The Fifth Quarter
By Jack Danilewicz
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002
Hawaii coach Riley Wallace took his case for a national ranking more directly to the pollsters a couple of weeks back when he penned a column for College Insider.com.
There are no columns forthcoming from the veteran coach this week, as his Rainbow Warriors are more concerned with Tulsa, not to mention Hawaii's NCAA Tournament chances.
Says forward Carl English, "Every game is about the NCAA now."
Indeed, even though both Tulsa and Hawaii look like solid NCAA teams at present, a WAC regular season championship looks very good on a resume. The winner of Thursday night's match-up will obviously have a leg up in the race.
Should Hawaii win its final two home games, it would be 23-4. Considering that the Rainbow Warriors are among the league's best road teams, they could run the table (and finish 25-4), making them a lock for an at-large berth.
And yet the Rainbow Warriors' RPI rating (43rd) will only take them so far when it comes time for the NCAA selection committee to hand out at-large bids. Even with Wisconsin and Georgia playing well, Hawaii's opportunity to make a quantum leap with its RPI is limited.
Whether or not a down year for a conference like the Big Ten will open up more at-large berths for leagues like the WAC and the West Coast Conference remains to be seen.
Moreover, the Big Ten, which averages five to six teams a year, is not likely to send as many teams, as only Ohio State (18-5; 19th in RPI), Indiana (16-8; 16th) and Illinois (19-7; 18th) seem good bets, and the Fighting Illini have some critical games coming up.
Even with Wisconsin (17-11; 49th), Michigan State (14-10; 45th), Minnesota (14-9; 53rd) and Northwestern (16-9; 104th) mathematically alive, it seems unlikely the conference will get more than four. Northwestern and Wisconsin are playing the best basketball in the conference right now, but need more victories. The Wildcats' RPI is only 104, but they have a 7-6 Big Ten record.
With that in mind, it's also hard to imagine both Hawaii and Tulsa not being included in the tournament, regardless of the outcome of their game on Thursday. Both are a cut above the rest of the WAC.
If anything, the WAC has a chance to have a breakthrough year - by sending three teams, should Louisiana Tech get hot and win the tournament. That would allow the committee to give at-large bids to Hawaii and Tulsa.
If the WAC has a dilemma - and I don't believe they do - it may be the amount of talented teams in the West this year that will vie for tournament berths. If you include Tulsa by way of its WAC affiliation, no less than 14 teams from the region - Utah (18-5; 14th in RPI), UCLA (17-8; 24th), Gonzaga (23-3; 26th), Tulsa (21-4; 28th), USC (18-6, 29th), Stanford (17-6, 32nd), Oregon (17-7, 33rd), Cal (18-6, 37th), Utah State (19-4, 38th), Hawaii (21-4; 43rd), Pepperdine (17-7; 55th), UNLV (15-9; 74th) and Wyoming (16-6, 75th) - are positioned to receive NCAA tournament consideration if the season were to end today.
Of course, Hawaii would obviously do well to win the WAC Tournament as it did last year and eliminate themselves from the at-large pool altogether. That much Hawaii has control over.
THE OTHER "SAVO"
Rainbow Warrior tri-captain Predrag Savovic isn't the only member of his family having a stellar year . Brother Boban Savovic has been a key performer for Big Ten co-leader Ohio State. He had a game-high 15 points in the Buckeyes' 72-66 win at Iowa on Saturday, including the go-ahead 3-pointer. He is currently averaging 11.5 points per game and shooting 40 percent from three-point range.
The Badgers (17-11, 10-5) have won five Big Ten games in a row, including wins against conference co-leaders Indiana (64-63) and Ohio State (94-92). The win over Indiana was Wisconsin's first in Bloomington since 1977.
Gonzaga Led by All-American candidate Dan Dickau, the Bulldogs have won 26 in a row at their on-campus facility, the Martin Centre, and are 24-3 overall and 11-1 in the West Coast Conference.
The Cowboys have played well all year and could be a dangerous team come tournament time. Wyoming's Josh Davis is one of the league's most difficult match-ups for opposing teams.
The "Back door" offense Bill Carmody brought from Princeton is beginning to pay dividends as the Wildcats have become highly efficient. The Wildcats, who have never been to the NCAA tournament, have won 8 of their last 11 games, with a couple of near misses (63-61 at Purdue and 58-57 at Ohio State) on the road in that span. Saturday's game with intra-state rival Illinois is huge for their post-season hopes.
The Utes have won 16 of their last 18 games and currently share the Mountain West lead with Wyoming.
The Rainbow Warriors have won 21 of their last 22 home games (including a league-best 14 in a row). Above all, Hawaii has learned how to win on the road.
The Golden Hurricane have won seven in a row for the second time this season. Thursday's game at Hawaii figures to decide the WAC regular-season champion.
The Bulldogs have lost five of their last six WAC games, including three of their last five at home.
The Hawkeyes, who began the year 13-4, and who were ranked as high as eighth in the polls in December, have lost seven of their last nine games and are just 4-10 in the Big Ten. To make the NCAA tournament, they will need an improbable run through the Big Ten tournament.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Tulsa at Hawaii
A huge showdown between the WAC's top two teams. In the singles competition, it will be Predrag Savovic versus Greg Harrington.
Jack Danilewicz picks Hawaii 78, Tulsa 69.
Illinois at Northwestern Only Big Ten co-leaders Indiana and Ohio State have won in Welsh Ryan Arena this season where NU is 10-2. Conversely, the Illini are 2-5 away from the Assembly Hall.
Jack Danilewicz picks Northwestern 66, Illinois 60
BEST TEAM THAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
The Waves (18-7, 11-1), who are tied with Gonzaga for the West Coast Conference lead, have won 14 of their last 16 games and posted non-conference victories over both UCLA (85-78) and USC (78-77) in December.
Jack Danilewicz is a College Basketball Analyst for the Rainbow Sports Network.