Two weeks from today, America's college basketball teams will gather around their television sets to learn what almost five months of work has produced for them. Late that afternoon, in another example of television's domination of sports, the NCAA draw will be announced on national TV.
And, with conference tournament play beginning this week, serious jockeying for spots in the 64-team draw has begun. There are two forms of jockeying. One is among the top teams, those that have had bids locked up almost all year, teams such as North Carolina, Duke, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Michigan and Bradley.
They will be vying for top seeding, which is important because the higher a team is seeded, the easier its draw is likely to be. Remember this: the NCAA now assigns a seed to all 64 teams in the tournament, rating them 1 through 16 in each of the four regionals. The top seed plays the bottom seed, No. 2 plays No. 15 and so on.
Thus, it was not surprising Saturday that when Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked about the possibility of being ranked No. 1 in the nation this week he said: "We're a lot more concerned with getting a No. 1 seed in the tournament than being ranked No. 1."
That is the way all the top teams feel.
The second level of jockeying is far more intense. It is among the teams just trying to squeeze into the field. There are 29 automatic bids that go to conference champions. The other 35 spots are filled by the NCAA Tournament Committee, which will meet in Kansas City, Mo., beginning late next week.
In those meetings, things can get just as tough as on the basketball court. Do politics play a role? Absolutely. How else did Kentucky (16-12) make the field last year?
That is why, even now, phone calls are being made and coaches are selling their teams to the tournament committee.
Locally, Georgetown already is in the tournament. So, in all likelihood, is Navy. Even if the Midshipmen don't get the automatic bid by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, their 23-4 record and their tournament performance last season, routing Louisiana State and barely losing to Maryland, should earn them a spot. But you can be sure that Coach Paul Evans and Athletic Director Bo Coppedge will be on the phone making certain the committee knows all this.
Howard is in a different situation. Despite their 17-7 record, the Bison will have to win the MEAC tournament to earn a second NCAA bid in six seasons. Because the MEAC is rated as the weakest league in the nation by the NCAA computer, only the tournament winner will be invited.
Then there is Maryland. The Terrapins are 15-12. They have played as tough a schedule as anyone in the country and have road victories over North Carolina and North Carolina State recently. If the Terrapins win their last two regular season games, at Wake Forest and at home against Virginia, they almost certainly will make the tournament because of their schedule. If they split, they may need an upset victory in the opening round of the ACC Tournament to get into the field.
Five ACC teams are in: Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina State. Four Big East teams are in: Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John's and defending champion Villanova, which ordinarily would be borderline but, because of its championship, will get in. Fading Pittsburgh may have played its way into the NIT.
The Big Ten, despite last year's dismal record in tournament play, has five bids locked -- Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State -- with Iowa on the bubble. The Big Eight has Kansas and Oklahoma in with Iowa State and Missouri borderline. The Southeast will get Kentucky and Alabama for sure, with everyone else hoping for a strong finish.
Other scrambles: In the Sunbelt, four teams -- Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, Alabama-Birmingham and Jacksonville -- have cases. The Jacksonville Dolphins have the weakest overall record (18-9) but the strongest finish -- six straight victories, including wins over the other three teams. This week's conference tournament will decide a lot. Also, since the league's commissioner, Vic Bubas, was last year's NCAA tournament director, the league could sneak four teams into the field.
What about the weak Southwest Conference and the equally sad Pacific-10? Bet that each league will get two bids: Texas Christian and Texas from the SWC, and Arizona and Washington from the Pac-10. This is a shame. Maryland or Jacksonville, as examples, almost undoubtedly would beat all four of those teams. But since they have padded their records against weak conference brethren, they may go while the others stay home.
Lewis College (Ill.), the 12th-ranked team in Division III, didn't have to do much recruiting to put together its team. Four of the starters have the same last name: Niego. Last week, the four brothers scored all the points their team needed to win -- in fact, they scored all of Lewis College's points.
Ohio State reportedly has narrowed its list of coaching candidates to four: Tennessee's Don DeVoe, Boston College's Gary Williams, Wyoming's Jim Brandenburg and Ohio U.'s Danny Nee . . . Minnesota is interested in Illinois State's Bob Donewald and Cornell's Tom Miller. Miller has taken Cornell from last place to first in the Ivy League in five seasons . . . If Pittsburgh doesn't grab one of the glamor names -- Hubie Brown, George Karl -- associated with the job, it may go for a coach who has built a bad program into a good one. Coaches Pitt has looked at include Jacksonville's Bob Wenzel, Navy's Evans and Nee.
The Upset Pick is in disarray. Georgetown can't make a free throw, and the record is a disastrous 5-9. There is talk of a coaching change. In the meantime, a comeback will be attempted Wednesday night when Florida will make its bid for postseason attention by upsetting Alabama.