In late January, Purdue coach Gene Keady was asked about the
possibility that only four Big Ten teams would qualify for the
NCAA tournament, the lowest number of bids for the league since
the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. "That's ridiculous,"
Keady replied. "What idiot is saying that?" Now, Keady has to be
praying that the uncharacteristically weak conference gets that
many. Otherwise his 17-10 Boilermakers, who at week's end were in
a three-way tie for fifth place and, more ominously, were ranked
90th in the RPI, probably will be disappointed come March
Purdue, which had two games left (including one against No. 18
Illinois) before the conference tournament, was one of several
teams on the NCAA bubble. Here are the most intriguing, from most
likely to earn an at-large bid to least likely.
MISSOURI No team has improved its lot more during the past month
than coach Quin Snyder's Tigers, who through Sunday had won six
consecutive games, including a 93-92 double-overtime victory over
No. 8 Oklahoma State on Feb. 24. With a solid RPI ranking of 32
and the nation's seventh-toughest schedule, the Tigers can lock
up a bid with one more win.
ALABAMA Three years after a weak nonconference schedule cost
Alabama a chance at an at-large bid despite a 21-10 record, the
Crimson Tide has the nation's toughest schedule and through
Sunday was a respectable 15-10. Its most impressive victory was a
77-73 upset at then No. 4 Mississippi State on Feb. 21. Alabama
did lose five straight SEC games, but its second-leading scorer,
junior guard Earnest Shelton, was in and out of the lineup with
an injury during that run, a fact the selection committee will
take into account.
COLORADO AND DEPAUL Both scored important victories in the last
two weeks. The Buffaloes beat Big 12 rivals Texas Tech and
Oklahoma (thus imperiling the hopes of the Red Raiders and the
Sooners). The Blue Demons knocked off Conference USA foe (and No.
25-ranked) Louisville. Another victory or two by Colorado and
DePaul, particularly in their respective conference tournaments,
should clinch a berth for each.
FLORIDA STATE The Seminoles' 70-65 loss to No. 3 Duke at
Tallahassee last Sunday was a crippling blow, giving them a 6-9
league record (18-11 overall). On Saturday at Georgia Tech the
Seminoles will attempt to snap a 23-game conference road losing
streak; a victory there or a good showing in the ACC tournament
GEORGIA In a rebuilding season the Bulldogs have come on strong
in the second half, winning five of their last eight SEC games
through Sunday. They'll also get credit for two wins over No. 9
AIR FORCE At week's end the Falcons, one of the nation's most
surprising teams, were 20-5 and in first place in the Mountain
West with a 10-2 mark, but a puzzling 37-35 road loss to
Texas-Pan American on Feb. 16 probably knocked them out of the
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Missouri coach Snyder and guard Josh Kroenke are pointing to thepostseason.