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Mid-Major Morning Mashups: NCAA Tournament Field Of 68 Edition

And then there were 68.

Doesn't have much of a ring to it, but for those teams that saw their name appear on CBS's Selection Show yesterday evening, those are the perfect words. 

While we spend our day furiously filling in our brackets, sneaking in picks while at the office, cutting class to do some additional research, or simply rushing to get things done last minute, these select teams are preparing for the grandest of stages. It begins with a trickle tomorrow and reaches a full roar by Thursday. 

For now, there's a certain appeal to the calm before the storm, where the unexpected outcome of a 67 games allows the players, the coaches and the fans the chance to dream. It's the day before and the day after Christmas all rolled into one. Happy bracketing everyone.

Kevin Scarbinsky of the Birmingham News: "Shut up, Jay Bilas. You, too, Hubert Davis. Put a cork in it, Digger Phelps. We get it already. The three of you, along with Rece Davis, Dick Vitale, Doug Gottlieb and apparently everyone at ESPN but Erin Andrews, don't believe that UAB deserved an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. That's fine. It's your job to offer your professional opinion on the subject. If only you had. There was nothing professional about the way your ESPN lynch mob ripped UAB's selection. You went beyond dissent with your relentless attacks. Bilas actually said of the Blazers, "They haven't accomplished anything." Excuse me? Is it not an accomplishment to win the outright regular-season championship in the No. 8 conference in America? To win nine true road games? To win 10 games against top-100 teams? To lose just once against a team ranked below 100? Georgia got in the field. You know how many top-100 wins the Bulldogs had? Five."

Tim Pearrell of the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "Jamie Skeen thought Virginia Commonwealth University's chances of making the NCAA tournament were less than 10 percent, so he was eating a buffalo chicken wrap at a nearby restaurant. The senior forward wasn't watching the selection show on the TV that was playing in the restaurant, but his phone kept buzzing. Skeen kept ignoring it. Finally, he answered, and his high school coach blurted out the news: "I told you that you were going to make it!" "I didn't even finish my meal," said Skeen, who started walking back toward the Siegel Center before catching a ride. To the surprise - maybe even shock - of many and the heartbreak of some, the Rams were awarded one of the 37 at-large berths to the 68-team NCAA tournament."

Ben Enos of the San Jose Mercury News: "The emotions running through the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team Sunday felt an awful lot like those of two years ago, as the Gaels found out they would not be invited to participate in the NCAA tournament. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to me right now how we're not in," Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett said. "I felt we got snubbed (two) years ago. ... This year, to have it happen again is tough." In front of a crowd assembled at McKeon Pavilion that included CBS cameras, Gaels players and coaches waited as each region was announced. By the time three regions had been announced and West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga hadn't yet been placed, those assembled in Moraga had a hunch what was coming. "I think when they started the last region and they hadn't called Gonzaga yet, I started to think they won't put us in the same region," forward Rob Jones said."

Dan Daly of the Washington Times: "Making the NCAA basketball tournament never gets old for George Mason. When you've been The Invisible Program for three decades - lost in the Georgetown/Maryland shuffle - you don't forget your humble beginnings, don't forget where you came from. It's still a kick on Selection Sunday to hear Greg Gumbel call your name - and set off an explosion of emotion in the Johnson Center Atrium, where the Patriots and their loyalists were gathered Sunday night. The big difference this time was that Mason knew it was in, even though it hadn't won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament and secured an automatic bid. That's how far the Patriots have come in their 14 seasons under Jim Larranaga. Larranaga has raised their profile to the point where they can shoulder their way into the NCAA tourney as an at-large team, despite their mid-major status. They did it in 2006, when they made their magical run to the Final Four, and they did it again this year, earning a No. 8 seed in the East and a matchup against Villanova on Friday in Cleveland. Mason was such a lock after posting a 26-6 record and reeling off a school-record 16 straight wins that the coach told the crowd, "WHEN our name is called, let's show the national TV audience how happy we are to be playing in the NCAA tournament." When - not if. That's progress."

Jay Drew of the Salt Lake Tribune: "A sigh of relief after a pleasant surprise. That was generally the reaction of the BYU Cougars and their coaching staff Sunday afternoon when the nation's No. 8-ranked college basketball team learned it had been awarded a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and an opening-round game in Denver against Southern Conference tournament champion Wofford. "We were all excited to get a three seed, in Denver, which is pretty close," said star guard Jimmer Fredette, the nation's leading scorer with a 28.5 average. "I am sure we will have a good amount of fans there." Fredette said he and his teammates were expecting a three, four or five seed - but nothing worse - after the Cougars lost 72-54 on Saturday night in the Mountain West Conference tournament championship game to San Diego State, a loss that dropped their season record to 30-4. "We are very fortunate to get that [three seed], and we are excited," he said. It is the highest seed the Cougars have received since getting a No. 4 in 1988, and matches their highest seed ever, a No. 3 in 1980."

