Howard Herman: Happy Selection Sunday
In the sports world, Sunday is the one of the important day of the week. Today is one of those important Sundays.
Super Bowl Sunday is, in essence, a national holiday. Selection Sunday, when 68 NCAA Division I basketball teams fall into our brackets, isn't a holiday but it is close.
Once our teams made the tournament, all we want to know is who will we play, when will we play and where do we have to travel.
If you are a New England D-I hoop fan, your rooting interest is limited to the University of Massachusetts and the University of Connecticut.
Slim pickings for sure. But it could be worse. It looks like no school from the hoop-proud state of Indiana will go to the Dance. No Hoosiers, no Boilermakers, no IUPUI, nobody.
After a rip-roaring start that saw coach Derek Kellogg's Minutemen ranked in the top 15, UMass is sitting outside of the Top 25, but poised to make its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1998.
UMass has staggered into the tournament. It's been a one step forward, one step backward run to Brooklyn for the Minutemen.
The Minutemen had done more than enough to qualify for the tournament, according to America's Bracketologist Joe Lunardi. Lunardi, speaking on a conference call, said that the Minutemen weren't a top 20 RPI team, but were more like a top 30.
"Personally, I think now, they're playing now to what they actually are," Lunardi told me, "which is a good team, and not a great one."
Lunardi is predicting that UMass will be a seventh-seed and will play a 7-10 game in Buffalo. He said the Minutemen could get to the second day and face a No. 2 seed. That was, however, before Friday's loss to George Washington.
We'll find out Sunday afternoon. The team will gather at the Amherst Brewing Company for a watch party.
Whatever UMass' fate is, I'm sure Kellogg and the fans would accept that, especially considering how long it has been since a UMass team has played in the tourney.
That 1998 team was coached by Bruiser Flint and was led by Tyrone Weeks, Winston Smith, Charlton Clarke and Mike Babul. Smith and Babul, by the way, are working in basketball. Smith is director of basketball operations for Flint at Drexel while Babul is an assistant at Wagner.
The week leading up to Selection Sunday is always stressful until a team knows if it's going and where it's going.
Williams College men's coach Mike Maker was a busy man this weekend, with the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 in Virginia. But he has been to the Division I tournament as an assistant at West Virginia. In 2006, the Mountaineers went to the Sweet 16. He was an assistant at Division I Creighton of the Missouri Valley Conference before coming to Williams.
"When we made our run to the Sweet 16 at the NCAA Tournament, we weren't in the top third of [the Big East]," said Maker. "There is a comfort level, certainly at our level here in the NESCAC, where you're not forced to win your league but you still have to be very, very good.
"At the Division III level it's really difficult to get an at-large bid. We have 418 teams in Division III, and there are only 62 bids."
One of those Division I one-bid leagues is America East, where Albany and Stony Brook battled Saturday morning for the only spot in the dance.
"It's tough, especially when you have six seniors involved like I know Vermont had. I'm sure they were worthy of an NCAA tournament bid and they are in my mind," said UAlbany coach Will Brown. "I think these conference tournaments at the mid-major Division I level is a big reason how they came up with March Madness.
"If North Carolina or Duke lose in the ACC Tournament, its no big deal. They'll just worry if they're going to be a 2 or a 3 seed. If Vermont loses, it's crushing because they're not getting an at-large."
The Great Danes beat Stony Brook on Saturday, and Brown will take his team to the tourney again.
Brown is one of the more interesting Division I coaches I talk to during the year. He's never shy about his opinions, and he said there's no one-way to prepare a team for a one-and-done tournament game.
"Everything rides on the conference tournament at our level," he said.
That is what makes March so good, and makes today a second sports holiday.
To reach Howard Herman:firstname.lastname@example.org,Or (413) 496-6253.On Twitter: @howardherman
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