Shanoff's W.U.C.: Bubble, Netherlands, L.T.

Today's Calls: Butler vs. the Bubble, Cleveland State vs. North Dakota State, Western Kentucky vs. Expectations, Georgetown vs. DePaul, Netherlands vs. the D.R., A-Rod vs. Cody Ransom, LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Orlando Pace, Utah Jazz vs. the West and More. ↵

↵The Opening Pitch: The Bubble was a fairly placid place this year. ↵

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↵After you factor in all the Bubbble locks, there were probably no more than a half-dozen teams in contention for a handful of truly open spots. And even of that half-dozen, they were hardly a sympathetic bunch that would evoke squeals of "How can you leave THEM out?" ↵

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↵The closest thing you will get to real drama is when something unexpected happens in a conference tournament and one of those handful of available final spots in the field instantly evaporates, squeezing one more Bubble team out of the field. ↵

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↵Just like when Cleveland State beat Butler — sorry, overrated Butler — last night for the Horizon title and an automatic NCAA bid. Butler, with its Top 20 RPI, is in no fear of missing the Tournament field. Nope, that emotion is now relegated to some Bubble team that just lost its spot. ↵

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↵Who will it be? A power-conference team like Florida or Miami? Will the committee do a "like-for-like" mid-major at-large replacement at the expense of Creighton, St. Mary's or Davidson? ↵

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↵In the end, it's hard to feel sorry for any of these teams on the Bubble — they had plenty of chances throughout the season to lock themselves in, and they just couldn't get it done. ↵

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↵I think most fans would much rather see Cleveland State (and, consequently, Butler) bounce out a marginal Bubble team than see an umpteenth team from a power conference. ↵

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↵Now, what can the Selection Committee do about giving us a Cleveland State-Syracuse rematch in the first round — the Vikings already beat the ‘Cuse at the Carrier Dome earlier this season. ... ↵

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↵More college hoops crazy: ↵

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↵— North Dakota State wins first-ever NCAA bid in their first season of D-I eligibility. And, so, while Northwestern has NEVER been to the NCAA Tournament in the event's 70-year history, the Bison get there in their first try. Maybe Northwestern should move to the Summit League. ↵

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↵— (I don't mean to diminish what NDSU did, and here's the best part: After Oakland tied the game with 12 seconds to go, the Bison didn't wuss out and call a T.O. — they kept the clock running, rushed the ball up the court, ran a play and scored the game-winner. Control-freak coaches, please take note.) ↵

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↵— Western Kentucky wins Sun Belt: Of any mid-major locked in to the tournament field, the Hilltoppers can claim the confidence to know what it takes to get to the Sweet 16, which they did a year ago. Unfortunately, that also means they have very little room for improvement. ↵

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↵— Big East 1st-Round Crazy: It seems fitting that Georgetown would take this opportunity to confirm what should be known as the "Lost Season of 2009" by choking to St. John's (for the second time in a week!) in the first round of the Big East Tournament. Is it possible to be on the outside of the NIT Bubble? ↵

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↵Meanwhile, if you want an uplifting story out of a major-conference tournament — the anti-Hoyas, if you will — how about DePaul? ↵

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↵The Blue Demons go oh-fer the Big East regular season, then show up in NYC and beat Cincy for their first conference win of the year, which sort of makes up for the rest of the woeful season, if you ask me. DePaul is now four straight wins from the Big East title and 10 straight wins from the national title. Dream big, DePaul fans: It's all icing at this point. ↵

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↵— More Big-Conference Tournaments: Big 12 starts today, and if Oklahoma doesn't win the tournament title, they can kiss away a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. ... Pac-10 starts today, and Arizona's 20-some-season NCAA bid streak is on the line. ↵

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↵— Today's Auto-Bid Games: Big Sky (Montana State vs. Portland State), Northeast (Mount St. Mary's vs. Robert Morris). ↵

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↵WBC: Cinderella rules! The Netherlands not only beating the mighty D.R. for the second straight time but ousting them from the WBC might qualify as the greatest upset in the history of baseball. ↵

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↵A-Rod Watch: So who will play 3B for the Yankees in A-Rod's absence? Cody Ransom? That may set an all-time record for Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) differential. ↵

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↵A-Rod 2008 VORP: 62.9, 1st in the A.L. ↵

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↵Ransom 2008 VORP: 6.7. ↵

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↵(Hey, it could be worse: If the Yankees traded for Bobby Crosby, his VORP is nearly -2.) ↵

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↵NFL Offseason: Reflecting the economic reality of the moment, LaDainian Tomlinson — who as recently as two years ago was the best player in the league — re-did his deal with the Chargers and will stay with the team. (Yes, but is he still a Top 10 fantasy football pick?) ↵

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↵Rams release Orlando Pace: Wow, that was one of those relationships where the player really defined the team — talk about Kurt Warner or Marshall Faulk or Dick Vermeil or Mike Martz all you want, but Pace was the linchpin of those amazing Rams teams at the turn of the century. ↵

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↵NFL Draft: What will the Lions do with the No. 1 pick? They still don't know, but I have a great guiding principle: Anyone But Stafford. ↵

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↵Josh McDaniels vs. Jay Cutler, Cont'd: Sure, they talked, but it sure sounds like it was still frosty. (Again: I'm sure Cutler will be the Broncos QB in 2009 — and even more sure he will be gone by the start of the 2010 season.) ↵

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↵NBA Instant History: Should the Jazz be added to the Lakers and Spurs (and maybe Rockets) as the only teams in the West with any sort of shot of winning the conference title? With their 12th straight win (15/16 since February), Utah has surged into 4th in the West, which is a log-jam from Nos. 2-8, where only 4.5 games separate the group. ↵

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↵And it's not like Utah is feasting on patsies: Among the 12 Ws include the Lakers, Celtics, Rockets and Hornets — although all those games were won in SLC. The Jazz have a huge "prove-it" weekend coming up, with games on back-to-back nights in Miami and Orlando. ↵

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↵Fantasy Stud: LeBron, with 32 pts, 13 reb and 11 ast — and the motivated Cavs fight from being down 19 to beat the unmotivated Clippers. And there's your state of the NBA in 2009 in a nutshell. ↵

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↵CFB Spring '09: No gaffes from Lane Kiffin after one day of practice? I'd call that a positive start. ↵

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↵Awards Watch: Kansas' Bill Self is SN's College Hoops Coach of the Year. And it's hard to argue with the pick, after Kansas lost all five starters from the national-title team, yet still managed to play itself into a Big 12 regular-season title and national Top 10 relevancy. (If I had to nominate someone else, it would probably be Pitt's Jamie Dixon. But we knew Pitt would be great this season; KU's success — at least to this level — is almost entirely unexpected.) ↵

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↵The Last Word: Here is your drinking game for the day. Take a sip (coffee, water, soda, something stronger) every time someone mentions "A Season on the Brink" between today and Cleveland State's first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. ↵

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↵This season will mark CSU's first appearance in the Tournament since 1986, when the Vikings famously delivered a first-round KO to Bobby Knight's 3-seed Indiana while SN's John Feinstein was profiling Knight and the Hoosiers for the "Brink" book, a turn of events that provided just about the most fitting ending to that classic sports book as anyone could have imagined. ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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