Ousted SEC schools awaiting NCAA bids

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 17, 2004

[3/14/04]ATLANTA Rick Stansbury said Friday night that his team’s loss made it easier on the committee that chooses the 65 teams for the NCAA Tournament.

Mississippi State (25-3) had its eyes on a top seed in one of four regions, but a spirited Vanderbilt team knocked the fourth-ranked Bulldogs out of Atlanta with a 74-70 triumph.

“We’ll be happy with our No. 2 seed,” said Stansbury, who will be among millions to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show today at 5 p.m. on CBS.

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Other coaches are not as secure as Stansbury.

LSU coach John Brady made a postgame plea to the committee to not penalize his Tigers for what has happened to their team.

“Nobody knows what this team has been through this season,” Brady said Friday after his team lost to South Carolina. “This team has overcome a tremendous amout of adversity to get where we are today.”

The Tigers have won 18 games, but struggled mightily late in the season after losing top scorer and first-team All-SEC forward Jaime Lloreda to an injury nearly a month ago. The Tigers entered the tournament having lost seven of their last eight games.

“I don’t know what the criteria are for picking a team,” Brady said. “Do they look at the whole season? RPI ratings? What a team has been through?

“I don’t know if they penalize a team because of something that happened out of their control.”

The SEC is looking at getting seven teams into the tournament when the selections are made. In addition to the conference champion, the league may get as many as six at-large bids.

Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina are locks. LSU and Alabama are waiting.

“I don’t think any of our guys came in here thinking about the NCAA Tournament,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “We came in here to win our conference championship.”

Vanderbilt used a dominating rebounding effort and tenacious defense to make its run through the SEC. The Commodores manhandled Ole Miss in the opening round, then stunned the fourth-ranked Bulldogs on Friday night.

“They played with a lot of heart and desire,” Mississippi State’s Shane Power said. “If anyone thinks that team is not a Top 25 team, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Power scored a team-high 16 points, including four 3-pointers, in the Vanderbilt loss. SEC Player of the Year Lawrence Roberts left the game early with an ankle injury, but will play in the Thursday or Friday regional opener.

“They didn’t have their best game shooting,” Stallings said. “But I’d like to think we had something to do with that.”

The NCAA Tournament begins Thursday and Friday with 32 first-round games. By the end of the weekend, the tournament will be reduced to the Sweet 16.

The national championship game is scheduled for April 5 in San Antonio.