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Pat Bigold

The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, March 7, 2000

The WAC deserves
some respect

HAWAII men's basketball head coach Riley Wallace sounded off about lack of respect for the Western Athletic Conference during a media teleconference yesterday.

It's a familiar battlecry but it remains valid.

Despite having three teams with 21 wins or more, only one team is nationally ranked and can be assured of a NCAA berth. Wallace and other coaches in the teleconference said Tulsa (No. 17 in USA Today/ESPN Coaches pool, No. 14 in Associated Press poll), Southern Methodist and Fresno State all deserve to be in the Big Dance.

But it's a fact, Jack, that the further east you go, the less significant the WAC becomes to media and NCAA selectors.

It's somewhat amazing that Fresno State, which has one of the NCAA's most electrifying players in Courtney Alexander, has not found its way into the rankings.

Sure the Bulldogs have nine losses, but six ranked teams have eight losses.

Among them is UConn (21-8), which, despite my early prediction, has stunk up the joint.

SMU, led by Jeryl Sasser, is man-for-man one of the more talented teams in the country and just took Tulsa into two overtimes.

"Everybody feels like they've done a favor for the WAC by putting in Tulsa," said Wallace. "The WAC will never be recognized as a power conference until you get two or three in the rankings."

OBVIOUSLY, the conference is not doing as good a job of marketing itself as it could.

And the media in much of the country can't seem to relate to a conference that's been sawed in half and, because of Hawaii, has the strangest geographical makeup in the NCAA.

Certainly no one in the east cares that even sixth-place Hawaii was able to beat Oregon, ranked No. 25 by the Associated this season.

The WAC coaches can take some pleasure from the fact that the rebel Mountain West Conference wound up with only two 20-win teams (Utah and Nevada-Las Vegas) and none in the top 25.

Neither conference has an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament but, guess what? The MWC has its commissioner on the NCAA selection committee.

WAC coaches sure don't feel comfortable about the conference's chances with the selection committee and that was evident during the teleconference.

TCU's Billy Tubbs even said playing a WAC tournament with no automatic bid serves no purpose at all and it should be scrapped this year.

"Tulsa is a pretty high seed right now in the NCAA, so why should they play and risk it?" asked Tubbs.

But Wallace insists teams at the top can actually benefit from playing the WAC tournament, and it serves to "keep teams on the bottom end of the conference motivated."

He said that if Fresno State goes through the tournament and wins, the Bulldogs will be able to secure a NCAA berth, while Tulsa's berth is already a lock.

But I'm not so sure Wallace really wants to see three WAC teams in the Big Dance.

The Rainbows (16-11, 5-9 WAC) face SMU (21-9, 9-5 WAC) on Thursday at (4 p.m. HST) at Selland Arena.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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