Greg Hansen : Expect fairness Sunday

NCAA committee almost always treats Cats right
2009-03-10T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen : Expect fairness SundayOpinion by Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

CBS began airing the pairings in 1982, and after a daylong vigil of worry and anxiety, Iowa coach Lute Olson must have thought he was hallucinating when he saw this on the TV screen:

Iowa vs. Idaho in Pullman, Wash.

The Vandals were 26-2, which 27 years later remains their best season in school history. The anticipated second-round game would be played seven miles from Idaho's campus.

And thus began America's Selection Sunday ritual of mystery, suspense, envy and resentment.

Idaho beat Lute's team 69-67 in overtime that long-ago day in the Palouse, an occasion about which he famously groused "the committee needs to find a way to avoid sending you thousands of miles to play on another team's home court."

In the many years to follow, Olson actively worried about being part of the Selection Sunday pairings but once, 1987. That was the year — surprise — that the NCAA gave the coach a gift, making good for the Idaho error by placing Arizona's 18-12 club, a first-round casualty to a bad Oregon team at the inaugural Pac-10 tournament, in a first-round home game against UTEP.

UTEP won in overtime at McKale Center but not before UCLA's Reggie Miller very publicly said that Arizona was part of the field only because UA athletic director Cedric Dempsey was part of the nine-man selection committee.

Since then, the selection committee has so accurately gauged Arizona's tournament worthiness that it gained not only Tucson's trust but also its admiration.

Perhaps the Wildcats got jobbed a bit in 1995 when they were given a No. 5 seed (their worst in a 16-year period) and sent to Dayton, Ohio, to play quasi-home team Miami of Ohio, and lost. To balance the injustice, the selection committee in 2000 wrongly awarded the Wildcats a No. 1 seed after they had lost at home to New Mexico and UConn, had been swept in early March by the Oregon schools and had on their résumé a 26-point loss to LSU.

The over-seeded Wildcats were thumped in a round of 32 game by Wisconsin.

But that's just quibbling. In their 24 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, the Wildcats have almost always been a spot-on seed assigned to reasonably fair locations (OK, not counting the 2006 second-round game against Villanova in Philadelphia).

Given its quarter-century of experience in all things related to the NCAA brackets, Arizona shouldn't worry about being treated fairly when the brackets are unveiled Sunday.

"There's not much you can say," UA point guard Nic Wise said Monday. "You just let your résumé do the talking; that's all you can do."

Arizona's in-or-out fate spins on five variables:

1. Beating Arizona State in Thursday's Pac-10 tournament opener. "If we keep winning," UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said Monday, "they can't keep us out."

2. Utah or BYU must win the Mountain West Conference title and, preferably play one another in the championship game. That would probably eliminate New Mexico and San Diego State, neither of whom played a non-conference schedule worthy of Big Dance consideration.

3. Butler cannot lose to Cleveland State in tonight's Horizon League championship game. Butler, 26-4, is a lock, but Cleveland State, with 10 losses, won't get in (and take a valuable bubble space) unless it stuns the Bulldogs.

4. The selection committee must ignore the Cinderella groundswell for conference-tournament losers Davidson and Creighton, both 26-game winners, and similarly dismiss schedule-lite 27-4 Utah State's chances if it loses to home-standing Nevada, as appears likely, in the WAC title game.

5. Favorites must dominate in both the Big Ten and Big East tournaments. The earlier 19-12 Michigan, 21-9 Minnesota, 21-10 Penn State, 18-12 Providence and 18-13 Cincinnati are eliminated, the more bubble space will be cleared for someone like Arizona.

When smoke curls out of the selection committee's chimney at 3 p.m. Sunday — an hour earlier than most years because daylight-saving time has been moved up — the biggest shock is apt to be the absence of Florida and Kentucky, which has gone 3-7 in its last 10 games in the weak SEC.

The Gators, two years removed from back-to-back NCAA titles, seem sure to be victimized by the good record/bad opponent syndrome that never escapes the committee's scrutiny. For whatever reason, Florida's nonconference schedule this year included Longwood, Stetson, Winthrop, Georgia Southern, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida A&M, UM-Kansas City, Toledo, Bradley and Southern Utah.

You pay for sins such as that on Selection Sunday. Once the madness begins, one team's regret can be another team's salvation.

To that, the Arizona Wildcats say amen.

LIVE CHAT

Join Greg Hansen at 11 a.m. Thursday for a live chat about Arizona Wildcat basketball. Go to azstarnet.com/special/hansenchat

Pac-10 Tournament: No. 4 ASU vs. No. 5 Arizona, Noon Thursday at Staples Center, Los Angeles • FSAZ

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com.

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