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March 23, 2010

Tech's Mike Sutton helped select NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament field

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – You had better listen carefully when Mike Sutton talks about the NCAA tournament bracket. His pace quickens. He's familiar with every team in the field.

His hoops knowledge -- not only about the teams, but also the coaches, the sites, the individual players, the matchups, the upsets -- pours forth. He makes it sound as if March Madness is the best time of the year.

"No, when your own team is playing is the best time of the year. This is the second best time," he explains.

Sutton, who recently wrapped up his eighth season as Tennessee Tech head coach, also served his second year as a voting member on the Regional Advisory Committee for the Division I Men's Basketball Championship.

"It's an honor that they think enough of me to ask for my input," Sutton said. "I consider it a compliment from the NCAA on my background and my experience."

With the newspaper spread on his desk in front of him the day after the NCAA announced this year's 65-team field, it was difficult to get a word in as the veteran coach touched on nearly every game with some insight.

Asked to identify the two most interesting first-round matchups, he pointed to Cornell and Sienna as having potential for upsets. Bingo, he was right on both accounts.

He also liked Murray State's chances against Vanderbilt, even though he considered the Commodores the toughest No. 4 opponent in the field.

Another game he said would be interesting was California against Louisville, because their styles were so different.

Not that all of the teams Sutton liked would advance. Take Minnesota, for instance.

Still, the way he spoke about the teams, almost without taking a breath in-between games, made it clear he knew his stuff. It made him a logical choice to help in the selection process.

As a committee member, Sutton voted throughout the year on the rankings of the teams in the South region. He looked at roughly 100 teams from nine conferences, including the Sun Belt, Southern, Big South, Southland, Big 12, Southeastern, Ohio Valley, Southwestern Athletic and Atlantic Sun.

"This committee makes me look at a few more teams than I normally would, but it makes me feel good that the teams I had ranked for the South region are all in except Mississippi State and Mississippi," Sutton said.

"We tried to look at the lesser leagues and se how their top teams compared with teams on the bubble. The committee wants an honest opinion of who are the best teams, and I think we provide that," he said.

Selecting the tournament field is something Sutton is happy to take part in.

"It's something I'm interested in, so I'm glad to serve on this committee. Obviously I'd like to be participating and our number one goal is be in the tournament," Sutton said.

"That's my goal. Playing in the post-season is such a great opportunity for our kids, not only the student-athletes but also for the kids who go to school at Tennessee Tech. You can't buy that kind of experience for the folks at the university, so it would be special to give them the opportunity to do that," he said.

This year's Golden Eagles reached the semifinals of the OVC Tournament before falling to Morehead State in Nashville.

"We took a good step toward that this year, winning on the road at Austin Peay in the first round the OVC Tournament," Sutton said. "Now we need to take that next step.

"About one-third of the teams on our schedule were in post-season play. I think we were right there with only two seniors, so I'm excited about this team for the future."