Posts Tagged ‘North Carolina’

They played college basketball’s national championship game on Monday night and it was a foul-fueled disaster.

Referees Mike Eades, Verne Harris and Michael Stephens apparently thought we tuned in to watch them blow their whistles.

The trio of officials prevented either team from developing a flow in the second half before North Carolina played better down the stretch to register a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga.

The championship is the sixth in Tar Heels’ history and the school will certainly cherish it after losing to Villanova in last season’s title game.

But nobody is going to remember this game as a classic, primarily with the referees calling 44 fouls.

Gonzaga’s chances of winning were diminished when freshman 7-footer Zach Collins was saddled with his fourth foul and eventually fouled out. Losing Collins was a blow with center Przemek Karnowski going 1-of-8 from the field and missing close-range shots like that tall awkward fourth grader in the elementary school league.

However, the Zags also sabotaged their own chances with 14 turnovers while North Carolina committed just four. Gonzaga simply didn’t do enough to win, shot just 33.9 percent from the field and unraveled in the final 90 seconds.

The Tar Heels also had trouble dropping the ball in the ocean as they shot just 35.6 percent from the field and went 4-of-27 from 3-point range.

North Carolina guard Joel Berry II scored 22 points and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. He was just 9-of-33 shooting in the Final Four, which should give you a pretty good idea about the lack of quality performances in Monday’s title game.

Tar Heels forward Justin Jackson missed all nine of his 3-point attempts while scoring 16 points on Monday.

Gonzaga was in the NCAA Tournament title game for the first time ever and its season finale will prompt mixed memories down the line. But make no mistake, a 37-2 campaign is a terrific accomplishment.

Bulldogs coach Mark Few got the Final Four monkey off his back and recently passed 500 career wins. He’ll eventually make the Hall of Fame.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams is already in the Hall of Fame. Amazingly, he was won more national titles (three) at North Carolina than legendary Dean Smith (two).

Who knows — maybe the result would have been different if the refs had not taken over and gone whistle crazy.

Then again, probably not, the officials were just as poor for North Carolina.

The Tar Heels (33-7) finished the game better than the Zags and deserved their title. But none of us will remember the 2017 title game fondly.


Somehow it is already time for the NCAA Tournament championship game. Seems like the season just started.

Time flies way too quick these days but I won’t spend too much time dwelling about that as I do know why you are here.

You haven’t forgotten that it was me who nearly hit the final score of last year’s game on the head.

While the so-called experts were all falling over themselves to pick North Carolina, I not only selected Villanova as the winner but I almost nailed the final score on the head.

The final score was Villanova 77, North Carolina 74. My predicted score was Villanova 77, North Carolina 73.

Here is the proof:

Not easy to predict a college basketball score, let alone nearly hit both ends of the NCAA title game.

Perhaps it is those 16 years as an award-winning college basketball beat writer helping in a cause like that. Perhaps it is just nothing but blind luck.

That said, the big tilt between Gonzaga and North Carolina is just hours away. I wrote the national preview on Sunday and I came up with the winner and final score you have been waiting to see.

So did I pick the veteran North Carolina team that has several players back from the team that lost in last season’s title game? Or did I pick all the Gonzaga transfers who have their school in the national title game for the first time?

Either way, I think it will be a terrific game … I think it will be close down to the final minutes … may even come down to another dose of late-game heroics (don’t forget Kris Jenkins’ game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer last season) … I can see the postgame scene in my head and I have decided upon the winner and the final score.

You can find it here …

Pretty sure I will hit it exactly this time.

Final Four Saturday is typically one of the best basketball viewing days of the entire year.

It wasn’t good for anybody this year unless you were a Villanova fan as nobody wants to see two blowout games on that fantastic day.

But it was all made up for on Monday with a solid basketball game that included one of the all-time great endings.

You see, it’s kind of hard to top winning the national championship with a buzzer-beating shot.

Villanova junior forward Kris Jenkins etched his name into sports history by nailing the winning 3-pointer as time expired to give the Wildcats a spectacular 77-74 victory over North Carolina.

It is Villanova’s first national title since 1985 when the most famous team in school history – led by Ed Pinckney – upset a powerhouse Georgetown squad led by Patrick Ewing in the title game.

