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The countdown to Selection Sunday starts — less than a month to go

February 14, 2012 Columns No Comments

It’s hard to believe, but Selection Sunday is officially less than a month away — 26 days to be precise.

That means it’s separation time. The best teams throughout the nation need to raise the bar to claim a regular-season conference championship and jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding.

For the vast majority of the 31 conferences that receive automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, winning a regular-season conference title is about more than bragging rights. In many conference tournament formats, the regular-season winner gets a bye or home court advantage — sometimes both — at some point in the upcoming conference tourneys. Teams like the America East’s Stony Brook, Big Sky’s Weber State, and SWAC’s Mississippi Valley State won’t be getting at-large bids to the Big Dance if they don’t capture a conference championship in the tournaments. So they’ll take any advantage they can get.

For teams that regularly see their names on cable channels’ TV lineup, now is the time to impress the selection committee. Kansas and Duke are making moves now that might pay off in the form of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Besides playing for seeding, teams from the top conferences are also playing for location. One of the regional locations is St. Louis. Don’t you think Missouri would love to play its Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games there while Kansas gets shipped to Phoenix? That kind of location advantage will be at stake during the next few weeks.

It’s a wonderful time of year, with so much at stake. We’ve started our annual bracketology sessions, joining the myriad experts out there who publish their predictions on a regular basis. Although the early predictions often look nothing like the finished product delivered by the Selection Committee, the exercise is fun and enlightening — every game matters now. A road win against an elite team could be worth a two or three seed jump, while a bad home loss to a conference cellar dweller could move a team slotted as a No. 11 or 12 seed straight out of the tournament.

So tune in, and enjoy the next eight weeks of basketball nirvana.

We take you coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

From the ashes of the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA, a new, yet-to-be-named creature will emerge. The remaining schools from the two conferences will form a new association that will include Air Force, Colorado State, East Carolina, Fresno State, Marshall, Nevada, New Mexico, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulsa, UAB, UNLV, UTEP and Wyoming. For football, Hawaii also will compete in the conference, according to ESPN.com’s Andy Katz.

Florida and Alabama will have some key players but not others when the two square off Tuesday night. Alabama has reinstated Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele after suspending them for Saturday’s loss at LSU, according to the Associated Press. However, a couple of other Crimson Tide players won’t be back yet. And the Gators will play without Will Yeguete (concussion) and Mike Rosario (hip pointer), according to another AP report.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams is unsure whether the Tar Heels will have freshman shooter P.J. Hairston available for the game at Miami Wednesday after missing the Virginia game with a sore foot, writes Robbi Pickeral for ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog.

Virginia suffered some damage in that loss in Chapel Hill last weekend, with sharpshooter Joe Harris breaking his left hand. According to the Washington Post’s Steve Yanda, coach Tony Bennett won’t know until game time whether Harris will be ready to play tonight at Clemson.

After a great game against Wisconsin, freshman Andre Hollins will likely return to Minnesota’s starting lineup, coach Tubby Smith told the Associated Press. Hollins started earlier in the season before injuries and a lack of confidence slowed his effectiveness.

Lipscomb has booted the best 3-point shooter in the country, showing senior Jordan Burgason the door after the guard, who shoots 52.6 percent from 3-point range, for breaking university policies, according to an ESPN.com news services report.

From fury to funding charity, a Michigan State bench chair has seen it all recently. Granted, it might not be the precise chair that Iowa coach Fran McCaffery roughed up during the Hawkeyes’ 95-61 beatdown in Lansing, but Iowa put a Michigan State bench chair to good use by auctioning it off for charity, writes the Iowa City Press-Citizen’s Ryan Suchomel.

Although the NCAA finds the Fighting Sioux nickname hostile and abusive, North Dakota might begin using the nickname again for its sports teams if a petition is successful to put the issue to a state vote, according to an Associated Press report.

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