Inside College Basketball

February 26, 2001

Bubble Trouble
With so many bids to the NCAAs locked up, the fight for the
remaining few will be frenzied

When it's mid-February and your team is on the NCAA tournament
bubble, it's not enough to consider won-loss records and poll
rankings when sizing up your situation. So before Connecticut's
Feb. 13 matchup against Boston College, coach Jim Calhoun made
sure his Huskies knew that, besides having the best record in
the Big East, the Eagles were ranked No. 9 in the RPI. By
contrast, UConn was a bubbly 68th. "I told them, 'Aren't we
lucky we have BC tonight? They can really help us,'" Calhoun says.

The Huskies helped themselves considerably with an 82-71 victory,
moving up 16 positions in the RPI. UConn needed that win because
this year features an unusually large number of teams jockeying
for an unusually small number of spots. (Sixty-five teams will
get bids this year, with the two lowest-ranked teams according to
the NCAA selection committee competing in a preliminary-round
game.)

The numbers certainly don't bode well for bubble teams. Three
weeks before Selection Sunday, it appeared that 33 schools from
the eight power conferences had, barring total collapses, locked
up bids. Throw in the automatic bids that go to the other 26
conference champions and that left all of six spots for teams on
the bubble. "You could go through each conference and make a case
for a lot of people," Calhoun says.

We did, and here's how we picture them:

CRYSTAL CLEAR The following leagues look pretty much
set--pending possible surprises in conference tournaments. The
ACC should receive six bids (North Carolina, Duke, Virginia,
Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Maryland); the Big Ten is a lock
for five (Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa)
and could gobble up two bubble entries (Ohio State and Penn
State). The Pac-10 should get five (Stanford, Arizona, UCLA, USC
and Cal). The Big 12 can count on four (Iowa State, Kansas,
Oklahoma and Texas). The Atlantic 10 will have to settle for two
(St. Joe's and Xavier).

STILL MURKY The last three weeks will be volatile in the Big
East and the SEC. In the tournament field are Boston College,
Providence, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Georgetown from the Big
East, and Kentucky, Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss from the SEC.
Twelve teams from these two leagues are still in the hunt for
the aforementioned six NCAA berths. Georgia and Tennessee are
limping to the finish line in the SEC, but both are ranked in
the top 20 of the RPI and thus have inside tracks. The most
surprising bubble team is probably Seton Hall, which was 13-10
through Sunday.

UP FOR GRABS With only one or two more at-large bids left to
dole out after the Big East and SEC are accommodated, who gets
what will depend on what happens in the tournaments of the
lower-rated conferences. If Cincinnati (Conference USA) and
Fresno State (WAC) win their respective championships, they
might be the lone representatives from their leagues. Likewise,
if Butler (Midwest Collegiate), Creighton (Missouri Valley),
Georgia State (Trans American), Gonzaga (West Coast) or UC
Irvine (Big West) doesn't win its league title, its
regular-season record could compel the selection committee to
burst the bubble on the likes of St. John's or Arkansas. "I
think we have a strong case," Butler coach Thad Motta says,
whose Bulldogs were 18-7 through Sunday, "but at our level you
can never be sure."

Indeed, for Butler and all the other teams on the bubble, there's
no such thing as a sure thing.

Divine Providence
Friars Repair Tarnished Image

For as long as he lives, Tim Welsh will never forget the phone
call. Early one morning last April, shortly after the conclusion
of an 11-19 season, the Providence coach was awakened at home by
a campus security man, who was calling to say that some of
Welsh's players had been arrested following a brutal off-campus
fight involving 11 people, most of them Providence students. "I
remember driving into the office thinking, Well, it can't be as
bad as they told me it was," Welsh says.

Actually, it was worse. Eight players were implicated in the
brawl, three of whom--one starter and two subs--would be expelled
in May. The fight required two non-basketball-playing students to
undergo reconstructive facial surgery and left the program with a
huge black eye. "I've been around basketball since age five, but
nothing I've experienced could prepare me for that," says Welsh,
who is in his third season at Providence. "It was a nightmare for
all of us. The stories people were writing about us read like
obituaries."