This Villanova squad went 35-5 and won its first five NCAA tournament games by an average of 24.2 points. It let a late 10-point lead slip away before Jenkins’ hoop allowed the Wildcats to hold off a strong North Carolina squad.

In fact, the Tar Heels (33-7) tied the game with 4.7 seconds left when senior point guard Marcus Paige made a miraculous off-balance double-pump 3-point shot. That dramatic basket only turned out to a warm-up act.

You’ve got to like the coolness of senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono as he came up court. He didn’t panic and had the court awareness to underhand the ball to the trailing Jenkins.

“Arch made the perfect pass and Kris Jenkins lives for that moment,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said during the postgame interview on TBS.

Kind of fitting that Arcidiacono landed the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award after that display of teamwork.

“I wanted that shot,” Arcidiacono admitted, “but I have the confidence in my teammates.”

Jenkins, who admits he’s never one to pass up a shot, was making sure Arcidiacono knew he was in close proximity.

“I was like ‘Ryan, Ryan,'” Jenkins said. “Like coach said, he made the perfect pass.”

The flip side was the pain the Tar Heels felt after putting up a strong effort.

Tar Heels coach Roy Williams was among the people struggling with his emotions afterward.

“I’ve been a head coach for 28 years,” Williams said in his interview with TBS, “and the worst thing is on a loss like this I feel so inadequate because I don’t know how to make it better.”

The contest was the first NCAA title game decided as time expired since the famous Jim Valvano-coached North Carolina State team won the 1983 title. On that occasion, Lorenzo Charles grabbed Dereck Whittenberg’s desperation heave to lay in the winning points for a 54-52 victory over a Houston squad featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.

That terrific ending now has company and Whittenburg was one of the millions of people tweeting about the Villanova ending.

“That was a pretty amazing pass by Arch. Reminds me of a pass I made once,” Whittenburg wrote.

Of course, nobody but Whittenburg thinks his play was a pass but that’s OK. The ball got to the right guy at the right time.

Just as it did on Monday.


San Diego State has never won a single NCAA tournament game and finds itself in a position that would have shocked even the most positive alumnus just 18 months ago – a 2 seed in this year’s edition of March Madness.

The Aztecs being a 2 seed among all the giants of the college basketball world is similar to the Detroit Lions showing up in uniform on Super Bowl Sunday or the Chicago Cubs getting their fingers measured for World Series rings.

In other words, it defies logic at every level above preschool intelligence. Even a porcupine would’ve told you that you were nuts if you had predicted such a thing would occur in your lifetime.

But there is Steve Fisher’s team with a gaudy 2 next to its name on the bracket sheet. That’s the same seed as North Carolina and a better seed than every school in the field except for the four No. 1s – Ohio State, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh.

Look on the 3 line and laugh at Syracuse and Connecticut, two Big East powers that would never consider playing a road game at San Diego State. Over there on the 4 line is Kentucky, another elitist program. Longtime West Coast power Arizona is a 5 seed. Oh my, is that cocky UCLA way down there as a 7? The program that won’t even consider traveling two hours down the road to play the Aztecs is a 7 seed while San Diego State is a 2?


I see Michigan State is playing the Bruins in the first round as a 10 seed. Yeah, the same Spartans who were in the Final Four last season.

It almost lines up as “Bracket Gone Wild” to see San Diego State drawing a 2 seed and then getting favorable destinations along the way as long as it wins – first two games in Tucson, next two games up the road in Anaheim.

That type of easy path is normally reserved for the heavyweights of the college basketball world.

The Aztecs (32-2) open play on Thursday against 15th-seeded Northern Colorado and it will be a major surprise if the game is close for more than 12 to 15 minutes. And I say that fully aware that San Diego State has a well-earned reputation for falling short in the two major sports (football being the other).

I’ve dissected the bracket and I can only come up with one thing that can prevent San Diego State from reaching the Sweet 16. That would be possible second-round opponent Penn State. But first the Nittany Lions have to get past Temple.

Sorry fans of the Owls, I’ve dissected Temple pretty good and can’t figure out any way that tournament underachieving coach Fran Dunphy can win two games in this NCAA tournament with one of them being against San Diego State.

