Now begins what Dave Gavitt calls "my month of martyrdom." The Big East Conference commissioner is also chairman of the committee that chooses the at-large teams for the NCAA basketball tournament. Come the Ides of March each season and Gavitt is in for heavy heat from folks who didn't like the way their teams were treated.
The next time Gavitt goes to Louisville, for example, he should throw his hat into the room first to see if anyone is shooting live ammo. We won't use any names here because these are real people whose work keeps the city of Louisville humming, but the phone rang Sunday night and two old buddies of mine accused Gavitt of everything but wearing Dustin Hoffman's dresses.
"Gavitt is a New York machine politician taking care of his constituents," one fellow said, caring not that Gavitt lives in Rhode Island. "Five Big East teams in the tournament is ridiculous. Did you see what he did to us?"
This is personalizing the argument, because Gavitt is one of nine members of the selection committee. The crime, if it be a crime, was moving the University of Louisville's wonderful team out of the Midwest Regional. Louisville would have played its first NCAA game at home with 16,600 fans on hand because, with this in mind, those fans bought every ticket a year ago.
Instead, Louisville was ranked second in that region--behind Houston--and was moved to the Mideast. There it will play in Evansville, Ind., with maybe 250 fans.
"They ranked Houston ahead of us," another caller screamed, and there moved through the phone line (you could tell) a sneer. "We've played 11 games against nine of the teams in the tournament. We're 8-3 against them and 21-0 against the rest. Hous-damn-ton? They played three teams in the top 20 all year. Syracuse blew 'em out, and Virginia without Sampson beat 'em in Tokyo. They beat Arkansas twice, and Arkansas didn't play anybody else in the top 20.
"And Gavitt ranks Houston ahead of us?"
Others no doubt have complaints. It is impossible to please everyone in a 52-team tournament at 15 sites with 16 teams getting first-round byes.
From the North Carolina State contingent, there is gnashing of teeth and mutters of political influence over the Wolfpack's banishment to the West Regional at a site very near E.T.'s home.
"N.C. State beats North Carolina two out of three, they beat Virginia for the ACC tournament championship and they get shipped 3,000 miles to be the sixth seed," a mutterer said. "Meanwhile, North Carolina loses to State in the ACC semifinals and is rewarded with its first game at Greensboro."
The NCAA's response to such tortured logic is that pairings are based on teams' work over a season, not only last week's foolish postseason tournaments. Had the committee paid much attention to those postseason fiascoes, Maryland (to name a school) would not have been invited.
Fine. But why don't we go one more step? Why don't we take the 64 best teams as proven by their season's play?
The NCAA somehow has persuaded the public that this tournament has the 52 best teams. Only last week, John Thompson said, "If we've been in the top 20 all year, how can we not be in the top 52 a week later?" The fact is, 28 teams are guaranteed spots in the tournament whether they or their leagues are any good.
Which explains why Robert Morris is in, along with Xavier, Alcorn State, Georgia Southern, North Carolina A & T and Morehead State.
Get rid of them.
"It ought to be a 32- or 64-team tournament chosen by computer rankings," said Denny Crum, the Louisville coach. "There shouldn't be any automatic qualifiers. If it's a true national championship tournament, they ought to have only the best teams. I could name you 20 teams better than some of these automatic qualifiers."
Enough of this muttering.
On with the annual predictions.
Someone recently was so unkind as to suggest I have been wrong on my NCAA predictions every year. This misanthrope claimed I picked De Paul to win the last two years while (he pointed out cruelly) the Blue Demons lost their very first game each time. This is utterly false, positively slanderous. I picked De Paul to win only one year. Last year I said De Paul would get to the final four.
That's one good thing about this year's tournament. De Paul isn't in it.
In the Midwest Regional--Maryland will beat Tennessee-Chattanooga and lose to Houston. Georgetown will beat Alcorn State and Memphis State before also losing to Houston. The regional champion will be Houston, defeating Villanova.
In the Mideast--Louisville over Indiana.
The West--Boston College over Virginia first, then over UCLA.
The East--North Carolina over St. John's.
Louisville will beat Houston in one semifinal at Albuquerque, and Boston College will beat North Carolina.
Can the muttering Louisvilles win it all? A gambling friend in the Bluegrass says no. "I'm picking St. John's. We get the Big East on cable now and I think they have the best coached, most intelligent players in the country. I paid $900 for St. John's in a Calcutta paying $21,000 to the winner."
My Monopoly money is on Louisville. No other team in the country is as solid seven players deep. A 20-game winner in each of his 12 seasons, Crum is a superb bench tactician. This team comes with size, speed, defense.
"We're playing very well and very consistently," said Crum, whose team won the '80 NCAA and has been in the final four three other times. "If we get that kind of play from now on, we're capable."