Many teams would have come unglued by the events of last April,
but the Friars, five of whom were put on probation for their
roles in the brawl, stuck together. After last Saturday's
hard-fought 81-73 loss to No. 9 Boston College, Providence stood
second in the East division of the Big East with a 9-4 record
(18-7 overall) and appeared headed for the NCAA tournament for
the first time in four seasons. The Friars don't have anyone
ranked among the top 20 scorers in the conference. Nine players
are scoring between 5.1 and 11.1 points per game, and 10 average
double-figure minutes. "A team can't win if it's full of selfish
guys who are arguing over the ball," says 5'9" junior point guard
John Linehan. "On our team anybody can have a great game."

While No. 25 Providence is led by a veteran core that includes
Erron Maxey (11.0 points per game), a 6'6" senior forward, and
7'2" senior center Karim Shabazz (8.7 points per game, 7.1
rebounds per game), a Florida State transfer who tested the NBA
waters last spring before returning to school, Linehan is the
closest thing the Friars have to a star. Arguably the nation's
premier defensive guard, Linehan was fourth in the nation in
steals in 1998-99 with a 3.3 average, but last season he'd played
only six games when he suffered a hernia that would require three
operations. Linehan was briefly confined to a wheelchair after
the third surgery and couldn't tie his shoes for several months,
but he's leading the conference in steals (3.32 a game). "There
are a lot of quick guys, but they don't have the determination to
get it done on defense," he says. Linehan isn't the Big East's
best player, but he may be its most valuable: Providence was 2-3
in late November while he sat out with a pulled hamstring.

As much as Welsh wants the program to put the ugliness of last
spring behind it, he reminds his players that bad news is always
just a phone call away. In October he took the Friars on a visit
to a Providence police station for a lecture on domestic
violence, and he has repeatedly taped articles to the chalkboard
in the locker room that chronicle the misdeeds of college and pro
athletes around the country. "I've always been of the mind-set
that it's not what happens that's important, it's how you react
to it," Welsh says. "That's why I'm so proud of them. These guys
are a joy to coach. They don't care about points and minutes,
they just care about winning."

Sankes Stars at Holy Cross
A Crusade to Enjoy the Game

Josh Sankes has dealt with adversity since the day he was born.
His mother, Heidi, had trouble delivering him because he was an
oversized infant at 10 pounds, five ounces and 23 inches long,
and a lack of oxygen to his brain left him with a slight case of
cerebral palsy. As he grew (and grew and grew), he had to contend
with schoolmates who called him Lurch, and he had to attend a
special occupational therapy class at school to help him manage
the tremors caused by his illness. As a 6'11", 215-pound senior
at Buffalo's St. Joseph's High in 1996, Sankes played well enough
to earn a scholarship to Rutgers, but he transferred following a
disappointing sophomore season that included a humiliating
incident in which Sankes and three others were forced to run wind
sprints in the nude.

No wonder Sankes, now a senior at Holy Cross, says he feels
"reborn" these days while he plays a pivotal role in the
Crusaders' surprising success. After setting a school record for
blocks (69) and finishing second in the nation in rebounding
(11.9 average) as a junior, Sankes was leading Holy Cross this
season, through Sunday, in scoring (12.5), rebounding (9.2) and
blocks (2.3) while making 55.2% of his shots. More important,
after finishing 10-18 a year ago, the Crusaders, who haven't been
to the NCAA tournament since 1993, had a 20-5 record and had
clinched first place in the Patriot League with a 10-1 mark. Now
Sankes is carrying himself with a confidence that seemed
unimaginable two years ago. "It's mind-boggling how far he's
come," says Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard. "He's dealt with a
lot of things without trying to make people feel sorry for him."

