January 22, 2010

Drive for 65: NCAA tournament bracket projection



"Selection Sunday" is March 14, which means we're about seven weeks away. Here is our first look this season at how we think the NCAA tournament field will look when it is unveiled that day.

It's important to note that this is a projection, not how the field would look if it were decided today.

Teams are grouped by projected seed and listed from strongest to weakest within that seed. At the bottom is a breakdown by league of the number of projected bids and some information on the makeup of the field, the selection committee and the sites.

(Note: Asterisked teams must win their conference titles to receive an NCAA bid. All RPI figures are though play Wednesday and come from collegerpi.com.)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
No. 1s
1. Kansas
2. Kentucky
3. Texas
4. Syracuse
The buzz: The Big 12 and Big East appear to be the only conferences with a chance to have two No. 1 seeds; this week, we have two from the Big 12. Kentucky looks to be the biggest lock to win its Big Six conference of anybody. Syracuse can't be the No. 1 seed in the East Region because the regional finals will be in the Carrier Dome.
No. 2s
5. Duke
6. Villanova
7. Michigan State
8. Pittsburgh
The buzz: Pitt and Villanova are two Big East teams that have a shot at a No. 1 seed. Duke does, as well. Michigan State already owns a two-game lead in the Big Ten race.
No. 3s
9. Purdue
10. Kansas State
11. Georgetown
12. Tennessee
The buzz: Tennessee played great basketball without four suspended players, and the Vols look to be the second-best team in the SEC. K-State has a chance to finish as a No. 2 seed - and could even be a No. 1. Despite a recent three-game losing streak, Purdue still might be the most-talented team in the Big Ten.
No. 4s
13. West Virginia
14. Clemson
15. Gonzaga
16. Ohio State
The buzz: Gonzaga has 12 more games but only four are against teams in the RPI top 200, so anything better than a No. 4 seed might be out of reach for the Zags. The return of Evan Turner makes Ohio State a dangerous team in the Big Ten. West Virginia could play its way into a No. 3 seed.
No. 5s
17. Dayton
18. Wake Forest
19. Temple
20. North Carolina
The buzz: Dayton and Temple are two of five teams from the Atlantic 10 in our field this week; the A-10 winner might be able to garner a No. 4 seed. Defending champ UNC is struggling right now, but look for the Heels to right themselves soon.
No. 6s
21. Butler
22. Vanderbilt
23. Wisconsin
24. Georgia Tech
The buzz: Butler has no Horizon League opponents who are in the top 100 of the RPI, so a No. 6 seed might be too much to hope for for the Bulldogs. Vanderbilt has key road games against Tennessee on Jan. 27 and Kentucky on Jan. 30. Wisconsin has been a big surprise and could finish as high as third in the Big Ten.
No. 7s
25. Xavier
26. BYU
27. Ole Miss
28. Washington
The buzz: BYU is 19-1, but the Cougars have just one RPI top 50 win, which may keep them from getting a better seed. The Pac-10 is a jumbled mess, and Washington is our pick to win the league. But a No. 7 seed may be too high for the Pac-10 champ. If Xavier wins the A-10, it would get a better seed.
No. 8s
29. Missouri
30. Louisville
31. Baylor
32. Florida State
The buzz: Baylor, Louisville and Missouri should finish in the middle-of-the-pack in their leagues, but those conferences are loaded. FSU could use at least one more "good" road win.
No. 9s
33. Mississippi State
34. Northern Iowa
35. UNLV
36. Richmond
The buzz: Richmond is the fourth of five A-10 teams in our field this week; the Spiders own wins over Missouri, Mississippi State and Florida. Northern Iowa remains the favorite to win the Missouri Valley. UNLV has slumped a bit of late. Mississippi State looks to be the front-runner in the SEC West.
No. 10s
37. Memphis
38. Oklahoma State
39. Siena*
40. Minnesota
The buzz: Memphis is one of two Conference USA teams in the field this week; that's noteworthy because the league hasn't received more than one bid since 2006. Siena doesn't have a "good" non-conference win and that hurts the Saints. Our inclusion of Minnesota can be construed as having faith that a team that returned all five starters from a NCAA tourney entrant will start playing better soon.
No. 11s
41. Texas A&M
42. California
43. Rhode Island
44. Connecticut
The buzz: UConn really hasn't done anything that would merit an NCAA bid, but the thought is the Huskies will come up with some big wins in the next few weeks. Cal is the second team from the Pac-10, which could get three teams in the field if it's lucky. Rhode Island is the fifth and final A-10 team in the field this week. That's a strong league at the top, but you wonder if the better teams will cannibalize each other.
