NCAA tournament missing some of its biggest names

The blue bloods are feeling blue, and it’s going to seem strange

filling out the bracket.

Connecticut, North Carolina, UCLA, Arizona and Indiana are all

out of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1966.

That’s three of the four programs with the most championships

that aren’t in the field of 65.

This year’s NCAA tournament will have a monumentally different

feel.

“Believe me, every one of those teams would have loved to be

represented in this tournament, but it didn’t happen,” selection

chairman Dan Guerrero said Sunday after the field was announced.

“That creates an opportunity for teams that haven’t been in it a

long time, and it gives somebody an opportunity to make some magic.

That’s what makes this tournament great.”

North Carolina was the defending national champion and figured

to get back to the tournament even after losing Tyler Hansbrough

and nearly everyone else. Instead, the Tar Heels floundered through

one of their worst seasons in years, finishing 16-16 and needing a

big run in the ACC tournament that never happened.

A program with five national titles is headed for the NIT.

“I think it is so frustrating because we showed flashes what we

can be and the team we can be, it seems like we’ll play that way

for a while, then we’ll just stop,” North Carolina guard Larry

Drew II said.

Connecticut was a No. 1 seed and reached the Final Four a year

ago. Without the intimidating Hasheem Thabeet, the Huskies

backtracked, finishing 12th in the Big East during the regular

season, suffering an inglorious one-game exit from the conference

tournament for the fifth straight year and settled for the NIT.

Arizona had the nation’s longest active streak of reaching the

NCAA tournament at 25, within sight of North Carolina’s record of

27. After salvaging tournament bids the past two years, the

Wildcats didn’t stand much of a chance at getting No. 26, finishing

16-15 after losing to UCLA in the Pac-10 tournament.

The Bruins are the king of titleholders with 11 and they went to

three consecutive Final Four appearances under coach Ben Howland.

Their run came to an end with the worst season (14-18) since

2003-04 and a loss to eventual champion Washington in the Pac-10

tournament semifinals.

Guerrero, UCLA’s athletic director, didn’t even have to recuse

himself from voting for the Bruins; they weren’t getting in

anyway.

“To have a losing record is very, very disappointing with the

success we’ve enjoyed the previous five seasons,” Howland

said.

When this year’s Final Four was awarded to Indianapolis in 2003,

there was hope the basketball-crazy state’s most recognizable

school would make a magical run to a title. Indiana had once gone

to 18 straight NCAA tournaments, so why not dream?

It wasn’t even close.

Still mopping up from the Kelvin Sampson mess, Indiana won just

10 games. An improvement from a year ago, but nowhere near NCAA

tournament-ready.

“Missing the tournament hurts,” said Jeremiah Rivers, who

played on Georgetown’s 2007 Final Four team before transferring to

Indiana.

There’s a chance one of Indiana’s biggest schools can still get

through to the Final Four. Purdue is the fourth seed in the South

Regional, but the Boilermakers’ chances of going deep in the

bracket took a big hit with Robbie Hummel’s season-ending knee

injury.

At least Florida sneaked in. Had the 21-12 Gators not made it,

that would have been three of the past four champions – accounting

for five titles – left out.