January 29, 2010

Drive for 65: NCAA tournament bracket projection

"Selection Sunday" is March 14, which means we're about six weeks away. Here is our second 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. Syracuse
4. Villanova
The buzz: Kansas moves to the top line for us this week, but that could change next week because a road trip to K-State looms on Saturday. Kentucky's next two are toughies - Vanderbilt and Ole Miss - but both are at home. Non-freshmen scored just 10 points for UK in Tuesday night's loss at South Carolina, and getting outrebounded by the Gamecocks was embarrassing.
No. 2s
5. Texas
6. Duke
7. Michigan State
8. Georgetown
The buzz: Georgetown has its next three at home, and Duke and Villanova are two of the opponents. Michigan State plays at Wisconsin on Tuesday. If the Spartans win, go ahead and pencil them in as Big Ten regular-season champs.
No. 3s
9. Purdue
10. Kansas State
11. West Virginia
12. Pittsburgh
The buzz: K-State plays host to Kansas on Saturday; it's a good bet that the fans will be loud. The Wildcats are 10-1 at home this season. WVU plays three of its next four at home - and the opponents are Louisville, Pitt and Villanova.
No. 4s
13. Temple
14. Gonzaga
15. Wisconsin
16. Vanderbilt
The buzz: Temple fell at Charlotte on Wednesday night, but the Owls still are in excellent shape in the Atlantic 10. The loss did more to help Charlotte than it did to hurt the Owls. Vandy is off to its best SEC start since 1964-65, when the Commodores won the league.
No. 5s
17. Georgia Tech
18. BYU
19. Wake Forest
20. Ohio State
The buzz: BYU's loss Wednesday night at New Mexico means there will be a race in the Mountain West Conference. Ohio State, which beat Iowa on Wednesday night, plays its next three at home. The only tough one in that stretch is Sunday against Minnesota. After that, though, the Buckeyes play four of five on the road - with the lone home contest against Purdue.
No. 6s
21. Tennessee
22. Oklahoma State
23. Clemson
24. Butler
The buzz: Clemson has lost three in a row and is having trouble scoring. The Tigers play four of their next five at home, and perhaps familiar surroundings will help them get out of their funk. Butler already has a three-game lead in the Horizon League, but the Bulldogs (16-4) have just three RPI top-100 wins.
No. 7s
25. California
26. Ole Miss
27. North Carolina
28. Baylor
The buzz: California is the only team in the field from the Pac-10, which is egregiously bad this season by its standards. North Carolina has Virginia at home on Sunday, then begins a tough three-game run: at Virginia Tech, at Maryland and vs. Duke. The Tar Heels have some work to do before they can feel comfortable about getting into the field.
No. 8s
29. Florida State
30. UNLV
31. Texas A&M
32. Connecticut
The buzz: FSU, which lost at Duke on Wednesday night, has a key three-game stretch upcoming; the Seminoles play at Boston College on Saturday before playing at home against Maryland and Miami. FSU should go 3-0 in that span. Connecticut had an impressive victory over Texas on Saturday but followed that up by getting drilled at Providence on Wednesday.
No. 9s
33. Rhode Island
34. Louisville
35. UAB
36. Northern Iowa
The buzz: UAB is atop the Conference USA standings by itself after it beat Tulsa on Tuesday. The Blazers have back-to-back key games upcoming with UTEP and Memphis. UNI owns a two-game lead in the Missouri Valley, and it's hard to see anyone catching the Panthers. The question: Can UNI do enough in the regular season to get an at-large bid if they falter in the MVC tourney?
No. 10s
37. Xavier
38. Siena*
39. Maryland
40. Dayton
The buzz: Xavier and Dayton are two of the five A-10 teams we have in the field this week. Dayton has been a slight disappointment thus far, and the Flyers have lost three of their past four. Siena is looking for its third consecutive NCAA bid. The Saints have won first-round games in each of the past two seasons, upsetting a No. 4 seed and a No. 8 seed.
No. 11s
41. Missouri
42. Mississippi State
43. New Mexico
44. Illinois
The buzz: Illinois has been a disappointment, but the Illini still have a lot of time to turn around their season. Mississippi State needs some more RPI top-50 wins; the Bulldogs have just two, but they also lead the SEC West.
No. 12s
45. Saint Mary's
46. Richmond
47. Tulsa
48. Cornell*
The buzz: Saint Mary's is a good bet to finish with 25 wins. But the Gaels' schedule is such that unless they win the league tourney, they will be sweating profusely on Selection Sunday. Tulsa, which has won seven of its past eight, is our second team from Conference USA, which hasn't received as many as two bids since the 2005-06 season.
No. 13s
49. Old Dominion*
50. Utah State*
51. Western Carolina*
52. Denver*
The buzz: Western Carolina, the pick to win the Southern Conference, is looking for its second NCAA bid in history. As a No. 16 seed in 1996, the Catamounts lost by just two to top-seeded Purdue in the first round. Denver - our pick (this week, at least) to win the Sun Belt - never has been to the NCAA tournament. The Pioneers' coach is Joe Scott, who took Air Force to the NCAAs in 2006.
No. 14s
53. Kent State*
54. Maine*
55. Weber State*
56. Oakland*
The buzz: Kent State is our pick to win the MAC, which has become a mediocre mid-major league. Maine is our pick this week to win the America East, which should feature a race that goes down to the wire.
No. 15s
57. Sam Houston State*
58. Morgan State*
59. UC Santa Barbara*
60. Morehead State*
The buzz: Morgan State, which is coached by former Cal head man Todd Bozeman, is looking for its second consecutive NCAA bid. Morehead State's top player is Kenneth Faried, who leads the nation in rebounding. UCSB trails first-place Pacific in the Big West standings, but the Gauchos beat Pacific in their first regular-season meeting.
No. 16s
61. Radford*
62. Jacksonville*
63. Lafayette*
64. Long Island*
65. Jackson State*
The buzz: Radford trails first-place Coastal Carolina in the Big South race, but Radford won by 10 at Coastal already. Lafayette looks as if it will battle archrival Lehigh for the Patriot League regular-season crown. Jackson State, which is our pick to win the SWAC, doesn't have a win over a team in the RPI top 250.
7: ACC, Big East, Big 12
5: Atlantic 10, Big Ten, SEC
3: Mountain West
2: Conference USA, West Coast
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, Pac-10, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Sun Belt, Western Athletic (22)
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).
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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