Bama’s shutout leaves a sick feeling

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 15, 2001

Sports Writer

If there weren’t enough headaches going around Tuscaloosa with tax season, a new football coach, the beginning of spring practice and a serious NCAA investigation into the gridiron program to deal with, then plenty more were created late Sunday afternoon.

At 5:45 p.m., the University of Alabama received word from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Committee it wasn’t going to March Madness (i.e. NCAA Basketball Tournament).

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The Crimson Tide, who finished 21-10 overall and 8-8 in the number one RPI rated Southeastern Conference, thought it had enough quality wins to get into the field of 65.

However, it wasn’t enough for Big East Commissioner and NCAA Tournament Chairman Mike Tranghese along with the 10-member selection committee. Instead, the committee took the 16-14 Georgia Bulldogs over the Crimson Tide in what has created a huge controversy in a state known more for worrying about spring football depth charts than RPI ratings.

The Bulldogs are headed for Greensboro, N.C. to face Big 12 power Missouri in the first round of the NCAA East Regionals Thursday night at 9:10 p.m. with the winner probably getting number one ranked Duke Saturday. On the other hand, the Crimson Tide played Big East member Seton Hall in round one of the less prestigious NIT Tournament Tuesday night.

Obviously, this decision by the so-called blue ribbon panel in Indianapolis had more repercussions between Tuscaloosa and Athens, Ga. than N-Sync getting shut out at last month’s Grammy Awards. Ironically, it was on the same night of Feb. 21 when Bama’s NCAA bid started to slip when Reggie Sharp sank a 35-footer at the buzzer in overtime to help Auburn claim a 72-69 victory over the Tide at Beard-Eaves Coliseum. It started a four game downward spiral in which Alabama never did recovered, including a painful 66-63 home loss to Arkansas on Feb. 28 snapping a 19 game home court winning streak. After beating Vanderbilt Thursday night and with Georgia dropping a 63-62 decision to cellar dweller LSU, many basketball fans, including myself, thought regardless of what Bama did against Florida Friday night that Alabama was going dancing.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the selection committee thought when the brackets were unveiled Sunday night. Unlike Maryland’s four game losing streak in late January and early February including its Super Bowl Saturday

collapse against Duke (98-96), Alabama’s losing streak came at the wrong time with hardly no games left to help recover. Fortunately for Maryland, the Terps put together wins over NCAA bound Duke, Oklahoma, Wake Forest and Virginia down the stretch to earn an NCAA bid.

It seemed obvious the committee

wasn’t from the Helen Crump school of arithmetic. Despite Alabama beating Georgia 76-70 in its only meeting (due to SEC split divisions) on Feb. 10 in a game I listened to with a flu bug, the committee took the Bulldogs because it played the number one ranked schedule in the nation compared to the Tide’s 86th. In addition, Georgia earned road wins over NCAA bound Fresno State, Georgia Tech, a sweep of Tennessee, along with a win over ’00 national runner-up Florida and SEC West champ Mississippi (not including a close loss to Stanford). Unfortunately, the committee not only ignored the head-to-head outcome, but also bad losses such as a 20 point season opening embarrassment to TAAC champ Georgia State at home, two losses to South Carolina and its Music City Meltdown Thursday night against LSU in the SEC Tournament to along with a 3-7 finish.

Now let’s take a look at Alabama. When the non-conference schedule came out, no one expected ’00 NCAA entries Louisville and Washington to finish well below .500 hurting the Tide’s RPI (to be explained in another column). However, the Tide recorded impressive home wins over Kentucky,

(who Georgia lost to 85-70 in Athens), Mississippi and Big Ten power Ohio State, which defeated conference co-champs Illinois and defending national champion Michigan State along with NCAA bound Alabama State.

However, while the non-conference schedule, made out years in advance, wasn’t as strong as Georgia’s, the often criticized committee put more stock than usual this year in road records. For a team with five sophomores starting like Alabama, it’s understandably difficult to win on the road in the SEC.

In an interview with ESPN radio Sunday night, Tranghese said it would have not done Georgia justice to have been left out considering its strong schedule. Tranghese admitted he pursued the Bulldogs aggressively to be in the NCAA’s in last week’s committee meetings.

While I commend Georgia for playing a tough non-conference schedule, I also believe you have to win more than enough games to deserve to get into the NCAA’s. The committee also failed to look at Georgia’s bad losses and Bama’s quality wins. But what’s more tragic is that Alabama beat Georgia ON THE COURT!

I have a lot of admiration for Georgia head coach Jim Harrick, who hired current Alabama head coach and former Tide player Mark Gottfried as a graduate assistant in 1988 giving him his first coaching job at UCLA. As Harrick’s top assistant and chief recruiter, Gottfried helped

the Bruins to the 1995 national title. Harrick

also did a commendable job turning around Rhode Island before coming to the rugged SEC.

However, many Alabama fans will be rooting for former Duke player and assistant coach Quinn Snyder’s Missouri Tigers Thursday night as a way to protest the committee’s decision.

With the tournament starting Thursday morning at 11 a.m.,

I like

Boston College to surprise Duke in the East regional finals, while Maryland will upset Stanford in the West to set up one Final Four matchup. Arizona should make it 2-of-3 against Illinois this year in the Midwest, while the South will see Virginia upset defending national champion Michigan State with its great three point shooting before losing to Florida in the regional final at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. After going through tremendous adversity during the regular season, I like Arizona to topple Maryland in the national title game at Minneapolis on April 2.

Despite the snub, Bama basketball fans should be excited about the direction Gottfried has taken the program since the days of destruction under David Hobbs. Gottfried has promised next year to upgrade the non-conference schedule much like Bama did in the 1980s and early 1990s so this won’t happen again. A good NIT performance won’t hurt either, but it’s not the same as the real March Madness.

However, like N-Sync, the best string music for Alabama basketball is yet to come.