Fan-favorite smaller schools may miss NCAA tourney
For years they've been the little guys with big names.
Gonzaga and Butler have carried the banner for smaller schools for over a decade. They've been the role model for programs outside the big conferences.
But on Selection Sunday, it's possible that a 68-team field will be revealed without either one included. Both bracket-busting Bulldogs are currently on the bubble for at-large bids.
ESPN's bracket predictor Joe Lunardi still has both teams making the field in his most recent projected field of 68, but both are far from locks.
Multiple bids for the West Coast Conference and Horizon League are more occasional than regular and neither team is in first place in its respective league.
Since 2000, Butler has been in the NCAA Tournament seven times. The Bulldogs have been to three Sweet Sixteens and one championship game, where they came within a heave from just inside halfcourt of winning a title last year.
But they're currently 14-7 and tied for third in the Horizon League at 6-3, behind Valparaiso and Cleveland State. Butler is currently No. 42 in the ratings percentage index (RPI), a computer ranking system that the NCAA uses to help fill and seed the field. Its best wins are over an inconsistent Florida State squad and conference rival Cleveland State.
Butler's RPI is likely to drop. It's had opportunities for good wins in games against Cleveland State (RPI 31) and Valp (55), but two remaining games against Illinois-Chicago (268) and one against Youngstown State (261) are going to hurt even if the Bulldogs win.
Gonzaga hasn't missed an NCAA Tournament since 1999, but with an RPI of 72, extending that streak could be difficult. The Bulldogs have better wins than Butler as the heads of Xavier, Baylor and Oklahoma State all hang on the wall and some of their seven losses have been acceptable as well - Washington State, Notre Dame, Illinois, San Diego State, Kansas State.
But recent losses to Santa Clara and San Francisco (which is 8-10 vs. Division I teams) could hurt.
Gonzaga has RPI potholes coming too. It plays San Diego (296) twice, Loyola Marymount (257) and Pepperdine (235) once each. All four games will hurt regardless of result.
Winning as many games as possible from its two against St. Mary's, which is now the WCC favorite, and Portland (51) would help Gonzaga's cause.
BIG GAME HUNTING - According to ZagsBlog.com, a site that specializes in New York/New Jersey recruiting, UMass has already made offers to Hudson (N.J.) Catholic sophomore starters Reggie Cameron and Kavon Stewart. Cameron is a 6-foot-5 small forward who is getting considerable Big East interest. Stewart is a 5-foot-10 point guard who is the No. 9 player at his position in his class.
EMPTY COLUMNS - Kansas' loss to Texas left No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 San Diego State as the nation's only undefeated teams. Both will be tested this week. The Buckeyes host No. 12 Purdue on Tuesday, while the Aztecs are at No. 9 BYU Wednesday at 10 p.m.
SAD ANNIVERSARY - On its Sunday morning show, ESPN's Outside the Lines did a nice look back at the Oklahoma State plane crash in Strausburg, Colo. Thursday marks the 10-year anniversary of the tragedy, which claimed the lives of all 10 passengers - two players, two broadcasters, four staff members, the pilot and co-pilot. ESPNU will air a half hour show "The Oklahoma State Plane Crash: A Decade Later" several times this week. It debuts Wednesday at 6 p.m.
OSU will hold a special ceremony honoring the players that died during halftime of its game with Texas Wednesday.
ATLANTIC 10 GAMES OF THE WEEK - Richmond at Dayton, Tuesday 7 p.m. (ESPNU) & Xavier at Richmond, Saturday at noon - The Spiders (RPI 62) get a big opportunity to improve their NCAA Tournament resume with two games against the league's Ohio heavyweights.
QUOTABLE - Often colorful Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus made an amusing reference to why he likes players who have redshirted on Monday's Atlantic 10 Conference call.
"You're better off being a fifth-year player if possible," Majerus said. "Everyone does everything better older. I went the guy for my colonoscopy who has done 10,000, not the guy who has done 10."
Fordham coach Tom Pecora, who immediately followed Majerus on the call, quipped: "I'm not going to talk about any of my colonoscopies, but I've had some that have been more fun than our game at Dayton the other night."
Dayton beat Fordham 91-57 Saturday.