Minutemen eye NCAA tournament
By Matt Vautour, The Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 1/22/1999

PHILADELPHIA - His team is on a three-game winning streak and his players seem to have discovered balance and chemistry, but University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint warned against the Minutemen getting ahead of themselves.

"We're still not there yet," Flint said. "We won a few games, but we're only 8-8. I said to the guys, 'Don't think like we've arrived, because we haven't.' They're still leaving the light on for us a little bit. Just like Motel 6."

Flint is right. The NCAA Tournament committee hasn't turned on the "No Vacancy" light just yet, but UMass has a long way to go to secure an actual reservation.

If the Minutemen win the Atlantic 10 Tournament, the bid will be automatic, but if they don't, they have a difficult task ahead of them.

This is not uncharted territory. Two years ago the Minutemen struggled to a 6-9 start before coming on like gangbusters at the end to make the NCAA field. But that season was different. UMass' nonconference losses in 1996-97 season came against Virginia, Cal, Fresno State, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Connecticut, all national powers. The same cannot be said about this season's nonconference defeats, to Marshall, Davidson and Iona.

Three wins does not a comeback make, but it might be the start of something. Four wins, especially if No. 4 comes against Temple Saturday, would be a big step in the right direction.

Following is a look at what UMass likely would have to do to have a chance at an NCAA at-large bid.

* Among the biggest factors guiding the NCAA Selection Committee is the Ratings Percentage Index. The RPI is a complex system that factors in a team's wins and losses, strength of schedule and strength of conference. Prior to Wednesday's win over St. Joseph's, the Minutemen were ranked No. 95 in the RPI. They would need to improve at least 50 spots to be considered. To do that, UMass must win games against teams with higher RPI standings. Temple, Xavier, Rhode Island and George Washington present the best opportunities.

* Only 12 regular-season games remain, plus as many as four in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Any combination giving the Minutemen 20 wins likely would put them over the top.

Nineteen wins would keep UMass in the running because it would require a strong finish to get there, and the NCAA committee looks favorably on strong finishes.

Eighteen wins with some big victories included might do the trick, but UMass would be on the dreaded bubble on Selection Sunday. Still, that would be better than where the Minutemen are now.

* The Atlantic 10's struggles likely will give the league just three spots in the tourney. Temple and Xavier are well ahead of the pack, leaving GW, URI and UMass fighting for spot No. 3. That scenario will give Minutemen fans reason to despise the Rams and Colonials more than ever if one of them bumps the Minutemen from the tournament.

Those same fans should be rooting against the underdog in games across the nation, especially in small conferences, where UMass would be hindered by more than one team getting a bid. More teams with burst bubbles means more available rooms at Flint's Motel 6 in March.

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