Penn State is the type of team that will give San Diego State problems. But I’m guessing the Aztecs aren’t going to be overlooking any team during this tournament. That comes with the territory when your program has zero NCAA tournament wins in its history.

The nucleus of this San Diego State squad came up short in last year’s March Madness, falling to what I felt was a very beatable Tennessee squad in the first round. Funny how the Volunteers ended up in the Elite Eight and I’m sure that memory is still very fresh in the minds of super sophomore Kawhi Leonard and seniors D.J. Gay, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White.

I see the Aztecs having a solid chance at playing Duke in the Elite Eight and it’s too bad that the Blue Devils’ Kyrie Irving is expected back from a toe injury. It would be hard enough for San Diego State to deal with accomplished stars like Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith – two big-time performers from Duke’s 2010 championship team – and the big Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles) on the interior but now Irving will be back in the mix as well.

But hey, that’s a problem San Diego State hopes to face down the road. For now the Aztecs need to make sure they get NCAA tourney win No. 1 out of the way Thursday and figure out how to hold off Penn State on Saturday.

Of course, how dreadful would it be if the Aztecs end up being one of the high seeds that gets booted out in its first game by an upstart program nobody expects to win?

That can’t possibly happen, can it?

Then again, nobody had a 32-2 record and a 2 seed ever happening at San Diego either.

And nobody had Butler nearly beating Duke in last year’s title game either. Or George Mason reaching the Final Four in 2006.

So who knows what will happen as March Madness gets rolling on Thursday. San Diego State has been treated mighty fairly by the Selection Committee.

It’s time to see if the Aztecs can live up to the 2 seed.

It was billed as the biggest basketball game in San Diego State history and one of the most-anticipated sporting events ever played in San Diego.

So if you’re a life-long San Diego sports fan, I probably don’t need to tell you what transpired when the No. 6 Aztecs hosted No. 7 Brigham Young on Saturday afternoon.

The Aztecs did what the San Diego Chargers typically do in the playoffs – melt under the big-game atmosphere and limp out of the building with a defeat.

Yeah, that awful San Diego sports tradition keeps arising at the worst possible times.

The Aztecs suffered an 80-67 loss to hot-shooting Brigham Young and the end result of the Cougars’ victory is this: San Diego State is without question only the second-best team in the Mountain West Conference.

There’s no disputing that fact with the Cougars having defeated the Aztecs by 13 points in both meetings this season.

Saturday’s loss hurts even more since it was televised on CBS, giving the nation its first real look at the Aztecs. That makes for one very painful defeat.

“If it doesn’t burn and hurt, then something’s wrong with them,” Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said of his players. “That’s all they will be thinking about tonight.”

BYU remains in the running for a No. 1 seed in next month’s NCAA tournament and looks capable of a deep postseason run. The Aztecs played in a fashion that makes you wonder if they will be sent packing in the second round of March Madness.

“We played OK; BYU played better,” Fisher said. “They are a really, really good basketball team and they showed that again today. This isn’t the first time they showed it.”

Yeah, we know Coach. The Cougars also showed that during their 71-58 victory over the Aztecs in Provo on Jan. 26. BYU has defeated the Aztecs in seven of the last eight meetings.

But this time was supposed to be different in the tough atmosphere of Viejas Arena and the rabid student section roaring at rock-concert noise levels.

San Diego State was supposed to avenge its lone defeat of the season and display to the nation that it will be a legitimate factor in next month’s NCAA tournament.

And just as a victory would have been a program-defining moment for the Aztecs, it also was a pretty big deal for BYU.

“By the way the guys responded in the locker room after the game, this was a big win,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “Everybody appreciated the fact that this game meant something.”

The Cougars were hotter than lava from 3-point range by making 14-of-24 3-point attempts. BYU’s only deficit was 2-0.

BYU star Jimmer Fredette had 25 points and nine assists and received plenty of help from the supporting cast. Charles Abouo had 18 points and made four 3-pointers, Noah Hartsock scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Jackson Emery had 13 points.

