Frenzied basketball fans await March 16 decisions

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

At this juncture, college basketball fans, not to mention coaches and players, have two options as the March 16 date approaches for the NCAA to decide which teams will be invited to March Madness.

One option is to worry like crazy, feed those ulcers and hope and pray that their team receives that coveted bid.

The other is to relax, not worry about it, and wait and see. After all, selection day is just a little more than a week away, so why fret until then?

I lean toward the second option. Why spend the next few days fretting about it, when the better part is to enjoy the coming of warmer and, hopefully, drier weather, and leave it to the selection committee.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t do any harm to do a little guessing, especially about Southeastern Conference teams.

No guess work is needed to know that the SEC will send Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, Georgia and probably Alabama to the big dance. Auburn might still have a chance, along with suddenly-rejuvenated Louisiana State.

That leaves out Arkansas, which has fallen on bad times since the departure of coach Nolan Richardson; Mississippi, which looked pitiful against Alabama last Sunday; South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

Should the SEC send seven of its 12 teams to the NCAA tournament, it ought to consider itself blessed.

Just imagine how much money that would mean for the conference, including paychecks to the non-invitees.

Major factors for the selection committee are RPI ratings and strength of schedules, both of which should

favor SEC &uot;bubble&uot; teams.

Should Alabama, Auburn and LSU not get invited, you can transpose that RPI into RIP, as in &uot;rest in peace.&uot;

Meanwhile, if the SEC hopes to get a team to the Final Four, its best chance is Kentucky, over the years the conference’s top basketball school with numerous banners to prove it.

The Wildcats are for real, especially with their pressing defense, ability to steal the ball and unselfish play.

Florida, also an unselfish team, has a chance, as does Mississippi State, with one of the conference’s top players, the ex-patriot from the state of Alabama, Mario Austin.

Georgia, which gave Kentucky a good run Sunday before forgetting how to protect the ball, is hampered by the allegations of a former player, Tony Cole, about coach Jim Harrick and his son, Jim Harrick Jr., and those probably will mitigate against the Bulldogs advancing too far in the NCAA tournament.

One thing about basketball is incomprehensible to me: how can a team fill up the basket one game and find the basket a foreign object the next?

Cases in point: Auburn and Alabama. In some games the Tigers and the Tide can’t seem to miss and in others they shoot blanks.

Another thing to consider regarding the NCAA and the SEC is the conference tournament, in which the tournament winner gets an automatic bid.

For instance, at Auburn coach Sonny Smith was on his way out several years ago and yet he directed the Tigers to the SEC tournament championship, getting them into the NCAA and going a long way before getting eliminated.

As for now, it’s wait-and-see, whether with a nonchalant attitude or with ulcers.

(Hoyt Harwell is a retired Associated Press Correspondent who covered major sports in Alabama for 26 years. Harwell lives in Hoover. e-mail: