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Jerry Sullivan: With 2 WNY teams in NCAA tourney, enjoy it while you can

Yes, Sunday was a great day for Western New York college basketball. St. Bonaventure got an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, barely. Combined with UB's win in the MAC Tournament final, that gave us two men's team in the NCAAs for the first time since Bona and Niagara went dancing back in 1970.

It's been a long wait, if you're old enough to remember. Did they even call it the Big Dance back then? Bob Lanier and Calvin Murphy were seniors. Nixon was in his first term as president. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was in the middle of a run as the nation's No. 1 song.

My advice is to enjoy it while you can. I'm not saying it'll be another 48 years of troubled hoop waters. This was easily the best year for our four men's teams since UB went Division I. But when you see how tough it was for Bona and UB in a year when they set school records for victories, you know how tough it is to get in.

UB has 26 wins, but had no shot at an at-large bid if they lost in the MAC final, despite a higher RPI than several power schools that got in. The Bonnies won 25 games and were 14-4 in the Atlantic 10, but they were among the last four teams in and might have lost out if they hadn't won a game in the A-10 tourney.

That's how razor-thin the margin in for mid-majors nowadays (I still consider the A-10 a mid-major, if the highest). It used to be that 25 wins made you a lock. Not anymore. St. Mary's was 28-5, 16-2 in the West Coast Conference with a win over Gonzaga. Middle Tennessee was 16-2 in Conference USA, 24-7 overall.

Tough luck. Neither got in. So what if St. Mary's and Middle Tennessee have been a solid sleeper candidates in the past, chic picks in our office pools? There's no room for teams who dominate mid-majors but lose in their conference tourneys, not when they're putting in so-so teams like Oklahoma, Alabama and Syracuse.

OK, I become old guy yelling on his front lawn every year at this time. But after 29 years, I'm not about to stop, not when I really am an old man. It keeps getting worse. The rich get richer. The mid-majors get screwed, or if they get too good (Butler, Creighton, Wichita State), they get stolen by the elites.

I don't want to hear about the resumes of the power conference teams. They get all the advantages. The leagues are loaded and they build their case by playing each other and getting more chances to impress the committee. Lesser schools get punished for not winning games the big schools don't want to schedule.

The NCAA has no heart. It bows down to the big money schools, especially the ones that play big-time football. Five conferences (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big East,  Big 12), got 34 bids, or exactly half the field. Would it be so wrong to take eight ACC teams instead of nine, so a smaller college could get its big chance?

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The answer, of course, is no. No school should get an NCAA at-large bid if it finishes with a losing conference record. But that idea is dead. The new normal is waving the 8-10 teams through the door. Five teams (Syracuse, Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas and Arizona State) went 8-10 in conference and went at-large.

Gee, I guess I'm a raving cynic if I notice that some of the biggest football powers in America, teams with massive facilities and highly paid coaches, were given bids with losing conference records. Or to suggest that a household name like Syracuse, which has a big TV following, got an undeserved break.

They've taken a lot of the fun out of the event. When the shills on the rights-holding networks talk about their sleeper teams nowadays, it's cuddly teams like Alabama, Auburn and West Virginia that warm their little hearts.

St. Bonaventure had a 24 RPI, UB a 25. They got an 11-seed and a 13-seed. That's lower than Oklahoma, which lost eight of its last 10 games and had a 49 power rating, or Kansas State, which had a 53 RPI. It seems the RPI only matters when the selection committee is using it to justify taking a mediocre power team.

They've gone to a "quadrant" system this year, which measures teams by their record against teams in four quadrants, based on their RPIs. So the RPI matters as a measuring stick for picking the tournament, but an individual's actual RPI gets thrown out the window?

I'm sure it makes sense, but I don't want to understand it. I refused to believe UB would have had no case if it hadn't won its league. I don't believe the Bonnies could have been tossed out if they'd lost in the A-10 quarterfinals.

No small slipup goes unpunished where a non-power school is concerned. UB didn't beat Cincinnati, Bona or South Dakota State (NCAA teams it played before Wes Clark was eligible), so they got a 13-seed and a trip to Boise against Arizona, a loaded team with 7-1 freshman Deandre Ayton, the best player in America.

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The committee didn't do the Bonnies any favors, either. They got a spot in the ignominious "First Four" game against UCLA on Tuesday. So despite winning 13 in a row, and playing games early without Jaylen Adams, they don't even get an actual spot in the 64-team field.

Well, VCU was an 11 seed and went from the First Four game all the way to the Final Four in 2011. So the Bonnies have history to inspire them. Those are the sort of magical runs that make the NCAA Tournament such a great event.

But more and more, they're sucking the essential charm right out of it. I suppose we should bow down and be thankful that we got two teams in again. Sorry, but it's been too long. I'm busy yelling at the NCAA to get off my lawn.

The one sustaining joy is rooting against the super powers. How wonderful it would be if UB could bump off Arizona on Thursday in Boise.

Arizona coach Sean Miller, who has a loaded roster and a dream job, has been named in an ESPN report that said he was wiretapped by the FBI discussing a $100,000 payment for Ayton's services. He has denied the accusation, which is part of a larger FBI probe into bribery and corruption in college basketball.

Is it any surprise, when you see how much money is involved, and how rigged the system is to funnel even more resources to the advantaged, that it could reach the point where the FBI has to investigate. If they have time, maybe the feds could look into the sleazy way the NCAA picks teams for its marquee event.

WNY sends two teams to the NCAA Tournament for first time since 1970

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