This afternoon at 2 p.m., the nine-man Division I basketbal committee will gather at a Kansas City, Mo., hotel, and commence arguing over the distribution of the 34 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament. The job becomes harder when upsets occur in mid-major tournaments, and Rob Chavez is delighted that his conference is one of those making the committee squirm. **TC Santa Clara was bumped to the at-large pool when it was beaten in the first round of the West Coast Conference tournament by Pepperdine. Chavez took advantage of that opening and led Portland to the WCC title and its first NCAA bid since 1959.
Second seasons have been the charm for Chavez, who took over a moribund program at Maryland-Eastern Shore in 1992, and led it to a 16-12 record the next season, the Hawks' first over .500 in 13 years.
That rebuilding project helped Chavez land the head coaching job at Portland, which finished fifth in the WCC in the regular season, but concluded a three-game sweep of the conference tournament with a 76-68 victory over Gonzaga on Monday.
"This is something you dream about," Chavez said. "You grow up watching the tournament as a kid, and as you get into the coaching profession, you envision your team watching the selection show on Sunday afternoon, seeing where they're going to be sent."
Chavez, 38, never has been afraid to step out. He spent five seasons coaching at Chemeketa Junior College in Oregon, but moved 3,000 miles to get a Division I job at UMES.
He enjoyed immediate success on his return west. Last season, he took Portland to a 21-8 record, its first winning record in 13 years and its best mark since 1959, its first year in Division I. In 18 previous seasons in the WCC, Portland never had gotten past the first round of the conference tournament, but Chavez took the Pilots to the final.
"I had no timetable for getting to the NCAA tournament, but the situation here was similar to the one at UMES," Chavez said. "They hadn't experienced success in a while, but it was a league with a lot of parity and I knew we wouldn't be at a tremendous disadvantage against anyone."
The crowd for the WCC final at Santa Clara included Chavez's father, Bob, who was his high school coach at Glenwood Springs, Colo., and who at one time was that state's all-time winningest prep coach. The Portland fans also included Chavez's 3-year-old twin daughters, Carlyn and Lindsay, who were born two months prematurely and spent their first months in the intensive care unit of a Baltimore hospital.
No news is bad news
Chavez asked, "What's going on back East?" and in Maryland, the answer is not much. Other than the Terps' being in line for an at-large bid, the postseason has been a bust locally.
Mount St. Mary's failed to defend its title in the Northeast Conference, but at least the Mountaineers probably will get in the NIT. Jim Phelan going back to Philadelphia to play St. Joseph's is a natural.
Navy was bounced from the Patriot League in the first round by Army, which is No. 304 in the RPI. Towson State didn't expect to get past Drexel in the North Atlantic, but the regular season was an extreme disappointment for the Tigers, who should have done better with seniors Scooter Alexander, Ralph Blalock and Stevie Thomas. They combined for 4,082 career points.
Canisius has been away from the tournament even longer than Portland. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions last went to the NCAAs in 1957. . . . Brian Evans should become the first Bobby Knight-coached player to win the Big Ten scoring title. The last Indiana player to lead the Big Ten was George McGinnis, in 1971.
Ballots for the Naismith Coach of the Year Award are due today, and the list of top five candidates shows a severe Eastern Liberal Media bias. John Calipari, Jim Calhoun, Steve Lappas, Rick Pitino and Roy Williams have kept their programs at the top, but Purdue's Gene Keady and Iowa State's Tim Floyd have done more with less.
Schools that have received automatic baids to the NCAA tournament:
School ........... Conference
Austin Peay ...... Ohio Valley
Canisius ......... MAAC
Central Florida .. Trans America
Colgate .......... Patriot
Drexel ........... North Atlantic
New Orleans ...... Sun Belt
N.C.-Greensboro .. Big South
N. Illinois ...... Midwestern Coll.
Portland ......... West Coast
Purdue ........... Big Ten
Tulsa ............ Missouri Valley
UCLA ............. Pacific-10
Valparaiso ....... Mid-Continent
VCU .............. Colonial Athletic
Western Carolina .. Southern
Pub Date: 3/08/96