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College basketball

You're invited

Well, sort of, as Gary Shelton takes a stab at picking what teams will come to Tampa for the first- and second-round games of the NCAA Tournament starting Thursday.

By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2003


Bring me the head of Billy Donovan.

Bring me the eyes, which are flashing a little darker these days. Bring me the mouth, which seems to be snarling a little more often. Yes, bring me the trademark hair, even though it should be pointed out that these days, it's shorter and less Quaker State-reliant.

While you're at it, bring me the rest of Billy D, too. Bring me the fast walk and the fast talk of a coach determined to squeeze 75 seconds into every minute. Bring me the energy and the expectations. The current slide notwithstanding, bring me the best thing ever to happen to Florida basketball.

Yes, bring me the team of Billy Donovan, pimples and all.

It's a tough problem, throwing a party and having only eight invitations. There are so many people you could call, so many fun guys out there.

Who, then, should we invite to the NCAA subregion (The Furious First Rounders? The Outrageous Octet?) to be held this week at the St. Pete Times Forum?

Let's start with the Gators, of course.

I know, I know. Florida has lost three straight, and it hardly merits the first consideration. The truth is, however, that everyone who is anyone in college basketball these days is entering the tournament heels first. All of this backing up is kind of suspicious, if you want to know the truth, especially when you hear coaches talk about how valuable rest can be.

Besides, it's been obvious for some time the committee prefered Florida in this subregion, the same way it prefered Texas in San Antonio, Alabama in Birmingham and Jim Harrick in Alcatraz. Some matches are easy.

Go ahead, then. Send the first invitation to the Gators, even if it means the local subregion won't get one of the first-round seeds. That's okay. Let Billy D. work these sidelines. Let him roam the hallways here, working his cell phone like that "can-you-hear-me-now?" dude from the commercials. Let Matt Bonner and the boys try to regroup here.

Who else are we going to invite? Easy. We'll invite Arizona, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Duke and Pittsburgh. The other subregions are on their own.

I'm kidding, of course. It isn't fair to expect the best teams, and the best names, all for ourselves. Besides, wouldn't this list be more fun: Georgia, Fresno State, St. Bonaventure, Michigan, Martha Burk, Hootie Johnson, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.

No, no. If we're going to do this, let's be serious about it. Let's take a possible bracket and possible seedings, and then we'll invite who we want.

Let's see. If we're going to take Florida as a No. 3 seed, that means the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are going elsewhere. That could give us a No. 3 vs. a No. 14, a No. 4 vs. a No. 13, a No. 5 vs. a No. 12 and a No. 6 vs. a No. 11.

Give me Florida, and let's put it against a possible 14: How about Western Kentucky, which has always played a pretty good brand of basketball in the shadows? (Defensive strategy for the Hilltoppers: Keep reminding the Gators "Psst, we're from Kentucky!" every change of possession.)

Who next? As our No. 4 seed, we'll take Louisville, please. That gives us Slick Rick Pitino and his protege, Billy the Kid Donovan, in the same building, which means that if all else fails, we could have a fashion show.

So who gets to play Louisville? How about UNC-Wilmington? Wait until FSU fans hear about Brett Blizzard. What's that? Oh, that's right. FSU fans know all about Blizzard, who was a Tallahassee high school star who kept jumping up and down and trying to get the Seminoles' attention. First, Blizzard went somewhere else. Then the FSU coaching staff did the same. Yes, the two are related.

Next, give me a name brand team having a bad year as my No. 12 entry. Aha. How about Indiana? Mike Davis' bunch is playing better lately, but they still have a long way to go before they overachieve to the level of last year's tournament runners-up.

So who does Indiana play? I know. How about Texas Tech?

Sorry. The thought of Indiana vs. Knight was just too delicious not to share. Talk about a grudge; that's one kilt from Braveheart.

Back in the real world, here's one that isn't bad either. How about Maryland as the No. 5 seed? That would kick the tournament off with a repeat of last year's national championship game. Hey, there are worse ideas.

Let's see. Who are we going to invite at No. 11? How about Gonzaga? The campus is a long way away in Spokane, but the committee has never bothered to learn that. How about Auburn, which might get in because Georgia won't?

(Does anyone else imagine Georgia's players, hanging out by the basket, yelling: "We got next!" Here's an idea: How about Georgia vs. USF on the off day. Winner gets a certificate in welding and, therefore, a scholarship to St. Bonaventure.)

Nope. I'm going to invite Cincinnati and the ever-warm, ever-fuzzy Bob Huggins. Why? Because with Jon Gruden and Lou Piniella, our language just isn't salty enough.

One slot left, now, at No. 6. Could Xavier, with the marvelous David West, slide to sixth? How about Oklahoma State, with the gloriously grumpy Eddie Sutton coaching?

In the end, there is a perfect choice. How about UConn, which ought to love the idea of coming to Tampa Bay. The Huskies won a national championship here, remember?

Here we go then. Florida vs. Western Kentucky. Louisville vs. UNC-Wilmington. Maryland-Indiana. Cincinnati-UConn.

Buy the dip, get the chips. It sounds like a party.

Who knows? Maybe someone will throw a chair.

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