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Cougs won't get invitation to their own hoop party
Seattle Times colleges reporter
You send out the party invitations, labor over the hors d'oeuvres and bring in a large supply of libations.
Now come the guests, but they're not what you expected. Somehow, it's friends of your friends who show up. Your real cronies, they're at a party a couple of blocks away. Even your family went there.
What went wrong here? Well, fate, karma and the NCAA basketball tournament.
You might have noticed that our state, the far eastern part of it, is again hosting a slice of the NCAA men's tournament March 16 and 18. The Spokane Arena gets one of the eight subregionals, reprising its host role of 2003.
As luck would have it, there's a college-basketball team 80 miles down the road, Washington State, that out of nowhere has gotten hotter than Sudoku.
What timing, right? What a stroke for the Cougars, who, after dismissing Arizona in Tucson the other night to go 18-4, have never seemed more hell-bent to experience March Madness. And not only to taste it, but to come in the front door with a high seed.
Imagine being able to take a bus from Pullman to Spokane for the regional, and imagine the home-court advantage. It's a thought that's so positively Duke.
WSU @ Arizona State, 4:30 p.m., FSN
Except ... it can't happen. No way, not even if WSU wins every game from now until Selection Sunday.
It's WSU itself that's the host school for the Spokane regional. And by NCAA policy, hosts can't host their own team. You want irony? Tony Bennett, the WSU coach, was there for the 2003 regional, as an assistant on Bo Ryan's Wisconsin team — the same weekend his dad Dick was doing a clandestine interview in Pullman. Now Tony's guys are going to be on some faraway court, assuming they make it.
Jim Sterk, the WSU athletic director, says the host role benefits the school's relationship with Spokane, gives the economy a little goose, and "there's some money, $50,000 to $100,000 [for the school], if you run it right."
On the down side, it severely stretches events staff, particularly during that week when your own team is jetting off to the big dance. Washington did the same drill in 2004, when it was the host school for a KeyArena subregional.
While the Cougars can't do much more than shrug over their timing, it's Gonzaga that stands to cash in. As long as you don't play more than three times on the host site's floor during the regular season — Gonzaga plays three — the NCAA basketball committee can send you there.
Where possible, the committee "protects" the top four seeds in each region, keeping them close to home. Early and surprisingly, Gonzaga was looking to be in that elite crowd, taking down North Carolina, Texas and Washington. Then the road bit back at the Zags and they lapsed back toward the dreaded "bubble."
They've returned to more favorable company after surviving a double-overtime screamer at Stanford on Wednesday, though not rubbing elbows with those fourth-seed-and-above folks. If they could win out — and that includes a Feb. 17 Spokane Arena date with Memphis — they could rise as high as a No. 5 seed.
Occasionally, the 5s and 6s get a Selection Sunday shout-out from the hoops gods. Last year, Michigan State, as a 6, stayed nearby in Dayton. In '04, No. 6 Wisconsin went to Milwaukee. Notre Dame, as a 5, was assigned Indianapolis in '03. The committee put No. 6 Texas in Dallas in '02.
It's probably reaching to think the committee could place the Zags in Spokane Arena, literally within walking distance of the Gonzaga campus. Still, it might be a good idea if nobody from GU sends a Spokane map to the committee.
There's a strong chance WSU lands in the other Western site — Sacramento. That's also a logical place for Gonzaga, if it acquits itself reasonably in the next month.
Washington, now at 14-7? If the Huskies get on a roll to make it, they figure to be least likely of the three to stay West, although there are always fewer teams from this region than bracket space available.
Bracketologists would think it a hoot if Washington went to Sacramento, joined there by its two east-side neighbors — not to play each other, but surely to consider what a monster year it's going to be for college basketball in Washington next season.
Anyway, for WSU and Spokane, they're going to be wearing a host's apron, entertaining a lot of visitors they've never heard of and perhaps recalling one of the tournament's sweet moments of 2003.
After Wisconsin and Tulsa finished the subregional with a buzzer-beater and Spokane Arena was emptying out, Gonzaga and No. 1-seeded Arizona were clawing at each other in a double-overtime classic in Salt Lake City. The big-screen video board picked up the feed and three or four thousand fans stayed, groaning and cheering with every ebb and flow, persuaded they could somehow make a difference.
Anybody for a sequel?
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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