February 12, 2010

Drive for 65: NCAA tournament bracket projection

"Selection Sunday" is March 14, which means we're about a month away. Here is our third 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. Syracuse
3. Kentucky
4. Villanova
The buzz: Kansas and Kentucky look like locks to be No. 1 seeds. Syracuse and Villanova are the clear front-runners for the other two slots.
No. 2s
5. Purdue
6. Georgetown
7. Kansas State
8. Duke
The buzz: Thanks to a recent swoon by Michigan State, Purdue is back in the hunt for the Big Ten regular-season title. The Boilermakers have won six in a row and still have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed. K-State has its next two at home - but has lost its past two home games.
No. 3s
9. West Virginia
10. Temple
11. Wisconsin
12. Vanderbilt
The buzz: While Temple plays four of its last seven on the road, none of the road opponents are particularly tough. The Owls have three RPI top-25 wins. Vanderbilt finished off a season sweep of Tennessee on Wednesday and moved to 12-0 at home this season in the process.
No. 4s
13. Texas
14. Gonzaga
15. Ohio State
16. Michigan State
The buzz: Texas has lost three of four. Given the Longhorns' remaining schedule, they easily could end up as a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. Michigan State has lost three in a row and plays three of its next four on the road.
No. 5s
17. Tennessee
18. Wake Forest
19. Pittsburgh
20. New Mexico
The buzz: Pitt has lost four of its past seven, but has a chance for a big win Friday night when it plays host to West Virginia. New Mexico's win at UNLV on Wednesday night enabled them to split the season series with the Runnin' Rebels and put them in good shape to win the Mountain West regular-season title.
No. 6s
21. Georgia Tech
22. Baylor
23. Butler
24. BYU
The buzz: At one point, Georgia Tech looked as if it could be a No. 3 or No. 4 seed. Now, the Yellow Jackets are fading and could end up as even a No. 8 or No. 9. Butler already has clinched at least a share of the Horizon League title. A better seed might be out of reach, though, because the Bulldogs have just two RPI top-50 wins.
No. 7s
25. Xavier
26. UNLV
27. Texas A&M
28. Rhode Island
The buzz: UNLV plays at San Diego State on Saturday. On paper, that is the toughest of the Runnin' Rebels' six remaining regular-season games. Rhode Island is in a three-way tie for fifth in the A-10, one game behind the leaders in the loss column. The Rams play three of their next four on the road.
No. 8s
29. Northern Iowa
30. Missouri
31. Clemson
32. Maryland
The buzz: One more league win, and Northern Iowa clinches the Missouri Valley regular-season title. The Panthers have won six in a row and haven't allowed more than 58 points in any of the games. Maryland has won six of its past seven and plays at Duke on Saturday with first place in the ACC on the line.
No. 9s
33. Marquette
34. Oklahoma State
35. Florida State
36. Ole Miss
The buzz: Marquette has won four in a row to move to 6-5 in the Big East. The Golden Eagles have a solid shot at finishing in the top six in the league. Oklahoma State has lost three in a row and needs to right itself quickly.
No. 10s
37. Dayton
38. Louisville
39. Richmond
40. Siena*
The buzz: Siena already has clinched the regular-season title in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Louisville has some work to do; the Cardinals have just one RPI top-50 win and are 1-5 on the road.
No. 11s
41. California
42. Saint Mary's
43. Tulsa
44. Charlotte
The buzz: Tulsa is tied for second in Conference USA, and the league tourney is in Tulsa. Charlotte is one of six A-10 teams in our field, and the 49ers - who had a seven-game winning streak snapped Wednesday night - play their next three at home.
No. 12s
45. Virginia Tech
46. Illinois
47. UTEP
48. Cornell*
The buzz: Illinois has won back-to-back games against Michigan State and Wisconsin, and gets a chance for a third big win in a row when it plays host to Ohio State on Sunday. UTEP, which leads Conference USA, is looking for its first NCAA bid since 2005 - when it was in the WAC.
No. 13s
49. Old Dominion*
50. Utah State*
51. College of Charleston*
52. Kent State *
The buzz: Utah State is looking for its seventh NCAA bid since the start of the 1999-2000 season. Kent State has won eight games in a row, and the Golden Flashes are the only MAC team whose RPI is better than 100th.
No. 14s
53. Oakland*
54. Murray State*
55. Sam Houston State*
56. UC Santa Barbara*
The buzz: UCSB is tied for the league lead with Pacific in the Big West, but the Gauchos swept the season series from Pacific. Murray State is 13-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference and is 12-0 at home this season overall.
No. 15s
57. Arkansas State*
58. Vermont*
59. Weber State*
60. Morgan State*
The buzz: Weber State is in first place in the Big Sky and plays its next three games at home, where it is 9-1 this season. Morgan State is 10-0 in the MEAC and is the only league team whose RPI is better than 200th.
No. 16s
61. Radford*
62. Jacksonville*
63. Robert Morris*
64. Lehigh*
65. Jackson State*
The buzz: Radford is in second place in the Big South but won at league leader Coastal Carolina. The teams meet again Saturday. Lehigh is looking for its fourth NCAA bid; the Mountain Hawks have been a 16 seed in each of their previous visits.
7: ACC, Big East, Big 12
6: Atlantic 10
5: Big Ten
4: 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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