He's probably right. Some quick figuring shows that a lot of berths remain up in the air and that more borderline teams than ever could slide into the tournament. There just aren't that many good teams available. Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri, three teams that are almost automatic invitees, are out of the running because they're on probation. Louisville is out unless it wins the Metro Conference tournament. Notre Dame is just awful. And Oklahoma and Michigan have seen their chances of getting bids all but disappear.
The result is that the NCAA tournament selection committee will have to dig deeper to fill the 64-team field. The prospect of teams with sub-.500 conference records getting at-large bids isn't out of the question. Nor is the possibility that some leagues, like the Mid-Continent, which are used to getting one invitation, may now receive multiple bids.
That's not necessarily a bad thing; new faces would be welcome. Still, it's a shame that the champions of the six conferences ranked lowest by the NCAA this season—the Big South, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Patriot, Southland and Southwestern Athletic conferences—will have to "play in" for three NCAA berths. There's never been a better season than this one to invite all the conference winners to the party.
A Light under a Bushel
Chances are, you've never seen Marshall's John Taft play. He hasn't been on TV at all this year, and you won't sec him in the NCAA tournament. Still, Taft has had his moments in the spotlight. One of them came last Saturday, when he scored a career-high 43 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Thundering Herd's 107-103 overtime upset of No. 13 East Tennessee State. Taft, a 6'2" senior guard, probably figured it was the least he could do, inasmuch as Marshall had retired his No. 22 before the game.
Taft, who at week's end was averaging 27.3 points a game, must mean it when he says he's not bothered by the small amount of attention he has received. Otherwise, when Marshall was placed on NCAA probation last summer, he would have taken the opportunity to transfer without having to sit out a season. "Clem-son and Wake Forest were possibilities, but I stayed because I wasn't sure all my credits would transfer, and I didn't want to lose progress toward my degree," says Taft, who is scheduled to graduate with a degree in sports management after the summer semester. "And I thought it might take more than a year to fit in with another team. Most other schools would already have their 'go to' player, and I wanted to be that kind of player here."
Taft has been that kind of player for three years. Some of his better games have come against the best competition that he has faced. He scored 29 points against Pitt on Dec. 6 and got 28 points against Indiana on Dec. 27, before lighting up East Tennessee State.
NBA scouts have been finding their way to Huntington, W.Va., to watch Taft, which has made his lack of acclaim easier to take. "I don't mind if not everybody knows about me," he says, "as long as the right people do."
A Never-ending Tale
At first glance, it seems that James Madison coach Lefty Driesell will have the last laugh. After being forced out as coach of Maryland in the wake of a scandal triggered by the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias in 1986, Driesell may get a chance to return to the NCAA tournament with the Dukes, who at week's end led the Colonial Athletic Association with a 12-2 record (they were 19-8 overall).