Niagara, Florida A&M Open NCAA Today
Tuesday, March 13th 2007, 5:51 am
By: News On 6
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ It's a game no NCAA tournament team believes it should be in _ the play-in game that fills out the field of 64. This year, Florida A&M and Niagara are feeling insulted they have to play Tuesday night for a chance to take on Kansas, the top seed in the West Regional, on Friday in Chicago.
``If we're the 65th best team in this tournament this year, that surprises me,'' Florida A&M coach Mike Gillespie said Monday of his Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament champions. ``I don't think that's possible.''
Niagara, meanwhile, took its cue from coach Joe Mihalich, who said Sunday night: ``Let me be diplomatic here: I'm confused.''
``We feel disrespected,'' Niagara forward Charron Fisher said. ``I'm sure you'll be able to see when we play on Tuesday how disrespected we feel.''
Florida A&M brings a 21-13 record into the game after beating Delaware State in the MEAC title game, while Niagara (22-11) beat Siena in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title game for its 11th straight victory.
For the Rattlers, this is the second time they've been tossed into the play-in game, where historically black colleges often have landed.
Since 2001, when the NCAA added a play-in game to keep 34 at-large bids in the 65-team field, at least one team going to Dayton has come from two conferences that consist of predominantly black schools _ the Southwestern Athletic or the MEAC.
But during a conference call Monday afternoon, selection committee chairman Gary Walters insisted no conference has been targeted for the play-in game.
``We have been sensitive for five or six years to the historically black colleges, and that's public information,'' Walters said. ``But we look at those teams and, basically where we feel where there's a certain amount of equality, we like to try and rotate those games around the conferences. We're also trying to look at the overall RPI and all the same criteria that goes into selecting the first four lines.''
Niagara, however, had another concern about its selection.
Mihalich said he thought the Purple Eagles had done enough to avoid the play-in game and wondered whether the school was being punished for the early-season suspension of six players, including two starters. The players were punished for their role in attacking Niagara pitcher Jeffrey St. Denis outside a bar in August.
``Only the committee, certainly not me or any of these guys, only the committee can say how they ended up saying we have to be in the play-in game,'' Mihalich said.
On Sunday, Walters acknowledged the suspensions were discussed _ much like the committee looks at injuries _ but that it was not a relevant factor.
On Monday, Walters was more direct.
``I don't think any team is being penalized by anybody,'' he said. ``They didn't play anybody in the Top 50, they played two teams from 50 to 100. ... I don't understand why there's so much concern about Niagara playing in the opening-round game. I think it's an honor.''
In fact, Walters said he figured there were about 260 other teams who would like to be playing Tuesday night.
And so Florida A&M will rush to get ready for Niagara.
The Rattlers have won seven of their last eight games and now must play their fourth game in six days against Niagara, which has won 11 straight and last played March 5.
After winning to league title Saturday night in Raleigh, N.C., Florida A&M arrived at the hotel at 11 p.m., and then got a 3:30 a.m. wakeup call Sunday for the trip back to Tallahassee. By 7 a.m. Monday, the team was on a plane bound for Dayton.
``We didn't even have a chance to unpack and do our laundry,'' Gillespie said. ``We didn't get a chance to walk on campus today and let those young men receive the accolades.''
The coach also said he had to scramble to find tapes of Niagara and didn't get a chance to look at it until Monday morning.
Still, Gillespie said his team will try to make the most of it.
``But whichever team loses tomorrow,'' he said, ``I think you feel cheated about the whole atmosphere of the tournament.''