NCAA time drawing near

We're closing in on NCAA Tournament time. Will the SEC have strong representation? Stan doesn't think the loop has a likely Final Four candidate.

College basketball teams play 25 to 30 games a year for literally no reason. Win all but a couple and you'll be nationally ranked. Win your conference and next year no one will remember.

The only thing that counts in basketball, as we play and follow it today, is did you or did you not earn an invitation to the NCAA post season tournament? Go and you'll have a lifetime reference of a successful season. Miss it and the reference will always be that the team on which you played wasn't good enough.

Painful, but that's the way it is.

It isn't just the players who are affected. A coach makes or loses his reputation of excellence by the same yardstick. How many teams did you take to the NCAA, coach? They don't even have to win it all. They just have to go.

On the list of SEC coaches, here are those who made it and their reputations at the same time. The number of trips is included. There aren't as many as you think.

Alabama: C.M. Newton (2), Wimp Sanderson (10), David Hobbs (2), Mark Gottfried (4).

Arkansas: Eugene Lambert (2), Glen Rose (2), Eddie Sutton (9), Nolan Richardson (13).

Auburn: Sonny Smith (5), Cliff Ellis (3).

Florida: Norm Sloan (4), Lon Kruger (2), Billy Donovan (7).

Georgia: Hugh Durham (5), Tubby Smith (2), Jim Harrick (3).

Kentucky: Adolph Rupp (19), Joe Hall (10), Eddie Sutton (3), Rick Pitino (6), Tubby Smith (8).

LSU: Harry Rabenhorst (2), Dale Brown (13), John Brady (3).

Mississippi: Bob Weltlich (2), Rob Evans (2), Rod Barnes (3).

Mississippi State: Babe McCarthy (1), Richard Williams (3), Rick Stansbury (4).

South Carolina: Frank McGuire (4), George Felton (1), Eddie Fogler (2), Dave Odom (1).

Tennessee: Ray Mears (3), Don DeVoe (6), Jerry Green (4).

Vanderbilt: Roy Skinner (2), C.M. Newton (2), Eddie Fogler (2), Jan van Breeda Kolff (1), Kevin Stallings (1).

In the 73 year history of the SEC, every school has been to the Big Show at least seven times. Forty two coaches have been at least once. You'll note that several have coached at two different schools.

Going back to day one of the league, we have had about 760 coaching years in the SEC. Our coaches individually have made 81 trips to the NCAA. Collectively that's about 186 coaching years or trips.

In truth one school has made the league look better overall than it really has been. That school of course is Kentucky. They have been to the tournament 47 years. In that time they have won 98 games and lost only 42. We're not counting on them too strongly this year though. Or anyone to be truthful.

Florida started off like a windmill and then collapsed, based on the start they had. LSU is pretty good but I'm afraid not good enough.

Last year five SEC teams earned an invitation. They were Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, LSU, and Mississippi State. The next two weeks are crucial if the SEC wants five entries again this year.

Of course once you earn an invitation anything can happen. Let's go back and revisit 2005. Dust off the word "upset" and see if you remember the number 12 seed, Milwaukee beating the number five seed Alabama in the first round—and by 10 points yet. They were not alone. Also in round one UAB #11 beat LSU #6. Bucknell #14 defeated Kansas #3 the first day. Vermont carrying the #13 label dropped Syracuse, a #4, in overtime the first day.

The second round was similar to the first. Wisconsin Milwaukee added yet another scalp to their belt by beating Boston College, a # 4 seed and by 8 points. West Virginia ran into the ACC's Wake Forest and sent them home in double overtime. West Virginia was a #7 seed. Wake Forest was a #2 and many "experts" picked them to win it all. Another favorite fell also in the second round when #10 North Carolina State defeated #2 Connecticut by three.

That's what makes the tournament one of the most entertaining features television can offer. Some team comes out of the back room with everything to win and nothing to lose and knocks off an opponent who is the exact opposite situation—everything to lose, the expected to gain.

Some kid you never heard of goes out there and simply can't miss like that youngster who got so hot for West Virginia last year in that double overtime, one of the most exciting games I have ever seen.

It all starts March 9 with the SEC tournament in Nashville. The winner earns an automatic invitation to the NCAA. The others keep their fingers crossed and hope they get an invitation regardless of what happened up to that point. The way this season has gone, my guess is 20 wins during the regular season will be good enough to earn a ticket for a chance to get to Indianapolis for the Final Four April 1 & 3.

The first rounds are scheduled for March 16 & 18 and March 17 & 19 at various sites. The Regionals will be played March 23 & 25 at the Georgia Dome, the Oakland Arena in Oakland, CA., March 24 & 25 the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. and the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, MN. The regional winners wind up in Indianapolis.

Will an SEC team find the way to Indiana? Not likely but there's one thing about college basketball. You never know—do you?

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