March Madness selection crew has work cut out Sunday

This week is always an exciting one before the 68 teams are picked to play in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, especially for the sports media who have their own ideas about which teams should get the No. 1 seeds and which ones will get overlooked and must hope to be selected by the NIT or some other post-season tournament.

The tournament selection committee will have an exceptionally difficult time getting it right this year because of the number of No. 1 teams that took the gas along the way and were replaced by what the pollsters felt was the second-best team in the nation.

And as far as upsets were concerned during this 2012-2013 collegiate men’s basketball season, through the end of February a total of 18 unranked teams had toppled top five opponents, the most in one season over the past five years, according to the latest issue of “ESPN the Magazine.”

There also has been a passel of overtime games, the most talked about being the Feb. 9 match-up between Notre Dame and Louisville that tipped off at 9 p.m. and didn’t finish until 12:36 a.m.–five overtime periods later.

The magazine added that on Feb. 23 nine games went past regulation, treating college basketball fanatics to single, double, triple and quadruple overtimes, a feat that hadn’t happened in 11 years.

January began with the end of Duke’s four-week run as the nation’s No. 1 team. Two days later on Jan. 14, Louisville took a turn at No. 1 but lost to Syracuse. The following week Duke suffered a similar fate in a 27-point loss to Miami.

Last week perennial NCAA Tournament underdog Gonzaga stepped into the No. 1 spot and on the strength of the Bulldogs’ 30-2 record, retained their No. 1 status in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 College Basketball Poll.

The big question is whether the top-ranked team in the men’s poll could be squeezed out of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament by the selection committee Sunday.

According to this week’s edition of USA Today Sports Weekly, “the debate centers on how the tournament selection committee will (and should) consider the body of work of a team that did everything it could with a middling conference schedule it had no choice but to play.

“Because of that West Coast Conference schedule, Gonzaga has played the nation’s 60th strongest schedule, facing one team—Butler on Jan. 19—in the top 40 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) since New Year’s.

“If Gonzaga earns a top seed with that strength-of-schedule ranking, it would be the worst for a top seed in nine years.”

The article goes on to point out that of the 52 teams that have earned No. 1 seeds since 2000, two have done it with strength-of-schedule rankings worse than what Gonzaga was last week. Stanford’s schedule in 2004 was ranked 96th and Stanford also earned a top seed in 2000 with a schedule that ranked 82nd.

Also since 2000, three schools outside the power conferences (Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Southeastern) earned No. 1 seeds.

However, Memphis (27th) in 2008, Saint Joseph’s (46th) in 2004 and Cincinnati (23rd) in 2002 had schedules that ranked among the top 50. The average strength-of-schedule ranking for all top seeds since 2000 is 22nd.

The selection committee historically has rewarded teams that at least attempt to play competitive non-conference schedules. And Gonzaga did try, playing and beating five Big 12 teams and losing just to two likely NCAA tournament teams—Butler by one point and Illinois.

USA Today Sports bracket specialist Patrick Stevens said of the Bulldogs, “Gonzaga will probably wind up very solidly on the No. 2 line. They’re 5-2 against the Top 50, 10-2 against the Top 100 and 13-1 in road-neutral settings.”

This Korner hopes Gonzaga does pull off a No. 1 seed Sunday, but with the likes of Indiana, Duke, Georgetown and Kansas playing such potent schedules and winning most of their games, it could be tough for the nation’s No. 1 team to nail down a No. 1 seed.

KWICKIES…The defending world champion Miami Heat downed the Indiana Pacers 105-91 Sunday for their 18th straight victory to tie the seventh-longest winning streak in NBA history and is the league’s best since the Boston Celtics won 19 straight during the 2008-09 season. The Heat hosted Atlanta last night (Tues.) in an attempt to tie the Celtics’ record. The win also gave Miami (47-14) a victory over every NBA team this season. The Heat lost both previous meetings with Indiana.

The Houston Astros are rapidly sinking to mediocrity in the Grapefruit League  after getting off to a flying start. The Stroes dropped their sixth game in their last seven Sunday as the Atlanta Braves captured an easy 7-1 victory. Houston stood at 6-8 for the exhibition season and took a well-deserved day off Monday. The Las Vegas boys have the 2013 Houston Astros over-and-under win total set at 59 games, which means they are predicting the team will lose 103 games, which is a little bit better than the 106 games lost in 2011 and 107 last year.

A team that is going great guns is the Lamar Cardinal baseball team which swept a three-game series from the visiting Massachusetts Minutemen last weekend to run their early-season winning streak to 10 in a row, their longest since 1993 and their season record to an amazing 14-2. The final game of the scheduled four-game series was washed out due to inclement weather Sunday.

The news wasn’t so good for the Lamar men’s basketball team that lost its season finale 86-72 to Southeastern Louisiana to finish the season with a dismal 1-17 mark in Southland Conference games and a 3-28 overall record. However the Lamar Lady Cardinals downed Southeastern La. 72-61 and secured the No. 3 seed in the SLC Basketball Tournament that begins today in Katy.

St. Louis running back Steven Jackson voided the final year of his contract with the Rams to become a free agent, saying he wants to sign with a Super Bowl contender after eight consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons without a playoff appearance. Jackson, 29, is the NFL’s most productive active running back with 10,135 yards rushing in nine seasons with the Rams.

The conference soon to be formerly known as the Big East will probably be called the America 12 Conference, according to ESPN.com. The University of Houston Cougars will officially join the new conference July 1 and begin playing football with a Sept. 7 visit to Temple. Also leaving Conference USA to join the new league will be SMU, Memphis and UCF, with Tulane and East Carolina coming aboard in 2014.

JUST BETWEEN US…It looks like Tiger Woods is back on track to take over his old position as the world’s No. 1 golfer after leading wire-to-wire in last weekend’s Cadillac Championship at Doral near Miami, Fla. The victory was Tiger’s 17th World Golf Championship title and his fifth title in the last year, the most of anyone in the world. The win leaves him six short of Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 PGA Tour victories. It also marked the first time in five years that Tiger has two wins before the Masters, which he will be a heavy favorite to win. Tiger can retain his status as the world’s top golfer with a win at Bay Hill in two weeks. Woods fired rounds of 66-65-67-71—269 to win by two strokes over Steve Stricker, who has been Tiger’s putting mentor over the years. Woods improved to 40-2 on the PGA Tour when he had the outright lead going into the final round. Tiger collected a winner’s check of $1.5 million and has won over $24 million in the WGC’s alone since the series began in 1999, winning 43 percent of the tournaments. Tiger’s win also marked the 11th straight PGA Tour victory this season by an American for the first time in 22 years.