John Feinstein of the Washington Post: "Putting ODU and Butler up against each other on the 8-9 line is pretty close to criminal. ODU is the best rebounding team in the country and won the most underrated conference in the country. Forget that Butler was two inches from being the defending champion in this event; the Bulldogs have won nine straight, and their conference was the toughest it has ever been. Both teams deserved higher seeds, and they certainly didn't deserve to have to play one another in the first round. The Butler-ODU winner will be a tough out for Pittsburgh, especially ODU because they are one of the few teams in the country that can mix it up inside with the Panthers."

Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "But even for coach Fran Dunphy, who is more learned than casual, it was still at least a minor relief to hear the school's name called on Sunday evening. Gathered in a meeting room adjacent to the lobby of the Liacouras Center, the Owls had leaped from their chairs and whooped when they received a 7th seed in West Regional and whooped again a moment later when it was announced that their opponent in Tucson, Ariz. would be Penn State. There is always whooping at the start, and Temple deserved to celebrate. But now comes the tough work for a team that played poorly in its last game, an Atlantic Ten semifinal loss to Richmond on Saturday."You worry a little about the distance [to Tucson] for fans and family members who would want to come," Dunphy said. "It would be better if it were a little closer, but if you said after [Saturday's] game, 'You're in, and you're a seventh seed, and you're playing Penn State, but it's in Tucson, Arizona, I would have signed the papers - because you know you're in."

Steve Schrader of the Detroit Free Press: "If you're designated a Cinderella team, doesn't that make it kind of moot? A lot of pundits have jumped on Belmont's bandwagon to fill that role in this year's NCAA tournament. Lucky Wisconsin is its first opponent. But another of the little guys got a lot of love from the TV guys: Oakland, like Belmont, a 13-seed taking on a 4 in Texas. CBS analyst Greg Anthony picked that as one of the West Region's games to watch this week. "Texas-Oakland, I think that's going to be a real interesting matchup," Anthony said. "Oakland's got an inside-out game with Keith Benson and Reggie Hamilton, and I think they also have a lot of experience. "Texas not playing great, as a 4-seed, that could be a dangerous game." Over on ESPN, Jay Bilas agreed. "I think that Texas is going to have a really hard time with Oakland," Bilas said. "Oakland's good team."

Rob Schultz of the Wisconsin State Journal: "Rick Byrd and Bo Ryan have a great deal in common. The extremely successful, veteran coaches of the Belmont and the University of Wisconsin men's basketball teams, respectively, got their first head coaching gigs at small schools and have won hundreds of games by believing in team basketball, motion offense and man-to-man defense. "And not nearly as much one-on-one basketball that we see an awful lot of these days," added Byrd, who is in his 25th season at Belmont, a former NAIA school with an enrollment of less than 6,000 students. They have celebrities as friends who are close to the team, too. Ryan, who won four NCAA Division III titles at UW-Platteville, is tight with two-time U.S. Open champ Andy North. Byrd's good friend is country music star Vince Gill. Just don't think they believe they have something over Kentucky and its biggest fan, Ashley Judd. "I kind of like Ashley Judd myself but you better let other people decide that. She's way cuter than Vince," Byrd joked. Conversely, Ryan's and Byrd's teams, which will meet in a second-round NCAA tournament Southeast Regional game Thursday night in Tucson, Ariz., don't share much in common."

John Blanchette of the Spokesman-Review: "Greg Gumbel, the Bert Parks of Selection Sunday, hadn't even taken his first breath when the yowling began drifting in from Bracket Nation. UAB? Clemson? If the NCAA committee was going to put anyone in, why not Northwestern, which has had its nose against the glass for 73 years? The overall No. 1 seed, Ohio State, in a region with North Carolina, Syracuse and Kentucky - while Pitt gets valet parking to the Final Four? More teams - 68 - are in the NCAA basketball tournament than ever before and still the complaints and conspiracy theories topped all previous records, except at Gonzaga University, where both opportunity and perspective have been hard-won. "This is one year," coach Mark Few said, "I would have crawled on broken glass to Cleveland to play." As opposed to, say, Randy Bennett, who is probably chewing it. His Saint Mary's Gaels were among the purported worthies - Colorado, Virginia Tech, Alabama - given tickets to Snubworld, also known as the NIT. For Few, Selection Sunday 2011 was a revelation - even as the 13th in an unbroken chain of Gonzaga appearances. "It's crazy how nervous you get even when you know you're in," he marveled."

Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Eleventh-seeded MU (20-14) will face sixth-seeded Xavier (24-7) at 6:27 p.m. Friday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, in a second-round East Regional game. And, as luck would have it, the Golden Eagles just so happened to have played the Musketeers just last season. The matchup, which took place in the first round of the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Nov. 26, 2009, saw MU notch a 71-61 win over its Jesuit school counterpart en route to an appearance in the championship game. "It will at least give you a frame of reference," said Williams, who's led the Golden Eagles to the NCAAs in all three years as coach and to their sixth consecutive appearance overall, of the teams' previous matchup. "That'll be the first game I watch. I'll go back through our practice itineraries when we prepared to play them, go back through my game charts. At least there's some familiarity. The flip side of that is they feel the same about us." Both teams are different than the ones that faced off on that Thanksgiving Day."