Beyond Golf — 05 March 2012 by Bob Sherwin
West teams scramble for NCAA spots

It’s a particularly weak west for college basketball teams this season, as it looks like the Sweet 16 might be about the best a western representative can hope for in the NCAA basketball Tournament.

Still, there might be as many as 12, 14 western teams qualifying for the 65-team field. The critical questions are whether the Pac-12, the Mountain West and the West Coast Conference will each get three teams. That may be stretching it.

Here’s a GolfersWest look ahead this week at the conference tournaments that begin (and end), with an eye of which teams might advance to the Big Dance:

DANCERS?

      1. Gonzaga (25-5): The Zags beat Brigham Young in the WCC semifinals, 74-63, and will play St. Mary’s (25-6) for the championship Mondan night in Vegas. Winner and likely loser will advance.
      2. Washington (21-9): Despite a last-game loss to UCLA, the Huskies earned UW’s second outright conference title in 58 years. They won 10 of last 12 and are the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 tournament that begins Wednesday. Will advance no matter what.
      3. St. Mary’s (26-5): Won the outright WCC regular-season title for first time in 23 years but struggled at the end. Even if the Gaels lose to Gonzaga, have done enough to earn a spot in the field.
      4. San Diego St. (24-6): Won a share of the Mountain West title and No. 1 seed in the tournament that starts Thursday. Led by G Nate Wolters, eighth in the nation at 21.8 ppg, should reach the conference finals. That should be enough to get included.
      5. New Mexico (24-6): Beat the good teams; lost to a couple bad down the stretch ones to hurt chances. Not a good non-conference or road record. Need to do well in Mountain West tourney.
      6. California (23-8): Had a chance at Pac-12 title share but lost to rival Stanford Sunday, 75-70 (combined with a loss last Sunday to Colorado). Still a quality team. If Bears reach the final, that might do it.
      7. Long Beach St. (22-8): Went 15-1 in Big West to earn No. 1 seed. Lost to rival Cal- Fullerton last week, 77-74. Not a strong league. Must get at least to championship game.
      8. UNLV (25-7): Had control of the conference but loss three of last six. Probably needs to win Mountain West tournament to get in. And the tourney is in Vegas.
      9. Nevada (25-5): Quietly has had a great season, WAC champions at 13-1, won 22 of last 24 – with two four-point losses – and beat rival New Mexico State Thursday, 65-61. Tragic if the Wolf Pack does not advance if they lose conference tournament.
      10. Montana (23-6): Won the Big Sky at 15-1 and begins tournament Tuesday as the No. 1 seed. Only one Big Sky team likely will be picked and Montana – on a 12-game win streak – has been the most consistent.

WATCHERS?

      1. Weber State (23-5): Led by G Damian Lillard, the second leading scorer in the country at 24.5 ppg, the high-scoring Wildcats still likely need to win the Big Sky – and beat Montana – in order to continue.
      2. BYU (25-8): Lost to Gonzaga Thursday, 74-63, in WCC semifinals – second time in a week. Have beaten good teams and only loss by three to No. 7 Baylor. But three WCC teams is a stretch.
      3. Arizona (21-10): With a 87-80 loss to lowly ASU Sunday, also are on the edge as the third Pac-12 team. Without a tournament championship, it’s a tough sell for the Wildcats.
      4. Oregon (22-8): Ducks actually passed Arizona for third place in the conference. Have won four in a row and six of seven, including 82-57 over Washington. Tournament success will be the key.
      5. New Mexico State (23-9): The 14th highest scoring team in the nation at 78.4 ppg and 7th in rebounding at 40.1 rpg, it’s a quality team but Nevada has its number. Needs conference tournament title to get in.
      6. Cal-State Fullerton (21-8): This is the 12th highest scoring team in the country at 78.6 ppg – 4thin three-point percentage at 41.2 – have won eight of last nine. Motivated to win the Big West.

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 44th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. He won't win the club championship any time soon with his 14 handicap and default-swing slice but he does have a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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