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Long Beach keeps hope for tourney

February 16, 2012

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— Syracuse is solid and Kentucky is kinetic, but several scenarios remain unresolved as college basketball marches toward March and the NCAA tournament.

Here’s a look at still-to-be-answered questions:

— Has Long Beach State done enough to earn an at-large invite?

It’s bad enough that we haven’t had pro football around here since 1995. Now it seems we’re having to beg, borrow or barter our way into the annual NCAA ball.

UCLA, “old faithful” as the NCAA used to call it, missed the tournament two years ago and isn’t getting in this year without a ticket or a miracle run to the Pac-12 tournament championship.

Two years ago, a lonely Southern California annexed Santa Barbara, less than 100 miles from L.A., as our next-door, wine-tasting neighbor. And UC Santa Barbara’s Gauchos did us proud — until, um, opening night, when they lost by 17 to second-seeded Ohio State.

This year’s expectations have been offloaded onto Long Beach State, dominating the Big West Conference even as it’s losing ground in the RPI rankings — now in the 40s. The 49ers (19-6, 12-0 in conference play) once seemed a decent bet to earn an at-large invitation if they didn’t secure the Big West’s automatic bid.

Our revised advice: win the conference tournament.

“I don’t really like their chances,” Jerry Palm, who runs collegerpi.com, said this week of Long Beach’s at-large candidacy.

Long Beach State has done everything a mid-major has been told to do. It has played the toughest nonconference ledger imaginable — Kansas, North Carolina, San Diego State, Kansas State — and scored wins over Pittsburgh and Xavier.

— Could Connecticut become only the fifth team since tournament expansion in 1985 to miss the field the year after winning the national title?

Florida failed to make it the year after winning in 2007, and North Carolina went 16-16 the season after driving off with the 2009 title in Detroit.

Connecticut (15-9, 5-7) has lost six of its last seven and coach Jim Calhoun, approaching his 70th birthday, is out of the lineup with a back problem. The school has already been banned from next year’s tournament for failing to meet academic standards.

The good news: UConn plays four of its next six at home, and the Huskies finished 9-9 in the Big East last year and still won the NCAA title.

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