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Coaches make case for NCAAs

Conference coaches point to the power rankings of the RPI Report as proof that several of their teams should be included in the NCAA Tournament.

The report, using a formula said to be identical to the non-published NCAA method, ranks the Metro fourth behind the Big Ten, Big Eight and Atlantic Coast Conference.

"If you look at the RPI there's no way they'll take just one team from our league," Louisville coach Denny Crum said.

But Metro coaches realize only Crum's No.

14 Cardinals are ensured a spot in the NCAA. The rest better do well in this week's tournament at Biloxi, Miss., or risk exclusion.

UNCC (15-11), which finished second in the league, has some quality wins, including one against Louisville, but has lost to Davidson twice. "Our hopes are with tournament; no ifs, ands or buts about it," coach Jeff Mullins said.

Tulane (17-9) could have the best shot for an at-large berth, if it doesn't win the tournament. The Green Wave has won its past five games, including against No. 22 Alabama-Birmingham, but did lose at Canisius. "I think we're right there," Tulane coach Perry Clark said. "But we want to keep winning. We're not looking at any magic number or anything like that. We're going into the tournament trying to win it."

Virginia Tech (17-9) has won three of its past four but hasn't beaten any team of note. "If we got to the Metro finals, someone would have to give us an awfully hard look," coach Bill Foster said.

VCU (14-12) has more quality wins than any league team except Louisville _ against Xavier, Oklahoma, Tulsa, James Madison and Louisville at Freedom Hall _ but must win the tournament to go to the NCAA. "We should have been a post-season team but we've underachieved," coach Sonny Smith said.

Barring a tournament title, Southern Mississippi (13-13), which lost 12 games by a total of 41 points, will be able to look at what could have been. After a 7-2 start, South Florida (10-16) struggled on offense, especially on the road.

Retirement thoughts?

VCU's Smith, in his 18th season as a head coach, said he feels the onset of "burnout."

"This is the first time in all my years of coaching that basketball has been work," said Smith, whose senior-laden team was expected to challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth but has struggled to a .500 record. "This is the first time I let referees affect me. You're looking at the start of burnout."

Weekly honor

VCU senior point guard Kenny Harris, who averaged 20.5 points, 7.5 assists and 1.5 steals against UNC-Charlotte and USF, was named conference player of the week. Against USF, he made all of his six three-point shots to tie a conference record. Former Louisville star Everick Sullivan was 6-for-6 from that range in a 1990 game against Virginia.

Post-season accolades

Louisville junior center Clifford Rozier, favored to repeat as conference player of the year, was a unanimous choice for the all-conference first team. Also named were VCU senior forward Kendrick Warren, Southern Mississippi senior guard Bernard Haslett, Louisville senior guard Greg Minor and UNCC junior forward Jarvis Lang.

The second team includes Louisville senior forward Dwayne Morton, VCU's Harris, Louisville freshman point guard DeJuan Wheat, Southern Mississippi junior center Glen Whisby and Tulane freshman forward Jerald Honeycutt.

The all-freshman team featured Wheat and forward Jason Osborne, Tulane forwards Rayshard Allen and Honeycutt and Virginia Tech forward Ace Custis.