Big-name schools left out of NCAA tourney
By JOHN MARSHALL
The NCAA tournament will look monumentally different this year.
Connecticut, North Carolina, UCLA, Arizona and Indiana didn't make it into the field of 65, the first time since 1966 five of the biggest names in college basketball missed the tournament in the same season.
That's three of the four schools with the most championships, out. The second-longest string of tournament appearances, done.
The blue bloods of basketball are feeling blue and filling out the bracket is going to seem strange, like showing up to Mount Rushmore and realizing Abraham Lincoln is missing.
"It is strange because obviously those are formidable teams with great traditions, but I believe it's reflective of the culture of college basketball this year," selection chairman Dan Guerrero said yesterday after the field was announced. "Believe me, every one of those teams would have loved to be represented in this tournament, but it didn't happen."
So many big names, so many big disappointments.
North Carolina was the defending national champion and figured to get back to the tournament even after losing Tyler Hansbrough and nearly everyone else. Instead, the Tar Heels floundered through one of their worst seasons in years, finishing 16-16 and needing a big run in the ACC tournament that never happened.
A program with five national titles and the record with 27 straight NCAA appearances is headed for the NIT.
"I think it is so frustrating because we showed flashes what we can be and the team we can be, it seems like we'll play that way for a while, then we'll just stop," North Carolina guard Larry Drew II said.
Connecticut was a No. 1 seed and reached the Final Four a year ago. Without intimidating Hasheem Thabeet, the Huskies backtracked, finishing 12th in the Big East during the regular season, suffering another inglorious one-game exit from the conference tournament for the fifth straight year and settled for the NIT.
Arizona had the nation's longest active streak of reaching the NCAA tournament at 25, within sight of North Carolina's record run. After salvaging tournament bids the past two years, the Wildcats didn't stand much of a chance at getting No. 26, finishing 16-15 after losing to UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament.
The Bruins are the king of title-holders with 11 and they went to three consecutive Final Four appearances under coach Ben Howland. Their run came to an end with the worst season (14-18) since 2003-04 and a loss to eventual champion Washington in the Pac-10 tournament semifinals.
Guerrero, UCLA's athletic director, didn't even have to recuse himself from voting for the Bruins; they weren't getting in anyway.
"To have a losing record is very, very disappointing with the success we've enjoyed the previous five seasons," Howland said.
When this year's Final Four was awarded to Indianapolis in 2003, there was hope the basketball-crazy state's most recognizable school would make a magical run to a title. Indiana had once gone to 18 straight NCAA tournaments, so why not dream?
It wasn't even close.
Still mopping up from the Kelvin Sampson mess, Indiana won just 10 games. An improvement from a year ago, but nowhere near NCAA tournament-ready.
"Missing the tournament hurts," said Jeremiah Rivers, who played on Georgetown's 2007 Final Four team before transferring to Indiana.
There's a chance one of Indiana's biggest schools can still get through to the Final Four. Purdue is the fourth seed in the South Regional, but the Boilermakers' chances of going deep in the bracket took a big hit with Robbie Hummel's season-ending knee injury.
At least Florida sneaked in. Had the 21-12 Gators not made it, that would have been three of the past four champions — accounting for five titles — left out.
Still, the Q Rating isn't going be nearly as high at this year's Big Dance.
Not with all those monuments missing.