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Originally published Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

Cinderella wannabes weave their way toward Big Dance

Usually, the week's prelude to NCAA Selection Sunday is a reasonably orderly process, some teams emerging, some eliminating themselves...

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Usually, the week's prelude to NCAA Selection Sunday is a reasonably orderly process, some teams emerging, some eliminating themselves, the sum of it birthing a bracket that most of us hoopheads can live with.

This year's jostling — you could also call it swooning — is reminiscent of the scene in "Animal House" in which Stork commandeers the role of drum major at homecoming and leads the marching band down an alley into a brick wall.

So the background music to today's bracket revelation is trombones smashing and clarinets crumpling. To put it another way, what do they do in track when the entire field false-starts in a sprint?

Never have there been so many candidates to make the 65-team field. Never has there been so much potential for: a) celebration or b) stricken smiles for TV as you realize your team is headed for the inaugural College Basketball Invitational.

On Bloody Thursday, one after another marginal prospect for the field fell flat. Some teams on the bubble immediately looked done, but at the end of the day, they didn't look nearly as homely. To put it in terms Bluto and Flounder could appreciate, thank heaven the selection committee has to grade on the curve.

Herewith, some of the pertinent questions in these parts:

Question: So how do they sort out these Pac-10 bubble teams?

Answer: Although they might not want to invite TV to their viewing party, Arizona and Arizona State have the feel of teams that are in. Oregon, at 18-13, seems like the most hairline case of the three, having gone 1-8 against the four Pac-10 clubs that are in. And if it isn't picked, Phil Knight can just throw $100 million at the NCAA, buy a berth and hold the games at McArthur Court.

Q: What's up with these Pac-10 refs?

A: You'll see some in the NCAA tournament; they'll be the ones wearing out whistles. Centuries ago, a high priest is believed to have handed down a manifesto to the conference and decreed that athletic competition should be conducted with the majesty of a performance of Swan Lake — the less contact, the better. For some reason, it's been the credo for decades both in basketball and football — a Times study a few years ago showed the Pac-10 as regularly the league with the most penalties in football.

Swallow the whistles, fellas. Except when Ryan Anderson (California) is getting pistol-whipped on an inbounds play at UCLA.

Q: So how's this bubble thing shaking out?

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A: On a conference call, we asked committee chair Tom O'Connor, athletic director at George Mason, about a notion going around that bubble teams this year generally have lesser credentials than in the past. He called that idea a "backhanded slap" and said he'd prefer to call it a broader bubble.

Then the discretionary teams went out and did their best to prove the soft-bubble theory correct.

Q: All right, who's making it? Give me your last four in and last four out.

A: Last four in — Virginia Tech: Saturday's thriller loss to North Carolina might actually help.

Oregon: But they're sweating bullets in Eugene.

Arizona State: Plenty of quality wins.

Texas A&M: Win over Kansas State puts the Aggies in.

Last four out — Ohio State: Only 2-9 against the RPI top 50, and the Big Ten doesn't help this year.

Massachusetts: The guess here is fellow Atlantic-10 member Temple knocks the Minutemen out.

Mississippi: Its 5-4 top-50 mark is appealing, but it finished just 6-9.

Baylor: Losing to Colorado gives the committee an easy out.

Here's how we see the distribution of the multi-bid conferences: Atlantic-10 (3), Atlantic Coast Conference (5), Big East (7), Big Ten (4), Big 12 (5), Missouri Valley (2), Mountain West (2), Pac-10 (7), SEC (5), Sun Belt (2) and West Coast Conference (3).

Q: Where can we expect to see Gonzaga and WSU?

A: Gonzaga bruised itself with the loss to San Diego, but figures to be a No. 7, perhaps even a 6. The Zags beat Virginia Tech, St. Joseph's and Connecticut — the first in Alaska, the last two on the road — in a post-Thanksgiving, seven-day bender. All may make the tournament.

As for the Cougars, it looks like a No. 5, possibly a 6, with a decent shot of going to Denver. The committee will like the fact WSU won six Pac-10 road games, and nobody besides North Carolina has exceeded the Cougars' total of 15 neutral- and road-floor wins.

Q: No. 1 seeds?

A: North Carolina, UCLA, Tennessee and Memphis.

Q: Shouldn't Selection Sunday be a national holiday?

A: No, but how about the first two days of the tournament?

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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