Fredette was overly giddy as the final seconds wound down as the Cougars improved to 27-2 and 13-1 in Mountain West play. The Aztecs drop to 27-2 and 12-2.

“We were just really, really excited to win this game,” Fredette said. “Two top teams and they haven’t lost at home. Everybody was picking San Diego State to win. We came in as underdogs and really battled to get the win.”

San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his 20th double-double of the season but Malcolm Thomas (nine points) and D.J. Gay (six points) were a combined 5-of-17 from the field.

“We’re very disappointed at the outcome of the game,” said Gay, who has made just 2 of 14 shots in the two losses to BYU. “They played better. We have to go back and learn from it and hopefully get another shot at them.”

The Cougars and Aztecs could face each other again in the Mountain West Conference postseason tournament. San Diego State will have the tougher road to the championship game as the likely No. 2 seed because that positioning would likely include a semifinal matchup against host UNLV.

For now, all the Aztecs can do is concentrate on finishing the regular season strong. A 27-2 record is nothing to be ashamed of and San Diego State’s season will be defined by what happens in the NCAA tournament.

Remember, San Diego State has never won an NCAA tournament game in its history.

“This is as good a team as we’ve played since I’ve been at BYU,” Rose said of the Aztecs. “We played a North Carolina team in Vegas a couple years ago that ended up winning the national championship …

“I’m really impressed with everything they have. That frontline is as good as any in the country.”

Rose certainly means his comments but there is no doubt that BYU has the better team. The Cougars have shown that twice this season — including Saturday in the most anticipated San Diego State home game ever.

You can call it bad luck for San Diego State that torrential rainstorms just happened to hit as the school’s first bowl appearance in 12 years arrived.

Raise your hand if you thought staying home in San Diego for the Poinsettia Bowl would be a good thing during late-December.

Qualcomm Stadium had more water in it than nearby Lake Murray 24 hours before game time and officials were scrambling to get the playing surface in reasonable shape prior to Thursday’s kickoff between the Aztecs and Navy.

According to published reports, approximately 1.5 million gallons of muddy water was removed from the venue overnight. That sounds like some kind of chore. Hope the maintenance men and women received overtime pay.

Sure, playing in poor conditions is part of being a football player and countless teams have played in much worse conditions. Next time you see Dan Fouts, ask him about the frostbite from the “Ice Bowl,” the Jan. 1981 playoff in which the San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals played in minus-59 wind chill.

But this is sunny San Diego and the hometown Poinsettia Bowl rates as a huge opportunity for San Diego State to show its program is on the rise. Enthusiasm for the Poinsettia Bowl was rampant in San Diego County, making the contest the second-most anticipated bowl game in Aztecs’ history behind the 1986 Holiday Bowl – a game San Diego State lost to Iowa on a last-second field goal.

The concern is that sloppy field conditions go much better with Navy’s run-based attack than the Aztecs’ aerial circus.

Navy runs the triple-option offense behind stellar option quarterback Ricky Dobbs and runs it superbly. The Midshipmen average a tick under 289 rushing yards per game, fifth best in the nation. Navy will do whatever it can to use the conditions to its advantage under top-notch coach Ken Niumatalolo.

San Diego State relies on the pitch-and-catch trio of quarterback Ryan Lindley and 1,000-yard receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson. Freshman running back Ronnie Hillman has had a sensational debut campaign with 1,304 yards.

Basically, Brady Hoke’s Aztecs need a high-scoring affair to beat Navy. If field conditions render the Poinsettia Bowl into a 17-14 contest or any score in which the two teams combine for under 40 points, it won’t be San Diego State that leaves the field victoriously.

Ironically, San Diego State was served with a tough weather development the last time it played in a bowl game. The winds were so heavy during the 1998 Las Vegas Bowl that the Aztecs and North Carolina could only throw the ball effectively while headed in one direction.

San Diego State lost that game, leaving many players and fans to bemoan the conditions and what might have occurred if the weather had been better.

Aztecs’ fans now hope the same thing doesn’t happen again a dozen years later.

Been told numerous times by people in Boise, Idaho that the biggest sporting event of the year is when Boise State and the University of Idaho meet each other in football.

