Tourney field offers no room for crybabies, several juicy storylines

There’s only one No. 1 team in the country, as the selection committee made clear in picking Kentucky as the overall top seed in the NCAA Tournament a few hours after Vanderbilt upset the Wildcats in the Southeastern Conference tournament final. No argument there.

Actually, there wasn’t much to scream about on any of the tournament picks, which made for dull moments among the talking heads on television. They spent all week sharpening their claws, only to find out the selection committee left them few targets to attack.

If anything, the people who pick the field might have done their best work yet. They’ve got a formula that works, and they found a way to tweak it this year to make things even more fun.

How else do you explain a possible meeting of UNLV and Duke for the first time since the Blue Devils upset one of the greatest college teams ever 21 years ago in the Final Four? Even better, Duke and Kentucky could meet in the South final almost 20 years to the day since Christian Laettner hit The Shot to give Duke a 104-103 win over the Wildcats in the East Regional final.

So Drexel didn’t get in. So what. UNR didn’t get an invite, either, and the Wolf Pack won 16 games in a row at one point during the season and lost only one conference game before falling in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.

Glittering records don’t count like they used to. Not with coaches loading up with soft nonconference games, so many so that 112 teams in the country had 20 wins or more.

Win your conference title, and you’re in. Lose, and you’re another 25-win team heading to the National Invitation Tournament.

Besides, there are better things to do than complain. Like look forward to tournament storylines like these:

■ KENTUCKY — The Wildcats are so loaded that John Calipari’s biggest worry heading into the postseason was his players would be so busy worrying about the NBA Draft that they will forget to take care of business. That might have been the case last year when Connecticut beat Kentucky in the national semifinals and four Wildcats players were drafted. Complacency also might have set in Sunday, when the Wildcats lost to Vanderbilt and had a 24-game win streak snapped. This year up to six players could be drafted if all the underclassmen come out early, which begs the question: How does Calipari maintain Kentucky’s graduation rate with so many one-and-done players arriving on campus every season?

■ MISSOURI — The Tigers are the country’s quietest top-five team. That’s probably fine with first-year coach Frank Haith, who made the wrong kind of headlines before the season when questions were raised about his ties with a booster at the University of Miami who liked to show players a good time. Missouri benefited from a cupcake schedule early, but the Tigers won 30 games and the Big 12 title. Their four-guard team will cause mismatch problems for anyone.

■ LAMAR — No, the Cardinals won’t make a run deep into the NCAA Tournament, though that doesn’t make them any less fascinating. Lamar hasn’t lost since coach Pat Knight ripped into them for being, among other things, quitters and drug users. Psychologists can debate the method, but no one can debate Lamar’s place in the tournament after winning the Southland tournament. Knight’s father, Bob Knight, called it his best day in college basketball, which almost made Brent Musburger cry on national television. This would be a great feel-good story, except it’s hard to feel good about anything father or son has to say.

■ SYRACUSE — Bernie Fine won’t be on the bench for this Final Four run, and for a while it looked as if Jim Boeheim might not be, either. But Boeheim survived the child sex-abuse scandal surrounding his longtime assistant, and his team won 31 games to get the East’s No. 1 seed. Assuming yet another scandal — players on previous teams not being suspended for positive drug tests — doesn’t derail the Orange, they have a shot to make the title game for the fourth time in Boeheim’s 36 years in charge.

■ MICHIGAN STATE — My favorite in the tournament, if only because I love the way Tom Izzo coaches. He schedules tough teams and isn’t afraid to take hits doing it, something that happened this season in opening losses to Duke and North Carolina. His teams play hard night after night, which makes them difficult in tournaments, one reason Izzo has led the Spartans to six Final Fours in 16 years. Michigan State also has Draymond Green and one of the easier paths in the West region to make another run.

So many good stories. Almost as many good teams.

No need to manufacture controversy. And no need to whine about what might have been.

Tim Dahlberg is a Las Vegas-based national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at or

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