Harris: Mountain West deserves respect in NCAA Tournament
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San Diego State coach Steve Fisher suggested it will be shortsighted if the Mountain West is underrepresented at this year's NCAA Tournament.
Fisher said he believes the Mountain West should be well represented in the 68-team field announced Sunday because it's the top RPI conference.
Five of the nine teams have won at least 20 games this season.
Last year, four Mountain West teams — UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State and San Diego State — advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Following a 73-67 win over Boise State in the Mountain West Tournament quarterfinals, Fisher said, “Boise State better be in the NCAA Tournament, or it's a disgrace. I'm going to demand a revote. They're that good.”
Boise State is 21-10 with losses at Top 25 nonconference opponents Michigan State and Creighton. Boise State routed LSU of the SEC at home and finished tied for fourth during the regular season in a league with a higher RPI than the Big Ten (No. 2), Big East (No. 3), ACC (No. 4), Big 12 (No. 5), Pac-12 (No. 6) and Atlantic 10 (No. 7).
New Mexico, Colorado State, UNLV, San Diego State and Boise State each have 20 or more wins. Wyoming is next with 19 wins.
“If you look at our resume with four wins (against top-50 teams), there's some other teams they're talking about getting in the tournament that have one top-50 win,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said. “We played at Michigan State and Creighton. We did all we could. The selection committee wants you to play a lot of good teams, not dodge teams. You can't dodge them in this league.”
New Mexico coach Steve Alford directs the only Mountain West team ranked in the Top 25 entering the NCAA Tournament. The Lobos are No. 15.
“We're the No. 1 team in the country by RPI standards,” Alford said. “We feel it's a tournament we can do some damage in. I've been in this business a long time as a coach. I was in it as a player. My senior year (at Indiana), when we won the national championship, we won on the last day of the year, and Purdue lost, which gave us the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which kept us in Indianapolis and Cincinnati. That's a lot different being in Indiana and being shipped out West.
“We played a very demanding schedule this year,” Alford added. “South Dakota State is in the tournament, Valpo is in the tournament. UConn would have been in the tournament if eligible. We played them. I think that's why we're the No. 1 league, RPI-wise, in the country. It wasn't just us. Other teams in our league scheduled up and won.”
Selection Sunday uncertainty
Every year there are teams that, for whatever reason, don't make the tournament. And there always seems to be teams that make it while appearing to possess lesser credentials.
NCAA Tournament selection committee chairman Mike Bobinski is aware of the challenges, but he seems powerless to change perceptions regarding why some teams make it and others don't.
“As I think back a year ago, the No. 1 (seeds) in the tournament (were) in pretty clear focus,” Bobinski said during a conference call last week. “We had at least two or three dominant teams that really established themselves at the top of the field. This year looks a little different. I anticipate there will be a number of teams we'll be seriously considering and discussing on the first line of the brackets.”
Bobinski said the selection criteria remain the same. Committee members will consider wins against quality opponents, road wins against quality opponents, whether teams are playing at full strength and results against other teams in the tournament field.
“This year the seeding process when we get to the middle of the field will be as sticky or maybe just as fine in distinctions as we've ever been asked to make,” said Bobinski, who will leave Xavier to become Georgia Tech's athletic director after the Final Four.
Around the country
Akron senior center Zeke Marshall of McKeesport joined Kent State's Demetric Shaw (2001-02) as the only Mid-American players to be named Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons. Marshall broke his own school record for most blocks in a season and is the conference's career leader in blocks. Marshall finished second to Ohio's D.J. Cooper in MAC Player of the Year voting. ... Missouri forward Alex Oriakhi helped Connecticut win the national championship two years ago. Missouri coach Frank Haith is leaning on Oriakhi, a transfer, to provide similar leadership to the Tigers in the postseason. Oriakhi responded with 13 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. “The last half of the year, Alex has been way more vocal in a positive way in terms of helping his teammates,” Haith said. “He's been to the place none of us have been.” ... Vanderbilt freshman Sheldon Jeter of Beaver Falls played 18 minutes and had two points and three rebounds in his first SEC Tournament game, a 75-72 win over Arkansas.
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.
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