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Hawkeyes, Tide picked wrong time to struggle

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

A few weeks back, it looked like Iowa and Alabama were lock-city to be included in the field of 65. After struggling at the end of the regular season, both Steve Alford and Mark Gottfried know their teams must perform well in their conference tournaments.

Reggie Evans
Reggie Evans and the Iowa Hawkeyes have dug a hole they might not be able to get out of.

This is an example of a postseason tournament being a plus. It gives you an opportunity to have a second shot. You have a chance for a bid despite a poor stretch. That's the advantage of being in a heavyweight conference instead of a mid-major.

For schools in the mid-major leagues, they have one shot at glory -- they must win their tournaments to secure a bid to the Big Dance. Teams from the heavyweight conferences have a chance of gaining a bid based on overall record, by winning the tournament or by finishing in the upper division.

Iowa and Alabama have picked the wrong time of the year to struggle. The Tide had a mediocre pre-conference schedule -- there is little there to knock you out. Gottfried's club did beat Ohio State in a non-league game in February. There were a few good league wins (Kentucky, Georgia and Mississippi), all at home.

The trouble is, the Tide limped home with four straight losses, including a blowout at Mississippi. Rod Grizzard has struggled and Gottfried's young team may not make the Big Dance if it loses its SEC tournament first-round matchup against Vanderbilt in Nashville. At least it is not on the Commodores' home floor.

The Hawkeyes closed the regular season with six losses in seven games. It was tough luck when Luke Recker went down. The big question is, can Iowa find a way to post a couple of wins in the Big Ten tournament and get invited to the Dance? They may need to win twice, depending on what happens in other conference tournaments. Iowa isn't the same team without Recker, and whether he will return is still uncertain .

Both teams must regroup. At least they have that opportunity.

For the mid-majors, it is mandatory to win the conference tournament. Counting on the committee to extend at-large berths will probably be fruitless. The heavyweights -- the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-10 and Big 12 -- will dominate on Selection Sunday. This super six may get as many as 30 at-large invitations, which would be a record.

The pressure is on. The rules are emphatically stated: the selection committee must choose the best 34 teams once the 31 automatic berths are determined. It doesn't say anything about rewarding teams for a great season or outstanding record.

The best 34 at-larges go to the Big Dance, period. It seems unfair at times, because some teams have phenomenal regular-season results but don't get to go against the big guys. That's just the way it is.

Because of this, Championship Week is something special. You see the little guys celebrate. And you see the big guys sweat.

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