Too Many Teams For Too Few Spots

Andrew Bryant of Boston College reacts in the second half against Pittsburgh in a Big East Championship semifinal Friday, March 14, 2003 in New York. Pittsburgh won 61-48. AP

As thrilling as Selection Sunday is for those "bubble" teams that see their names revealed somewhere on the NCAA bracket, it's equally disappointing for those schools that get passed over by the tournament selection committee.

Two Big East schools are coming to Boston for the NCAA tournament, but Boston College won't be playing in front of the hometown crowd. In fact, the Eagles won't be in the 65-team field at all.

BC, the regular-season champion of the Big East's East Division, did not receive an invitation from the selection committee on Sunday as the conference was unexpectedly limited to four teams.

"I kept seeing teams on the board that I thought we were ahead of," BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo said after watching the men's field announced on television. "I kept seeing them come up and up and up. At that point, I didn't have a great feeling."

BC suffered a setback when forward Uka Agbai broke a bone in his neck in November. By the time the Eagles adjusted, they were 1-4 in the conference with an embarrassing loss to Northeastern.

The Eagles managed to win nine of their last 11 games to finish the regular season atop the division. But they lost by 37 to Connecticut in the finale, and then scored just 48 points in a conference tournament semifinal loss to Pittsburgh — performances that probably hurt them in the selection committee discussions.

"Northeastern was pretty bad," said senior guard Troy Bell, the conference player of the year. "But I thought we did enough to get there."

As the brackets were being announced on television, the BC players grew more nervous.

"Everyone felt a little bit uncomfortable," coach Al Skinner said. "But we didn't think, until they announced the last game, that we wouldn't be up there."

When the last team in the NCAA tournament was announced, a murmur went up among the Volunteers, who had assembled in a room at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville to watch the selection show.

The Vols (17-11) had finished 9-7 in the Southeastern Conference, which coach Buzz Peterson thought had earned them a berth.

Alabama, who went 7-9 in the SEC and also had a 17-11 record, did get into the tournament despite losing in the opening round of the conference tournament in New Orleans.

"I wish them well, but with a losing record in our league I thought their chances would be slim and then they lose in the first round to the team that finished last in our division," Peterson said. "I thought there was no way, but that goes to show about their non-conference games they played and won."

Senior guard Jon Higgins was ruled academically ineligible for postseason play under an SEC rule that he had to pass at least six hours in the fall semester. Higgins was not with his teammates Sunday.

Senior Ron Slay, the SEC's player of the year, called the situation very frustrating, especially after being shown on national television as a bubble team.

"We can still roll without Higgins. You know, I guess they see otherwise," he said.

The Vols held out hope for a bid to the National Invitation Tournament where they hope to host a game.

"Hopefully we'll take this as motivation going into the NIT and try to come out with a win," Slay said.


  • John Esterbrook

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