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Dan's Road Trip: Right at Wright

FAIRBORN, Ohio – If your team is sweating out its chances to get into the NCAA tournament, then every DaShaun Woods shot here at the Horizon League tournament Tuesday was like a dagger to your dreams.

The Wright State senior delivered his team into the NCAA tournament with a 60-55 victory here over Butler and that means he delivered some other school right out of it.

And this is the biggest problem with all the endless debates about who is in and who is out taking place this year. Until all the conference tournaments are done, it is impossible to know how many at-large bids are really available.

Everyone talks about clichéd bubbles, but available at-large bids are more like an accordion, they can stretch out or get crunched in quickly.

Butler (27-6, 17th in the polls and 30 in the RPI) is now going to gobble up an at-large bid, joining Wright State (automatic bid) in making the Horizon League a two-bid conference. Had the Bulldogs won Tuesday, the Horizon would have gotten just one bid and Butler’s spot would have gone to someone else in some other league.

To say the folks that run the Horizon League didn’t mind getting an extra team (and an extra share of NCAA revenue) is understating it. They aren’t allowed to publicly root for one team, but, they weren’t frowning afterwards.

So if your favorite team is on the edge, then spend the next five days rooting for the favorites. The last thing you need is a school currently on the outside crashing the party – whether it's Utah State beating Nevada in the WAC or, say, Washington storming to an unexpected Pac-10 title.

Then suddenly one team everyone agreed was “in” is going to be “out.” And it isn’t even the NCAA selection committee’s fault.

  • Butler is 4-4 in its last eight, but coach Todd Lickliter is anything but panicked heading into the NCAA tournament – especially after losing to a strong Wright State team in front of a wild Nutter Center crowd.

“I don’t think we have to pull anything together,” he said. “Any big guy (major program) that comes in here is leaving the same way we’re leaving. We’ve played the big guys. Loyola is as talented as the big guys. Wright State can play with them. You’ll see that in the NCAA tournament.

  • Butler’s A.J. Graves looks like a guy who could use a week off before the NCAA tournament to rest up. A brilliant 3-point shooter for most of the year (he torched Notre Dame for 8 of 15) he’s faded of late. In his last eight games he is 15-59 (25.4 percent) from behind the arc. That he’s managed to keep his scoring up is a testament to his complete game, but the Bulldogs need him hot from behind the arc if they want to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
  • As expected, North Carolina fans – or just Duke haters from across the country – have spent an insane amount of time trying to find new ways to show the supposed hypocrisy of Mike Krzyzewski for questioning why both team’s had their better players in the game when Gerald Henderson busted Tyler Hansbrough’s nose.

They broke down game film, scoured the Internet for old quotes and poured through box scores. It is like a war room of a presidential campaign. I received a bunch of emails with all sorts of info, and I’ll print one, not so much because I care but because I find the entire thing humorous. This one comes from P. Chapman of Charlottesville, Va., and I have no idea if it is accurate because I sure as heck don’t care enough to double check.

(Krzyzewski) is contradicting his own coaching philosophy. He keeps his guys in until after the game has been decided on just about every occasion.

Here are three games similar in score to the UNC-Duke game this weekend. I checked the box scores. Duke versus Air Force – Duke won by 15 (71-56) and only nine players from the fourteen on roster played in that game. Where were the subs and why wasn’t (Josh) McRoberts' nose broken by the Air Force team? McRoberts played 39 minutes and was in at the end of the game.

Duke versus George Mason – Duke won by 16 (69-53) and only nine players from the fourteen on roster played in that game. Where were the subs and why wasn’t McRoberts nose broken by the George Mason team? McRoberts played 37 minutes and was in at the end of the game.

Duke versus Miami – Duke won by 22 (85-63) and only nine players played. Where were the subs and why wasn’t Scheyer’s nose broken by the Miami team? Nelson played 39 minutes and was in at the end of the game.

Duke versus B.C. – Duke won by 14 (75-61) and only nine players played. Where were the subs and why wasn’t Nelson’s nose broken by the B.C. team? Nelson played 36 minutes and was in at the end of the game.

Duke versus St. Johns – Duke won by 17 (67-50) and only nine players played more than one minute. Where were the subs and why wasn’t Paulus’s nose broken by the St. John’s team? Paulus played 37 minutes and was in at the end of the game.

Coach K doesn’t remember yesterday when it comes to his comments. I am not a Duke or Carolina fan but I am definitely not a Duke fan because of Coach K.

  • Speaking of Duke, here’s a pretty good rumor floating around: If assistant Chris Collins decides to take the just-open Illinois State job (or any other), Krzyzewski will look to bring in a top-notch recruiter to help the sagging talent levels in the program.

Since he has a tendency to only employ former players as assistants, the gossip has Quin Snyder, laying low since his scandal filled run at Missouri possibly returning to Durham. Snyder was responsible for some of the Blue Devils most talented teams, including being the point person in the recruitment of Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, the kind of guys Duke doesn’t currently have. So Snyder gets a safe port and an image makeover and Duke gets a big-time recruiter.

Who knows, it might even be true.

  • Two college hoops books I’ve been meaning to give a worthy plug to:

Basketball Warfare by Providence Journal reporter Kevin McNamara takes a look at the reorganization of the Big East following a raid by the ACC, and then its first season as a 16-team league with almost as much Midwest and Southern flair as the Northeast corridor. McNamara knows the league inside and out and got exceptional access from league coaches such as Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim. It is extremely well reported and written and is a fascinating study in modern college athletics. It can be found at bigeastbook.com.

1 Chance 2 Dance is specifically about life in the Mid-American Conference, but it could be about any league that gets only one NCAA tournament bid. The idea that the entire league is built for a four-day event that in many ways determines success and failure makes this Ray Mernagh work a worthwhile pickup. Mernagh had seemingly unlimited access to players, coaches and administrators, and delivers a behind the scenes look from locker rooms to long bus rides. It can be found at hoopwise.com.

  • I'll be sure to give final results for The Jerome next week when, due to popular demand, I return to my neighborhood bar to watch the first two days of the NCAA tournament and offer up a live blog. My father will again make an appearance.

For those of you in the Detroit area – or looking for a reason to visit – it'll probably take place at 24 Seconds in Berkley, Mich., and I encourage people to come and watch, drink and provide material for the live blog. We'll probably have an unofficial joint venture with Detroit's 1270 XYT The Sports Station, which I also do work for, because even though we change our line-up every three months, we maintain an iron clad commitment to drinking during the day.

  • This is the end of the tour, the big tournaments begin tomorrow, and the focus of championship week shifts to the endless action. It’s a great weekend to watch college basketball, but I’d rather take it all in at home than go to one event a day.

As good as that will be, I maintain the real fun of this week, however, is what I just witnessed over six nights in six different cities with six different leagues. The last four days produced four net cuttings and three court stormings alone (North Carolina clipped, but didn’t storm).

College hoops’ diversity is what makes it unique. It isn’t just about big cities the way the pro game is. Forty-nine states have a Division I program that can, conceivably win the national championship, which makes this something just about everyone can find a rooting interest in.

And that’s why watching Wright State fans celebrate the way Virginia Commonwealth fans celebrated the way Winthrop fans celebrated never gets old. It just gets better and better and better.