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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 5, 2002

NCAA bid not yet secure for 'Bows

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Columnist

It is magic number time for the University of Hawai'i men's basketball team, the question is just how much magic is it going to take?

With 19 victories already in the bag and the end of the regular season now in sight, let's start talking bottom line here.

When it comes to nailing down a place in the NCAA Tournament, the Rainbows are probably still four, maybe five, wins away. Certainly a do-able though hardly automatic feat with seven regular-season games and the Western Athletic Conference Tournament remaining.

Once upon a not-so-distant time 20 was the magic marker. Hit it and a team was practically guaranteed an invitation if it didn't win its conference.

But those days are gone, as the Rainbows were twice reminded in the 1990s when 23-9 wouldn't do it for them in 1990 and 20-7 didn't cut it in 1997. Even a 19-8 record buffed with wins over Indiana and Kansas couldn't buy them a ticket in 1998.

Ideally, of course, the Rainbows would render the issue meaningless by winning the WAC Tournament in Tulsa next month and earning the automatic NCAA bid that goes with it. But that might be asking too much — even of this team. For no team has won the WAC Tournament off its home floor in consecutive appearances since 1992.

Failing that, the closest thing to a lock is to win the WAC regular season title and then reach the championship game of the tournament. Certainly a reachable goal but hardly a gimme.

Which is why the at-large possibilities are so important for the Rainbows, who would hate to see their best start in 30 years result in nothing more than a National Invitation Tournament bid.

You'd like to think that a 19-3 record would already have the Rainbows one foot in the door of the NCAA Tournament. But that would be to overlook the degree in which they are dragged down by their schedule.

Whether you use the College Basketball News version of Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) or CollegeRPI.com, the Rainbows currently stand no better than 47th (College Basketball) and maybe closer to 50 (CollegeRPI.com). That's because of a schedule that only rates between 171st (CollegeRPI) and 173rd (College Basketball).

For all the good that non-conference victories over Georgia and Wisconsin will do UH, lowly regarded Mercer (2-19), Portland (5-17), Norfolk State (7-14) and Northwest State (8-13) are holding back the Rainbows.

That's why the road trip the Rainbows embarked upon yesterday looms so large. Split the games against Southern Methodist (Thursday) and Louisiana Tech (Saturday) and they are sitting comfortably and heading home for three games before finishing on the road for the final two.

Split this week and the count down is on in earnest.