by Mike Hayes - 03/20/2006
Less than a week after criticizing the selection of four Missouri Valley Conference teams to the NCAA tournament, while at the same time acknowledging that he didn't see them play this season, CBS analyst Billy Packer is sure to get his fill of the MVC this week, not to mention a whole lot of egg on his face - as two of the four invites are among the elite of college basketball and in the Sweet Sixteen.
No doubt Packer and his sidekick Jim Nantz, also highly critical of the NCAA tournament selection committee, made early exits from the CBS office pool, as Wichita State and Bradley posted significant upsets this weekend. So did George Mason of the Colonial Athletic Association, another conference that was the subject of the duo's wrath.
With the first two rounds of the 2006 tournament in the books it is clear that the selection committee had a pretty good idea of what it was doing and in fact the only complaint any one could possibly have about the MVC is that is was under represented in the Big Dance.
Of the four invitees only Southern Illinois, which ironically earned the conference's automatic bid, played as if it didn't belong, getting drubbed by West Virginia. The other loser in the MVC, Northern Iowa, was very competitive in a game it eventually dropped to Georgetown 54-49.
The seventh-seeded Wichita Shockers not only showed they belonged but confirmed two of the committees mistakes in the process by pounding Seton Hall, 86-66, in a game that was never remotely close and upsetting Tennessee, which most pundits did not feel was deserving of a second seed.
Now all that stands between the Shockers and membership in the Elite Eight are the No. 11 seeded Colonials of George Mason.
The big story, however, is the Bradley Braves who in opening round action upset Kansas of the mighty Big 12 and then Pittsburgh of the mighty Big East. The task at hand for the Braves, only the fourth No. 13 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, is a bit stiffer though, as they face the top-seeded Memphis Tigers.
Seton Hall's abysmal performance was validation that they did not belong and that if another Big East Team was deserving of an invite, it was Cincinnati.
Other decisions by the committee that came under intense scrutiny from the Packers of the world were for the most part validated. Some argued that you couldn't possibly have two teams from the CAA; but regular season champ George Mason, which needed an at-large bid after losing the conference tournament to NC-Wilmington, proved critics wrong with upset wins over Michigan State of the Big Ten and North Carolina of the ACC.
Again, the only complaint at this point might be the exclusion of a third team, the Hofstra Pride.
The committee rightfully took heat for extending precious at-large bids to Air Force and Utah State, but the Falcons were competitive before losing by 9 to Illinois and Utah State, though overmatched, did not embarrass itself in a 14-point loss against Washington. What is truly comical, however, is looking at what Packer and Nantz said just after the field was announced last week and all that has transpired since.
Packer voiced outrage that the CAA and MVC received a total of six invites compared to just eight from the ACC and Big 12 saying, "you've got to be kidding."
Well, if Packer wanted to replace George Mason or any of the MVC teams I would love to know which team he would have selected instead.
The top four teams in the Big 12, of course, made the Big Dance, but have one fewer Sweet Sixteen rep than the MVC, as just Texas survives. Characterizing the conference's postseason showing as poor would be kind. In addition to Kansas' second consecutive first-round flop, Iowa was ousted by No. 14 seeded Northwestern State and Oklahoma by No. 11 seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee in opening round action and it was one and done for Texas A&M.
The fifth and sixth teams in the conference, Colorado and Nebraska, both qualified for the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) only to lose first round match-ups to Old Dominion and Hofstra, who, much to the delight of Packer bashers, are both members of the CAA.
Bradley finished sixth in the MVC during the regular season. Maryland, the sixth place team in the ACC, was beaten by Manhattan College - YES -- Manhattan College - of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), in the NIT.
The fifth-place Florida State Seminoles, which Packer insinuated would find themselves atop the MVC if it were a member, barely escaped Butler of the Horizon League in opening round NIT action.
The Big East led the way with eight tournament bids and leads the pack with four teams remaining. The revered Big Ten sent six, only to be swept out in two rounds. The SEC also sent six and can claim the same number of Sweet Sixteen reps as the MVC, as only Florida and LSU remain. In Duke and Boston College the ACC also has two of its four teams in the Sweet-16 as does the PAC-10 with UCLA and Washington.
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