Selection Sunday puts focus back on the positive

Sunday, March 16, 2003

With all the scandals that have rocked college basketball in recent days, it's nice to be able to focus on something pleasant in the sport.

The NCAA Tournament bracket will be unveiled today -- enough said.

It's one of the most exciting days of the entire season, and it has nothing to do with making shots or winning games. It's all about squeezing into the 65-team field.

For the majority of the squads -- the automatic qualifiers and the highly rated --today is no sweat. They know they're in, and it's just a matter of where they're going to be seeded.

But for the proverbial bubble teams, today is one marked by high tension and sweat-soaked clothes as they either slide into the bracket or have their hearts broken.

And for the bubble teams who are from midmajor programs, today is really nerve-wracking because their chance to make the NCAA Tournament doesn't come along very often.

One of those squads that is of local interest, Southern Illinois, might not really be a bubble team, but the Salukis are no doubt on pins and needles right now.

SIU appears to have done enough to earn a berth, having won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title and having an all-important RPI of less than 40, which is quite a bit higher then last year when the Salukis earned an at-large berth and became the nation's darlings by advancing to the Sweet 16.

Most major media outlets believe the Salukis are a lock to be selected. But after Monday's surprisingly lopsided 80-56 loss to Creighton in the MVC Tournament title game, you know coach Bruce Weber and his players are again sweating things out.

There's nothing more exciting in college basketball than the finals of the small-conference tournaments, where entire seasons ride on one game.

Yeah, watching bigger conference tournaments is fun -- particularly this year as so many upsets have taken place -- but most of the top teams in those leagues are going to the Big Dance anyway.

The teams in most of the smaller conferences know that the only way they're going dancing is to win their tournament, which means just about every play is vital.

And that makes for some unbelievably dramatic games, which are a delight to watch.

For Southeast Missouri State University baseball fans who are fretting over the Indians' 4-8 start, I have two words for you -- calm down.

Last year the Indians began 3-7 but went on to go 37-20, win Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament titles and post their first-ever NCAA Division I regional victory.

In college baseball, non-conference schedules are a lot like the exhibition season in the major leagues. Most midlevel programs like Southeast play tough teams early in order to prepare for league play, so the records are not always pretty.

Here's wishing a full and speedy recovery to Southeast baseball player Adam Sherry, who was seriously injured when hit by a car on a recent road trip to Southern Mississippi.

All the best as well to another Southeast player, Donnie Fuller, who suffered a shoulder injury during a game at Southern Mississippi that will likely sideline him for the season.

Best wishes to Jackson High School girls basketball coach Ron Cook as he steps away from the game following a brilliant career.

It's fitting that Cook -- one of the area's truly classy coaches -- was sent out with another state final four appearance by the Indians, who no doubt surprised a lot of people by reaching the Class 5 semifinals.

And congratulations to Notre Dame's girls for also no doubt surprising plenty of folks by reaching the Class 4 state championship game under their equally classy coach, Jerry Grim.

The Bulldogs graduated several standouts from last year's team that won the Class 2 state title and, because of the multiplier for private schools, they were bumped up two classes this season. But that didn't keep them from excelling again.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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