But what is really maddening is the wait until Sunday -- especially for teams sitting on the most famous bubble in sports.
"It's unnerving," said George Washington coach Mike Jarvis, whose 19-8 Colonials will have to wait until the NCAA's Championship Committee announces the pairings for the 64-team field. "But it's a lot easier knowing that we're going to be playing in a tournament [either the NCAA or NIT]. Waiting is tough."
If it's tough for the 34 at-large teams in the field, can you imagine what it's like for the members of the selection committee? They will begin meeting today in Kansas City, and won't be done weeding out pretenders from contenders until Sunday afternoon. The tournament starts a week from today and concludes April 5 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
"It's a serious business," said Duke athletic director Tom Butters, chairman of this year's committee. "I take it seriously. It affects a lot of lives, a lot of programs, a lot of kids."
The shrouded-in-secrecy selection process also raises a lot of questions and, in some years, sparks a controversy or two. This year should be no different, with debates already heating up about which teams will get picked because of their strength of schedule, , which teams will be the top seeds and which teams will be left on the sidelines.
Among the hottest topics are:
* Which is stronger, the Big East or the Atlantic 10?: In a season when bashing the Big East was in vogue and the Atlantic 10's power rating skyrocketed to as high as fourth in the country, there's a chance that each league could wind up with four bids. There's also a chance that the Big East, despite a down year, could get five, and the Atlantic 10 only three.
"You couldn't say that those [Atlantic 10] teams are better than the Big East," said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, whose Huskies (15-11) have lost three straight after a seven-game winning streak and need to beat Providence in tomorrow's Big East quarterfinal to stay in contention. "But I think it [negative publicity] hurts us."
The Huskies (and Boston College) don't have a quality non-conference win, but the league's other two bubble teams do. Providence, which has won six of its past eight, beat Arizona and Pittsburgh beat UCLA. George Washington, which lost three of its past four (including the opening round of the league tournament) hasn't beaten anybody of note outside the league.
Said Butters: "The postseason [conference] tournaments are important, just as late-season games are important."
Prediction: If Connecticut wins, the Big East gets five bids and the Atlantic 10 gets four. If the Huskies lose their opener, both leagues get four. If the wave of upsets continues in other conference tournaments, UConn and GW could be in trouble.
* Does California get in with 17 wins, or do the Bears need to keep their hot streak going under interim coach Todd Bozeman?: Cal was 10-7 and on a three-game losing streak when Lou Campanelli was fired amid much controversy early last month. The Bears have won seven of eight (going into tonight's game against Oregon) under Bozeman, a 29-year-old assistant who grew up in Forestville, Md. Cal recently upset Arizona, a loss that likely cost the Wildcats a No. 1 seed in the West.
Asked about the Cal situation, Butters said: "This isn't a tournament for coaches; it's for teams. We're going to look at the entirety of the year and try to make a consideration on the quality of a team, not the name of the coach."
Prediction: Unless the Bears embarrass themselves in their last two regular-season games, they are in. The NCAA tournament is often a showcase for players, and freshman point guard Jason Kidd could be one of its star attractions.
* If there's not a limit to the number of teams from one conference, will the Big Ten get seven?: It's only happened once, but the Big Ten did it in 1990 and could do it again if Minnesota continues to finish strong. The Gophers had won three of their past four before losing at Ohio State last night, 69-58.
Barring any upsets by its bottom three teams, the ACC will likely get six bids -- Georgia Tech is one of the shakier 16-game winners in the country -- and the Big Eight five. The Southeastern Conference will get at least four, the Great Midwest and the Pac-10 should get three and the Metro two.
"I can't begin to tell you what the maximum would be," said Butters.
Prediction: The Big 10 will get seven because Minnesota will have at least a .500 record in the conference, a criterion Butters says is essential. The ACC's sixth team, Georgia Tech, should get in for the same reason. But if the Yellow Jackets get blown out by Duke in the opening round of the ACC tournament . . . nah, Butters never would hear the end of it.
* Who will be the No. 1 seeds?: Top-ranked North Carolina has the East locked up, and No. 2 Indiana will be the top seed in the Midwest, but the other two regions are up for grabs. As it stands today, Michigan probably would be the No. 1 seed in the West. A number of scenarios are possible in the Southeast, where
* What could be the best matchups on the road to New Orleans?: The one everyone has been talking about is the rematch of last year's East Regional classic between Kentucky and Duke, perhaps at the Southeast Regional in Charlotte, N.C. There's also the possibility of former Duke guard Billy McCaffrey, the SEC's co-Player of the Year at Vanderbilt, going up against his former Blue Devils teammates.
And then there are potential meetings of big-name coaches: a Duke-Indiana showdown in the Midwest Regional in St. Louis between Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight and another from the same vein Vanderbilt's Eddie Fogler against his former coach, North Carolina's Dean Smith.
"Politics won't enter in our decisions," said Butters.
Prediction: Because CBS is paying the bills, look for some of these matchups at a regional near you.
Going to the Big Dance
Those teams who already have clinched, are projected to make the 64-team field for the NCAA tournament or are in the state of limbo known as The Bubble (x-has won automatic bid):
Atlantic Coast: North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Wake Forest, Virginia, Georgia Tech
Big Sky: Tournament winner
Big West: New Mexico State, UNLV or tournament winner
Colonial: x-East Carolina
Metro: Louisville, Tulane
Metro Atlantic: x-Manhattan
Mid-American: Tournament winner
Mid-Continent: x-Wright State
Mid-Eastern: x-Coppin State
Midwestern Collegiate: Xavier or tournament winner
Missouri Valley: x-Southern Illinois
North Atlantic: x-Delaware
Ohio Valley: x-Tennessee State
Patriot: x-Holy Cross
Pac-10: x-Arizona, UCLA
Southeastern: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Arkansas
Southland: x-Northeast Louisiana
Southwest: Tournament winner
Southwestern Athletic: Tournament winner
Sun Belt: x-Western Kentucky, New Orleans
West Coast: x-Santa Clara
Western Athletic: Utah, BYU, New Mexico
Who's on the bubble
Atlantic 10: George Washington, Rhode Island
Big East: Connecticut, Boston College, Pitt, Providence
Big Ten: Minnesota
Mid-American: Miami, Ohio; Ball State
Pac-10: California, Arizona State
Southwestern: Jackson State
West Coast: Pepperdine