Sankes contemplated giving up basketball shortly after deciding
to leave Rutgers in the spring of 1998. More than a year later, a
New Jersey newspaper reported that Scarlet Knights coach Kevin
Bannon had held a free-throw-shooting contest in December 1997
that concluded with Sankes, one other player and two student
managers having to run naked in front of the rest of the team.
Sankes, who for 21 months didn't tell his parents about the
incident because he was too embarrassed, joined two others in a
lawsuit against the school and Bannon that contended their civil
rights had been violated. (The suit was dismissed in February
2000 by a New Jersey Superior Court, but the plaintiffs are
appealing.) Sankes decided to continue his career at Holy Cross,
but he remained ambivalent about playing. A week after vomiting
from nervousness before his first individual workout in the
spring of '99, Sankes told Willard that he was thinking about
quitting. He changed his mind after a long talk in Willard's
office.

Sankes's hands still shake as a result of his cerebral palsy, a
symptom that becomes exacerbated when he gets nervous. The
tremors are especially detrimental at the free throw line. At
week's end he had made only 55.9% of his foul shots, though he is
working with a hypnotist to keep the shaking in check. Meanwhile,
he has become something of a cult figure in Worcester, Mass.,
where a row of students show up at Holy Cross home games wearing
T-shirts that spell out his surname. "This is one of the first
times in my life when basketball has been really fun," Sankes
says. "It seems I've been working so hard my whole life, and you
never know if you're going to make it. I feel a great sense of
relief."

For complete scores and recruiting news, plus more news from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER The Buckeyes are one of many power-conference teams fighting for a scant few at-large bids. COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Maxey has helped Providence go from 11-19 to the top of the Big East. COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JONATHAN CARLSON

WEEKLY SEED REPORT

The battle between Duke and North Carolina for the No. 1 seed in
the East--and two games at cozy Greensboro Coliseum--remained
unresolved as both teams lost last week. The Tar Heels were upset
by Clemson and the Blue Devils fell at Virginia, so it now
appears the matter won't be settled until their rematch in Chapel
Hill on March 4 at the earliest. A North Carolina win would
probably seal the seed; a Duke victory would set up a possible
rubber match in the ACC tournament final.

Noteworthy declines? Kansas (loser to Baylor and Iowa State) fell
two spots, and Syracuse (loser to Miami and West Virginia)
dropped out. Notre Dame debuts as a No. 4.

EAST

1. North Carolina (21-3)
2. Boston College (19-3)
3. Arizona (18-7)
4. Mississippi (21-4)

SOUTH

1. Duke (23-3)
2. Florida (18-5)
3. UCLA (17-6)
4. Oklahoma (20-5)

MIDWEST

1. Illinois (21-5)
2. Iowa State (22-3)
3. Virginia (18-6)
4. Notre Dame (17-6)

WEST

1. Stanford (23-1)
2. Michigan State (20-3)
3. Kentucky (17-7)
4. Kansas (19-5)

The Joe College Report

Who knew that MAC stood for Maniacally Attired Conference?
Through Sunday, Bowling Green was 6-0 since coach Dan Dakich
began wearing his sport coat inside out in an effort to loosen up
the Falcons. Meanwhile, Ohio was 2-1 since coach Larry Hunter had
patches sewn over the players' names on the backs of their
jerseys. "You have to play for the name on the front," says
Hunter...

Tennessee had lost seven of its last nine games, and sophomore
forward Ron Slay helpfully explained why: "In the first 30
minutes everybody is basically worrying about himself, and the
last 10 minutes, everybody is looking at the clock, like, Damn,
we're losing." Vols coach Jerry Green is neck-and-neck with
Maryland's Gary Williams for worst coaching job of the year...

During a tense moment in North Carolina's 85-83 win over Duke on
Feb. 1, Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty tried to lighten the mood by
saying, "Duke still has the ugliest cheerleaders in the ACC."
Word got out and last week Doherty wrote a letter of apology to
the Duke cheerleading squad...

Hats off to the Rutgers women's team, which handed No. 1 Notre
Dame a 54-53 loss, the Irish's first of the season. Only two
days earlier the Scarlet Knights had been embarrassed by UConn
70-45...

TCU may be one of the hardest places in the country to get
kicked off the basketball team (just ask Lee Nailon), but that
didn't stop coach Billy Tubbs from dismissing starters Myron
Anthony and Greedy Daniels last week for "an undisclosed
violation of team rules."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)