Even had one Treasure Valley sports fan tell me there’s nothing like the week when the Broncos and Vandals meet on the college football gridiron.

I know this isn’t going to impress college basketball fans on North Carolina’s Tobacco Road or college football fans in the SEC and Big Ten, but it is often referred to as a “rivalry.”

One thing even a lukewarm sports fan knows is the word rivalry represents a fierce competition that is played annually – or in the case of the Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees, over and over and over (show a different Sunday night game, ESPN. Just once).

But when fourth-ranked Boise State visits Idaho this Friday night at the Kibbie Dome in Moscow, Idaho, it could be the last time the two schools meet for a while. Boise State is moving into a better conference next season (the Mountain West) and is no longer interested in playing home-and-home with the Vandals, who will still be part of the Western Athletic Conference.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen is insisting that the contest only be played on the Boise State campus while Idaho coach Robb Akey is adamant that teams who are “rivals” play rotating home games. For now, the teams won’t play in 2011 or 2012 after playing for 40 consecutive seasons.

Saw some published comments from Petersen saying the game should only be played in Boise because the Broncos have the bigger stadium. That was quite comical because Boise State has done a lot of complaining recently about how BCS programs – you know, schools with stadiums twice or three times as large as Bronco Stadium – won’t play home-and-home series with Boise State.

Petersen apparently has forgotten that Boise State went 14-0 in 2009 and only sold out two of seven games in its 33,000-seat home stadium. One of those occasions was when they hosted Idaho.

Idaho fans have gotten riled up over Boise State’s stance and their emotions were inflamed during the summer when Boise State president Bob Kustra described the Vandals’ culture as “nasty” and “inebriated.”

Kustra was left with beer suds on his face little more than a month later when Boise State running backs coach Keith Bhonapha was arrested on a DUI charge.

Boise State installed a media ban this week leading up to the game, a tactic that only penalizes the media folks who are giving the school free publicity all season long. Nothing a football player has ever said on Monday or Tuesday has affected the outcome of a game played several days later.

No word on whether a muzzle was also placed on the university president.

As for the actual game, it should be pretty one-sided. Boise State rolled up a school-record 732 yards last Saturday against Hawaii and Idaho allowed 844 yards to Nevada. Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore passed for a career-high 507 yards last week and should be in line for another solid performance against the Vandals.

The opening week of the college football season is over and done with and the big news is that Boise State will get to continue its season.

Seems like a lot of people – and some major-college coaches – were hoping Boise State would lose to Virginia Tech on Monday night, essentially ending the Broncos’ title aspirations before many teams in the country (that includes you, Mississippi) notched their first victories.

But a dramatic 33-30 victory over Virginia Tech in hostile conditions in not-so-neutral FedEx Field in Landover, Md., keeps Boise State on the short list of national title contenders. Kellen Moore tossed the game-winning 13-yard touchdown pass to NFL-caliber receiver Austin Pettis with 1:09 left.

Boise State remained third in the Associated Press poll and moved up from fifth to third in the coaches’ poll. While Boise State received eight first-place votes from the writers – No. 2 Ohio State only got four – there wasn’t a single coach who voted the Broncos No. 1.

I realize some coaches don’t fill out their own ballots – a major flaw in the poll being used in the BCS rankings – and that defending national champion Alabama is loaded again but you would have thought maybe one or two coaches might have thrown a No. 1 vote in Boise State’s direction.

The debate will rage on about the Broncos’ soft schedule – rightfully so – and there’s a lot of football to be played but Boise State and fellow BCS buster candidate TCU (No. 4 AP; No. 5 coaches) are in great position after the opening week.

TCU defeated Oregon State on Saturday and that will give voters a direct comparison with Boise State as the season goes on since the Broncos also play the Beavers (Sept. 25 in Boise).

Beating Virginia Tech, which was ranked sixth in the AP preseason poll, would seemingly answer a lot of questions about Boise State but I noticed a few dissenting opinions in the online world on Monday.

Most perplexing was a Yahoo! Sports column insisting Boise State didn’t prove anything by beating the Hokies. The columnist stated that Boise State “needed a humiliation of Virginia Tech” to be taken seriously as a title contender.

