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Published: Wednesday, 3/3/2004

Coach sees another NCAA snub

To be a successful basketball coach in the Mid-American Conference, it's important to be a realist and not worry about the things you can't control.

Meet Steve Hawkins of Western Michigan.

Hawkins spoke for every MAC coach, past and present, when he addressed Western's 93-84 loss at Toledo Saturday.

Hawkins lent his opinion on the game.

“It kills us. This one really stings,” he said.

But Hawkins didn't stop there. He also said the loss was a dagger to Western's NCAA Tournament hopes.

“We're fighting for an NCAA berth. We still think we're in a pretty good position, but all of you know what the deal is with the mid-majors,” he said.

Hawkins Hawkins

Sure enough, Hawkins must have figured it was going to be business as usual.

As in, on Selection Sunday, expect more of the same in the way of bruised MAC feelings.

You could argue that the MAC, while deserving to have at least two teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, will have to settle for one.

Hawkins knows that. He knows what's at stake.

If Western fizzles out in the regular season, he knows the Broncos' only realistic chance to reach the NCAAs will be to win the MAC Tournament.

For those wondering how Hawkins can be so paranoid, consider what he's up against.

Despite boasting a 22-4 record with one game remaining before next week's MAC Tournament in Cleveland, and despite impressive wins over Arizona State and Southern Cal of the Pac-10, losing at Toledo still amounted to a d j vu experience for Hawkins.

He undoubtedly thought back to 22-8 Kent State being shafted by the selection committee a year ago, 24-8 Bowling Green being snubbed two years ago, 21-10 Toledo and 20-8 Central Michigan being ignored three years ago, and 22-7 Bowling Green and 21-7 Kent State being disregarded four years ago.

In fact, the last time the MAC sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament was 1998-99. That year Miami was rewarded along with Kent State despite the RedHawks losing to Kent State in the MAC Tournament championship game.

As good as Western has been all season, nothing changed in Hawkins' mind about the national perception of the MAC in general, and his Broncos in particular.

The majors are judged by reputation. So, too, are the mid-majors.

When in doubt, however, the majors receive the benefit of the doubt.

The shame of it all is that Kent State's remarkable run through the NCAA Tournament two years ago hasn't changed outsiders' perception of the MAC one iota.

“I mean, they can hardly wait to knock us off the bubble and get some team that's 4-8 in their conference into the NCAA Tournament,” said Hawkins, whose Broncos are 14-3 in league play.

Right on, Steve. You're preaching to the choir.

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