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Four Distinct Populations Watching On Selection Sunday

There are four distinct kinds of teams that will be watching selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament, and in some cases, the NIT and other secondary tournaments as well. The Pac-10 has representatives in all four groups.

There are the locks, those teams that either have one of the 31 guaranteed berths, or such a lofty appreciation by the selection committee that they are comfortable about getting invited. Arizona and UCLA are in this group, though the Bruins early exit from the Pac-10 tournament, and by a healthy margin, to Oregon should increase their anxiety index on a number of levels. They really are watching to find out where they are going, and mostly to determine who else is going to the same place, and what their chances are of needing to plan another trip on the second weekend of the tournament. These teams are not going to have to make a stopover in Dayton either.

Some in the Washington camp think they are in this group as well, but I'm not convinced they were, based on the trouble they have had with Washington St., losing twice, and barely winning in their third meeting, and the fact that they have a few too many quality losses. The Huskies played their way into this afternoon's Pac-10 Conference Championship game though, and no matter what happens against Arizona, out of the bubbles.

There are others that see the Huskies in group two this year, know as the bubble bunch, those competing for the last of the 37 at large bids. A good conference tournament is important to teams in this group, and in some cases, like USC, essential. How other bubble teams in all corners of the country fair can be as important to these teams as their own performances though, as good teams get left out every year. The Trojans, unlike Washington, were dependent on a good finish, especially after the Huskies' pre-traffic stop loss in Pullman.

Very few mid-majors find themselves in this position, as those teams are either in the top group, or below the bubbles. Future Pac-12 member Colorado is in this spot as well, and probably is happy to be there. The Buffs took advantage of the opportunity the Big XII Tournament afforded, not only earning a shot at another bubbly team, and one with a higher profile, Kansas St., but booting them down with a double digit win over a ranked team.

Coming close against Kansas gave the Buffs 21 wins, and they may have played their way into the tournament. At the very least, Colorado fans will be watching the selection show closely.

The Cougars and California both entered the Pac-10 tournament in the same condition, needing to play their way out of the NIT, with falling into the third group a distinct possibility. Neither succeeded.

The third group are the teams that will be paying more attention to the NIT, CBI, and CBA tournament selections. They watch the NCAA selections to see which teams do, and don't, wind up competing with them for secondary tournament slots. Many good mid-majors are in this third group as well, and how well the team will capture the imagination of the ticket buying public is at least as important as their conference tournament run.

Being a top pick for the NIT or CBA can be a better deal than a one and done in the NCAA though, especially if the team has a lot of youth in the program. Some post season wins, and the possibility of multiple games against competitive opponents does more good for a developing team than a one and blown out trip to the NCAA big dance, where you need to probably be at least a 12 or 13 seed to have realistic hopes of having a really great postseason experience.

Stanford started the week in this group too, but much further down the totem poll. Short of winning 4 games in the Pac-10 Tournament, the Cardinal were playing to get their young players into some more games, and their first day loss to Oregon St. makes a CBA invite all they can hope for.

Oregon was here as well, and like Stanford, needed a good Pac-10 tournament to be thinking NIT, with the CBA a realistic objective.The Ducks, however, capitalized on opportunity, and played themselves into secondary consideration with wins over Arizona St., and then a huge upset of UCLA. The 17 point margin was as huge as the win itself.

The loss to Washington left the Ducks at 16-17, and being sub .500, out of the NIT, never mind the NCAAs. But they are a good bet to get to play, and even host a CBA game.

The Ducks have a couple of aces in the hole in the secondary tournament sweepstakes as well. The Matthew Knight Arena is a draw for both on-site and tv viewers, and the University's profile in the sports world is high. These things matter when you are a secondary tournament manager, concerned with profit margin on the margin.

Utah, the other future member of the Pac-12, realistically had dreams of winding up here as well, but little more. The Utes could have made themselves attractive with an upset of San Diego St., but fell well short, and fell into the fourth group.

Then there is that fourth group. Oregon St. and Arizona St., and any sub-.500 mid major, are here. The Beavers needed more than just their one win in the Pac-10 tournament to move up.

The folks on these teams check in only because they have a friend or relative on a team in one of the first three groups, and they wonder where that guy they played with in high school is headed. Because the folks here already have their bags packed too, but its for spring break!

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com