By that odd logic, why is it OK for Alabama, Ohio State and Texas to squeak out wins over Top 10 teams? Or Top 25 teams? Or unranked conference foes, for that matter?

In fact, Alabama faces No. 18 Penn State this Saturday. Do the Crimson Tide need a “humiliation” of Penn State to remain No. 1? And No. 2 Ohio State meets No. 12 Miami. Do the Buckeyes need to humiliate the Hurricanes to keep that No. 2 ranking? Is it cool for Texas to squeak by current Top 10 conference mates Oklahoma and Nebraska in October or do the Longhorns have to “humiliate” both teams?

The answer is of course not on all counts. That would be a ridiculous requirement against stellar programs like Penn State, Miami, Oklahoma and Nebraska. It would be just as stupid as placing a condition on Boise State that it needed to humiliate a very solid Virginia Tech program that has won 10 or more games in seven straight seasons.

Until college football moves to scrap the bad BCS system and joins the modern world by conducting a playoff, then a Boise State sliding into the title game due to a schedule that pales against SEC powers is a very realistic possibility.

Remember, the BCS system is rigged against the little guys. Teams from non-power conferences have to go unbeaten to even have a chance while a one-loss SEC team has a 50-50 chance to play in the title game.

As for Boise State’s victory over Virginia Tech (the Broncos won without using any trick plays or gimmicks) the game drew a 6.8 overnight rating, just shy of ESPN’s record for a regular-season game (7.2 for USC-Ohio State in 2009). For comparison, ABC’s Saturday night primetime telecast of LSU vs. North Carolina was the weekend’s second most-watched telecast, drawing only a 2.8.

By that measure, it’s a good thing Boise State’s season didn’t become one-and-done. The Broncos’ quest to break down the BCS barrier is easily the most compelling story line of the college football season.

By far.

I’ve never been a big fan of college football’s preseason polls. Most voters base their ballots on how a team fared the year before and how many starters return. They don’t have much else to go on.

Most coaches and sportswriters are so tied up with their own work duties in August and couldn’t tell you what’s going on in the fall camp of other teams in their own conferences, let alone in a league on the other side of the country.

By the third week of September, the polls typically look far different from the original preseason balloting. That’s because – gasp! – games have actually been played.

The first Associated Press football poll for the 2010 season was announced Saturday and football fans in Boise, Idaho are celebrating. Their beloved Boise State Broncos placed third in the prestigious poll, the school’s highest ranking in history.

Yeah, think about that – Boise State’s ranking is its highest ever before it has played a game. Wrapping up unbeaten seasons never got the Broncos the nation’s third-best label. Beating Oklahoma in that wild Fiesta Bowl that was one of the best-ever college football games didn’t even boost Boise State that high.

The school’s previous top ranking was fourth after beating TCU in last season’s Fiesta Bowl.

Boise State even got a first-place vote in this year’s poll. Apparently, a writer in North Carolina didn’t get word that Alabama, last season’s national champions, is loaded again this year.

The high placement in the poll matters a lot for Boise State because it plays in a non-BCS league – the fast unraveling Western Athletic Conference. The higher the Broncos are ranked prior to the season, the less they have to climb the polls once the season starts.

Boise State has notions of making a run at the national title this season behind a loaded roster led by junior quarterback Kellen Moore. But watch how little that No. 3 preseason ranking means if the Broncos lose their opening game to Virginia Tech, ranked 10th in the preseason poll.

Another non-BCS school, TCU, placed sixth, the highest ranking a Mountain West Conference team has ever received in the first AP poll.

Alabama resides at the top of the poll and received 54 of the 60 first-place votes. Ohio State (three first-place votes) is second, followed by Boise State, Florida, Texas, TCU and Oklahoma. Texas and Oklahoma each received a first-place vote.

I’ll leave you with a case in point about the preseason prediction business: I handled the Mountain West Conference football preview for the USA Today college football preview issue. My predicted order of finish was due May 31, more than three months before the start of the season.

I also will be handling the Mountain West preview for the USA Today college basketball issue. My predictions are due August 24, nearly three months before the season begins. One of the top players in the league, UNLV guard Tre’Von Willis, is facing a felony domestic violence charge. I have no crystal ball telling me how the legal system will play out in terms of Willis’ 2010-11 availability.

