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March 19, 2008
Around the Rim
News and Notes

by John Perrotto

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Around the Rim will run on Wednesdays for the rest of the season.

Tom O’Connor slept well Sunday night.

“I slept all the way through the night and I woke up in the morning feeling refreshed,” said the George Mason athletic director and chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

That gave O’Connor a good feeling that he had done his job well in his first year as chairman.

“I feel we selected the right teams to be in the tournament and seeded them in a way that will make for the most competitive tournament possible,” O’Connor said. “The two words that keep standing out to me about the whole process are 'fun' and 'focus'.

“The entire committee got along so well and we really enjoyed each other’s company. At the same time, we always kept our focus on the task at hand. The NCAA did a great job of providing us with so much statistical data about all the teams under consideration and we were able to use that information to help us make our decisions.”

Every year at selection time, the focus is on which bubble teams got into the tournament and which ones fell into the NIT. However, somewhat surprisingly, O’Connor said that is not what caused him the most consternation.

“We have the right teams in the field, I’m sure of that,” he said. “You wonder if you’ve seeded them and bracketed them correctly because of the time constraints involved between the time the field is set and brackets are released. Still, I believe we were able to get everybody seeded properly. I have no second guesses about the bracket.”

O’Connor said he got surprisingly few calls from school administrators to complain about the selections.

O’Connor had to laugh about one caller, whom he politely declined to identify, who accused him of conflict of interest because George Mason is part of the field of 65. The Patriots, of course, got an automatic bid by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

The one call that stood out, though, came from Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love to discuss the Sun Devils being passed over for an at-large bid. The Sun Devils went 19-12 overall, 9-9 in the Pacific 10 and were No. 83 in the RPI and No. 43 in the Pomeroy Ratings.

“I really respected her call, it was very classy and she made her points in a very nice way,” O’Connor said. “I’ve been on the other end of those calls. We’ve had teams at George Mason who have been passed over in various sports and it’s disappointing when you feel in your heart that your team should qualify for the postseason.

“As much I like Herb Sendek as a coach and respect what he did with a very young team this season, Arizona State was just not good enough to be in the field. We just could not justify putting them ahead of any of the other at-large teams.”

The 10-person committee also convened on Wednesday, a day earlier than normal, in Indianapolis, at the behest of O’Connor. That is another reason why he felt secure with the final field and bracket.

“There is no doubt in my mind that having an extra day made a difference,” O’Connor said. “There was never a time when I felt that we were rushed into making a decision. We were able to thoroughly discuss every team that was under consideration for at-large berth and also have plenty of time to discuss the various seeding and bracketing scenarios.”

The extra time also enabled the committee to map out various plans since five conference tournament championship games were played on Selection Sunday.

“We had eight different scenarios laid out that covered all the various outcomes,” O’Connor said. “That’s how thorough we were in the process. We didn’t want to be left unprepared and surprised by a certain situation and we weren’t. We all left the room Sunday feeling good about the work we had done.”

NIT vs. CBI

The NIT, at least this year, was not hurt by the presence of the new College Basketball Invitational, a 16-team tournament being run by the Gazelle Group, which also conducts various preseason tournaments.

The CBI had hoped to compete with the NIT for teams that failed to make the NCAAs. However, NIT selection committee chairman C.M. Newton said his tournament’s field includes every team that was offered an invitation.

“We received outstanding cooperation from all the schools and we feel we have a very good field that is going to lead to a very competitive tournament,” Newton said.

Gazelle Group President Rick Giles told the Associated Press that he thinks some schools were pressured by the NCAA to play in the NIT, which it has owned since 2005 as part of a settlement that ended a four-year legal fight between the parties.

"We're pleased with the field we have," Giles said. "We offer a choice, an option, and everybody makes a certain choice. The NCAA puts tremendous pressure on its schools to pick the NIT versus the CBI, so we're not sure they were able to make a free choice this year."

Welsh Fired

Tim Welsh showed no bitterness after being fired last weekend as the coach at Providence.

“It was professional,” Welsh told the Providence Journal of his dismissal meeting with AD Bob Driscoll. “Listen, we all have jobs to do. Bob has a job and one of them was to make a decision in this situation. I respect whatever he says. That’s the way I was brought up. You respect the people you work for at a college. That’s their prerogative.

“This is a high-risk, high-reward occupation that we’re in. I knew that coming in. I didn’t just land here on Earth. We talked and he said he was making a change.”

Welsh went 160-147 in 10 seasons, appearing in two NCAA Tournaments and three NITs. However, his teams never got past the first round of the NCAAs and were just 1-9 in the Big East tournament over the last decade.

Among the names being tossed about in speculation for the Friars’ next coach are George Mason’s Jim Larranaga, Davidson’s Bob McKillop, Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli, Kent State’s Jim Christian and Ohio’s Tim O’Shea.

Dave Odom Walks Away

Dave Odom’s college coaching career ended last Friday with South Carolina’s heartbreaking 89-87 loss to heavily favored Tennessee in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament. Odom announced he was retiring earlier in the season and school officials did not persuade him to reconsider as they feel a change is necessary after he compiled a 128-104 record in six seasons with the Gamecocks, but never seriously contended for an SEC title.

Odom has long had an expression that he is “sick over the game,” which meant how much he truly loved basketball.

“There’s a difference between sick over the game and sick over the profession,” Odom told The (Columbia) State. “I’m not sick over the profession. It’s not the money. It’s not the notoriety. It’s not the press conferences. It’s not the TV.

“The game itself is an amazing game. When you have a chance to mesh the personalities and the game itself because of the spontaneity of the game, there’s very little lag time or dead time. You’ve got to play right on. It’s amazing thing to watch.

“That, to me, is being sick over the game.”

Team to Watch

This week’s Team To Watch is Nevada-Las Vegas, which is 26-7 after beating Texas Christian, Utah and Brigham Young last weekend to win the Mountain West Conference tournament title on its home court. The Rebels are the No. 8 seed in the NCAA’s Midwest Regional and will face Kent State (28-6) on Thursday in Omaha.

This UNLV squad bears little resembles to the Runnin’ Rebels of the Jerry Tarkanian days, as it relies on a fundamentally strong offense and a tough half-court defense. UNLV is the sixth in the nation in offensive turnover percentage (15.8) and 27th in free throw percentage (74.5) while ranking 34th in effective field goal percentage defense (46.2).

Junior guard Wink Adams leads the way for UNLV with a 16.6 scoring average. Senior guard Curtis Terry is averaging 11.2 points and 4.9 assists a game and junior forward Joe Darger is also scoring 11.2 points a game.

John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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