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Women's selectors outbungled men's

Has there ever been a worse week for NCAA selection committees? Air Force and Utah State, the worst misdeeds of the 10 blind mice who set the men's field, had some of the weakest at-large credentials in recent memory and were mediocre in losses Thursday. Meanwhile, the committee for the women's tournament was either completely ignorant of its duties or downright dishonest.

This group of bright lights gave Tennessee -- the No. 2 team in the RPIs -- a No. 2 seed and put the Lady Vols in the same region as No. 1 North Carolina. It sent top-seeded Duke to the Bridgeport (Conn.) Regional where Connecticut will essentially be playing in front of a home crowd.

It left out Western Kentucky, the No. 17 team in the RPIs, even though the Hilltoppers were 24-6 and had a 13-game winning streak snapped in the Sun Belt final. Mid-American champion Bowling Green, which has a 34 RPI and is in the Top 25 of the polls, got a No. 12 seed. America East champion Hartford, coached by former UConn star Jennifer Rizzotti, has a 25 RPI and got an 11 seed. Imagine the chaos that would have developed in the media if any men's group pulled off this charade.

The women's committee, chaired by American University Athletics Director Dr. Joni Comstock, was in completely over its head. Comstock, whose explanations Monday night on ESPN were pathetic, should never get within 94 feet of another NCAA selection room again.

A voice of reason will be joining next year when Metro Atlantic Commissioner Rich Ensor takes a spot on the women's committee. He is one of the most respected commissioners you'll ever meet. Somehow, I don't think this fiasco would have taken place if Ensor was in the room.

As it turns out, easily the best job of postseason selection was done by the newly created National Invitation Tournament committee. I complained in this space a few weeks ago that the new-look NIT was ripe for trouble if it allowed sub-.500 teams into its field and that big names such as C.M. Newton and Dean Smith would lean the group toward big schools.

When new NIT President Greg Shaheen, the vice president of Division I basketball for the NCAA, protested that view in a lengthy e-mail to me, I said I'd wait until March 12 before I made a judgment. It turns out he was right. The NIT group did a sensational job of mixing mid-majors, big names and the new automatic qualifiers of regular-season champions who lost in conference tournaments. Teams were seeded, taking away the mystery of home sites and future opponents. It's how the NIT should have been run long ago.

So Shaheen was right there. Now he can start figuring out how men's chairman Craig Littlepage and his minions put Air Force, Utah State and Seton Hall into the NCAA field while Missouri State, Hofstra and Cincinnati didn't make it.

And why talking heads like Billy Packer, Jim Nantz, Digger Phelps and Jay Bilas continue to insist that past performance in the tournament is a criterion for selection when anyone who follows the sport and reads any NCAA handbook knows it's not. I guess rights holders figure they don't have to bother doing their homework.

>Chaney chronicles

For beat writers in the Atlantic 10, the announcement of John Chaney's retirement this week was a sad day. Sure, Chaney has gone off the deep end many times but writers will never forget how he filled their notebooks night after night. For many years, the conference has had a weekly teleconference with each of its coaches. Chaney has always been the first guest and his 10 a.m. soliloquies were must-hear events.

A few years ago, The News sent me to Philadelphia to cover a St. Bonaventure-Saint Joseph's game. Temple was hosting Rhode Island earlier in the afternoon and coming to Olean a few days later, so I decided to take in the Owls contest as well.

During Chaney's postgame press conference, I asked a fairly innocuous question about his team's shooting struggles and a startled Chaney looked into the crowd and barked, "Who asked that question?" I waved my arm and Chaney saw me. Then, through that trademark raspy voice, he railed, "What the hell are you doing here? I don't see no damn Bonnies on the floor."

The room exploded, with Chaney laughing as loud as anyone.


>Around the rim

* While the teams rightly carp about the NCAA women's committee, the biggest beneficiaries are fans with tickets for the Cleveland Regional. With a chance to see North Carolina, Tennessee, Rutgers and Purdue, the basketball there in two weeks will be as good as any Final Four.

* George Mason guard Tony Skinn said he was planning to call Hofstra's Loren Stokes to apologize for throwing the ill-placed punch to Stokes' midsection during the Colonial semifinals but didn't do it when Hofstra was left out of the NCAA field. Skinn did tell the Washington Post this week that he does intend to do it soon. ""There isn't much I can do except tell him how sorry I am," Skinn said.

* Two more connections to the Big 4 in the NCAA Tournament: Vanderbilt women's coach Melanie Balcomb, who led Xavier to an Elite Eight berth in 2001, was an assistant at Niagara in the late '80s; and Tennessee associate men's head coach Tony Jones worked under Tim Cohane at UB for three years in the mid-'90s.



Big 4 three-pointer

* This is just the fourth time in the past 14 years no Big 4 team is involved in postseason play (the other years in that stretch were 1997, 1999 and 2003). In fact, 2006 is the first year since 1992 no Big 4 men's team even reached the semifinals of its conference tournament.

* Final RPI ratings for 2005-06: UB was 130, Niagara was 202, Canisius was 255 and St. Bonaventure was 290. Last season, UB took a 46 RPI to the NIT while Niagara was 95 when it met Oklahoma in the NCAAs.

* The 2006-07 season will have the earliest start in Big 4 history as St. Bonaventure will meet Chicago State on Nov. 8 in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic in Austin, Texas. The Bonnies would play host Texas the next night if they win their opener and the Longhorns beat Alcorn State. St. John's, Maryland, Michigan State and Texas host four-team regional rounds with winners advancing to Madison Square Garden for the semifinals and finals on Nov. 16-17.

-- Mike Harrington

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