UNLV is a candidate to win the conference with Willis. Without him, the Rebels probably finish fourth in what will again be a tough basketball conference. Whatever I decide this upcoming Tuesday sits on the newsstands as gospel for the next two months.

If I pick San Diego State to win the Mountain West, the school’s media relations department will send out a press release that basically shouts out “USA Today predicts Aztecs to win Mountain West.”

What does it all mean?

Not a thing. Preseason polls and predictions are a meaningless necessity. All they do is kill time until the season kicks off or tips off.

Bet you’ll never recall that Arkansas was ranked 17th and Utah was unranked in the AP preseason football poll when late-October arrives.

While big-picture entities like the NFL draft and NBA playoffs were hogging up the attention of the sports world last week, something truly amazing occurred: Sports fans actually got their way.

College administrators were considering expanding the NCAA basketball tournament to 96 teams and the idea was largely unpopular among the fans of the sport and the bracket beasts that show up in the month of March.

The tournament is expanding but it only was enlarged by three teams – to a 68-team field. That is terrific news.

I wrote in March that the field shouldn’t be expanded to anything more than 68 and it is great that the good folks at the NCAA took my advice and told all the selfish head coaches (they want 96 for job security reasons) and television executives that I really do know best (yeah, that’s tongue-in-cheek sarcasm).

Thankfully, the NCAA didn’t wreck one of the top sporting events of the year. College basketball rules the month of March because of the greatness of the tournament (Sweet 16 runs by Northern Iowa and Cornell and Butler’s appearance in the NCAA final made the 2010 tournament one of the best ever) and watering it down with even more undeserving Big East (think Connecticut) and Atlantic Coast Conference (think North Carolina) teams would have been ridiculous.

In early March, the Houston Chronicle put together what a 96-team bracket might have looked like this year and it showed that the first round (the top 32 teams were to get byes) would have been a complete joke. Some of the projected 11 vs. 22 matchups (a bad Connecticut team vs. Fairfield), 12 vs. 21 matchups (Utah State vs. College of Charleston) and 13 vs. 20 matchups (San Diego State vs. Wofford and Alabama-Birmingham vs. Weber State) were complete snoozers, not to mention the never-to-be-anticipated 16 vs. 17 matchup of South Florida vs. Marshall.

The new format means there will be four play-in games instead of one and I’m hoping the NCAA bigwigs will choose one of the following two scenarios for which eight teams play in those games.

Scenario One: Have the final eight at-large teams play for four spots and make the four winners No. 12 seeds in the first round.

Scenario Two: Have the final four at-large teams play for two spots and be No. 12 seeds and have the four worst teams in the field (they will all be from minor conferences) play for two No. 16 seed spots.

I prefer Scenario One for this reason: The small-conference teams already had to play their way into the field by winning their conference tournament championships. Seems a bit unfair that they have to play their way in a second time.

Also, with four games instead of one, television appeal matters. Arkansas-Pine Bluff beat Winthrop in this season’s play-in game and I don’t know anybody who watched the game. Can’t imagine anyone thinking four such games is the way to go with the importance of television ratings.

In the 2010 tournament, the last four at-large teams that made the field were Utah State, Texas-El Paso, Minnesota and Florida. The first four teams out were (decide your own order; we’re going alphabetically here) Arizona State, Illinois, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech.

As you can see, Florida-Illinois or Mississippi State-Minnesota play-in games are much more appealing than eight small-conference teams participating.

And if there had been a 68-team field this year, three of the four teams between Arizona State, Illinois, Mississippi State and Virginia Tech would have gotten in. There would have been only one team in the entire nation that could have claimed it got shafted.

Yeah, a 68-team NCAA tournament field is something we can all get used to. Having 96 teams in the field would have made the regular-season largely unimportant and also would have lessened the importance of the conference tournament for the major conferences.

There really wasn’t any overwhelming reason to go from 65 to 96. I’m glad the NCAA got this one right.

Now if only college football could do something about that very horrible postseason format of theirs. Funny how they refuse to listen to the fans when it comes to the BCS (Bowl Corrupt Series).