Uncertainty has company: Terps join crowd on tournament bubble


Temple knocked off the No. 1 and No. 2 teams back in December, but will the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee remember in March?

At 14-4, Michigan was a lock for the NCAA tournament a few weeks ago. Now 15-9, the wobbling Wolverines have fallen out of the Top 25 and might even miss the tournament.

In the Atlantic Coast Conference, the scramble is on. After Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, the rest of the teams are vying for the league's fourth NCAA bid. But so far, the rest of the teams are slowly and methodically eliminating one another.

Selection Sunday, the prelude to March Madness, arrives in three weeks. In the rush to land an NCAA berth, a lot of bubble teams are going to burst. Here's a look at Bubble-mania in the power conferences, with probable bids in parentheses.

ACC (4) -- Barring a collapse, Maryland should get the last bid in a down year for the league. A win over Missouri on Sunday would seem to clinch it. But even as Virginia, Clemson and North Carolina State fall by the wayside, Duke (14-10) won't go away. The ACC tournament looms large.

Atlantic 10 (3) -- UMass, Virginia Tech and George Washington are in. That leaves Temple (12-10, 8-3) and Rhode Island (14-7, 6-4) on the outside looking in. The Owls, 34th in the RPI rating, didn't help themselves with a four-point loss to Rhode Island this week.

Big East (5) -- Possibly the best conference in the nation with five teams in the Top 25 (no other league has as many as four). UConn, Villanova, Georgetown and Syracuse are locks. Boston College (15-6, 8-5) has the edge on Providence (14-8, 7-7), but perhaps one of them could earn a sixth Big East selection.

Big Eight (3) -- Kansas and Iowa State are in. Missouri (16-8, 6-4) hasn't beaten a ranked team out of conference and is only 73rd in the power ratings, but a win at Maryland would help. Kansas State (14-8, 5-5) is the alternative.

Big Ten (5) -- Purdue, Penn State, Indiana and most likely Iowa are in, but things get hairy after that. Michigan has a losing conference record (5-6), which is an NCAA no-no. But Michigan State is only 13-11 overall and Wisconsin 14-9.

Conference USA (5) -- The new league technically doesn't have an automatic bid, but Cincinnati, Marquette and Memphis are automatic. Louisville should make it, too. That leaves Tulane (14-6, 6-3) fighting it out with UAB (14-9, 4-5).

Pac-10 (5) -- UCLA, Stanford and Arizona are locks. Upstart Washington (14-6, 7-4), with a big win at Arizona, and early favorite Cal (13-7, 7-4) should go as well.

SEC (4) -- After Kentucky, it's a bad year for the SEC. Arkansas and Mississippi State should join the Wildcats. Battling for the last spot are South Carolina (14-7, 7-5), Alabama (13-8, 6-5), Auburn (17-7, 5-6) and Georgia (14-7, 5-6).

A change of heart

Had he the chance to do it over, Morgantown (W.Va.) Dominion-Post sports editor Bob Pastin said this week that he probably would not have walked out of a post-game news conference at the behest of West Virginia coach Gale Catlett on Feb. 3.

Upset by a column Pastin wrote questioning the direction of his program, Catlett refused to meet the media after an 84-63 loss to Miami unless Pastin left. Out of respect for his colleagues, Pastin obliged. Now he has second thoughts.

"At first, I was humiliated, standing out in the cold," said Pastin, sports editor for the defunct News American from 1982-85 and more recently for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I guess he figured I'd go away and ask his forgiveness. I'm not about to do that. I probably should have stayed. I regret that."

Pastin said reaction from West Virginia fans has been overwhelming in his favor. That may say more about Catlett's program than the column. The Mountaineers are 3-10 in their first Big East season and 8-13 overall. They play at home tomorrow against Miami for the first time since Catlett's edict. And Pastin will be there.

Mano a mano

North Carolina coach Dean Smith and Clemson coach Rick Barnes were fined $2,500 each for an on-court confrontation in the ACC tournament last season. In their second meeting this season, they got involved in another episode.

In the second half of a 53-48 Carolina victory, Smith yelled at Clemson guard Bill Harder. Later, Smith said he told Harder to move his feet, not grab uniforms, on defense.

Barnes didn't think Smith should be addressing Clemson players.

"I don't know what the problem is, I really don't," he said. "I've been in the league two years now and I never talk to an opposing player about anything. I think if he's got a problem with my players, he ought to talk to me about it."

Barnes said when he tried to get an answer from Smith after the game, he was told to phone Smith. But Barnes said he wouldn't because he wanted to settle it face-to-face.

5) All this on Valentine's Day, no less.

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