No. 12s
45. New Mexico
46. Illinois
47. Tulsa
48. Cornell*
The buzz: Tulsa is the second C-USA team in our field this week; the Golden Hurricane need to pick up some more road wins to stay in. Illinois is another Big Ten team that should be playing better than it is. New Mexico is the third Mountain West team and that might be one too many. Cornell is looking for its third consecutive bid, and the Big Red will be a dangerous first-round opponent.
No. 13s
49. Western Kentucky*
50. Old Dominion*
51. Utah State*
52. College of Charleston*
The buzz: ODU - which won at Georgetown - bears watching; the Colonial is a tough league this season, and William & Mary has become the trendy pick to win the conference. Can the CAA get two bids? It's possible. Utah State is our pick to win the WAC, but the Aggies already trail league leader Louisiana Tech by two games. Charleston, which is coached by Bobby Cremins, has a win over North Carolina and looks to be the best team in the Southern Conference.
No. 14s
53. Akron*
54. Vermont*
55. Weber State*
56. Oakland*
The buzz: Weber State has a one-game lead in the Big Sky and plays six of its next eight games at home. Oakland leads the Summit Conference, but the Grizzlies (hey, who knew there were grizzlies in suburban Detroit?) are in the midst of a stretch in which they play six of eight on the road.
No. 15s
57. Sam Houston State*
58. Morgan State*
59. UC Santa Barbara*
60. Radford*
The buzz: Morgan State is 4-0 in the MEAC, with all four wins coming on the road; six of the Bears' next eight games are at home. Radford's starting frontcourt is one of the tallest in the nation.
No. 16s
61. Morehead State*
62. Jacksonville*
63. Lafayette*
64. Long Island*
65. Jackson State*
The buzz: Jackson State is our pick to win the SWAC despite an under .500 overall mark; indeed, just one team in the league is over .500 overall. The SWAC winner almost certainly will be in the play-in game. Long Island is looking for its first NCAA berth since 1997. Jacksonville is looking for its first bid since 1986, when current Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith was the Dolphins' star.
BREAKDOWN BY LEAGUE
7: Big East, Big 12
6: ACC, Big Ten
5: Atlantic 10, SEC
3: Mountain West
2: Conference USA, Pac-10
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial Athletic Association, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Missouri Valley, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast, Western Athletic (22)
SOME NOTES ON THE MAKEUP OF THE FIELD
The NCAA uses an "S curve," meaning it ranks all 65 teams in order 1-65, then places them in regions under the theory the top No. 1 seed would have the worst No. 2 seed in its bracket, the worst No. 1 seed would have the top No. 2 seed, etc. The balancing of the regions is the most important factor in seeding the tournament.
As far as other rules go, teams from the same conference hopefully won't meet until a regional final, but the NCAA has relaxed that because some conferences have six and seven bids (it's even permissible for an intraconference matchup in the second round, though that is to be avoided whenever possible). But the first three teams selected from a given conference must be in different regions.
Higher-seeded teams should be placed as close to home as possible. No team may play on its home floor, but most sites are "neutral courts" anyway.
Teams can move up or down a spot or two in the "S-curve," maybe even a seed, to preserve other principles.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero is the chairman of the 10-member NCAA Tournament Selection Committee this season. He is one of five members with a "Big Six" affiliation, joining Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, Connecticut AD Jeff Hathaway, Ohio State AD Gene Smith and Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman. The other five members: Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, Texas-San Antonio AD Lynn Hickey, Kent State AD Laing Kennedy and UC Riverside AD Stan Morrison. Hickey is the second woman to serve on the committee, following Charlotte AD Judy Rose (1999-2003).
TOURNAMENT DATES
March 16: Opening-round game in Dayton, Ohio
First and second rounds
March 18 and 20: New Orleans; Providence, R.I.; San Jose, Calif.; Oklahoma City
March 19 and 21: Buffalo, N.Y.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Milwaukee; Spokane, Wash.
Regional semifinals and final
March 25 and 27: Syracuse, N.Y.; Salt Lake City
March 26 and 28: St. Louis; Houston
Final Four
April 3 and 5: Indianapolis

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.



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