Give NIT the nod in first-round action


NCAA notes on the eve of battle (or follow the bouncing ball until the snow melts):

Check out the NIT tripleheader on ESPN tonight and compare it with NCAA tourney games CBS has planned for tomorrow, and it looks as if the roles have been reversed.

In the NIT, Florida visits Minnesota, Michigan State is at Oklahoma and Southern Cal goes against Nevada-Las Vegas on cable while tomorrow and Friday the network opts for No. 1 seeds beating up on East Podunk and games of teams from the top markets designed to deliver ratings.

* Talk about a guy toiling faithfully in the vineyards: During the 15 seasons Ralph Underhill has been coaching Wright State (Dayton, Ohio), the Raiders have averaged 21 wins a season. They draw the top Midwest seed, Indiana, tomorrow.

* It's rare when ESPN hoops host John Saunders says anything offensive, but his constant insistence that "we all hated to see the way Lou Campanelli was treated [fired by Cal-Berkeley]" qualifies. As Priscilla Mullin put it, "Speak for yourself, John."

* Basketball-wise, how worthwhile are the conference tournaments leading to Selection Sunday and the NCAA tourney? Sunday, there were eight conference championship games and only one of them was anything but a stroll: Georgia Tech 77, North Carolina 75.

* It was thought Rollie Massimino had too much class and experience to be quoted in USA Today as saying, "We'll just go out and win this other tournament," referring to the NIT after being overlooked by the NCAA.

* Even without the maestro, Jim Valvano, on hand, the ESPN selection show Sunday did a terrific rating. The information and analysis was far superior to that put out by CBS, which simply can't do justice to the event being cramped into just 30 minutes.

* For a team that finished in fifth place in a league with a weak power rating -- the Southwest Conference was adjudged the 11th best among conferences -- Texas Tech looked extremely slick in winning its tourney against Houston. All the Red Raider starters can pass, certainly a rarity among college teams, and they all averaged double figures scoring.

* As though it wasn't bad enough on-probation Syracuse was included in the Big East tourney field, the Orangemen then played up to their ability and made the final only to completely embarrass the league by slouching its way to a 33-point loss to Seton Hall on national TV. Along the way, Syracuse put out Pitt, but it obviously didn't affect the Panthers as they made the NCAA field anyway.

The Big East, you'll recall, was slapped together strictly for the large television markets of the Northeast. But, considering the play of the past season, it would have been better served if the games hadn't been on.

* Until last season and in the first nine years of the women's NCAA tourney, only three times had regional seeds lower than a No. 3 made it to the Final Four. Last year, a No. 8, Southwest Missouri State, a likely second-round foe for Maryland Saturday, broke the spell.

* While trying to talk his team off the bubble before the SEC final against Kentucky Sunday, LSU coach Dale Brown asked rhetorically, "What other conference has three teams in the top 15 like we [SEC] have?" Uh, Dale, the ACC had four, and the Big Ten had four in the top 18.

* So much for postseason play being a reward for a fine season, an outdated concept at best. East Carolina, which will catch what-for from the Tar Heels tomorrow night, was seventh in the Colonial Conference with a 4-10 record. In fact, if the Pirates hadn't caught Lefty Driesell and James Madison in the final . . . .

* Arizona, which despite constantly high ratings has never really impressed anyone while going 11-11 in NCAA play, might be the goods this time. The Wildcats, 24-3 after starting out 2-2, not only cleaned up the Pac-10 with a 17-1 mark, they finished 9-1 and breezed past Cincinnati (a Final Fourist last season).

* Maybe advancing age has dimmed these orbs, but I have yet to see Bobby Hurley's brother Danny do much for Seton Hall. Perhaps that will change in the coming weekends.

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