February 19, 2010

Drive for 65: NCAA tournament projection

"Selection Sunday" is March 14, which means we're less than a month away. Here is our latest look 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. And, frankly, there are five teams in this projection that give us great pause as to how well they will finish.

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 Thursday and come from collegerpi.com.)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
No. 1s
1. Kansas
2. Syracuse
3. Kentucky
4. Villanova
The buzz: This quartet looks strong as the potential No. 1 seeds, even with recent losses by Syracuse and Villanova. All four could end up as the overall top seed.
No. 2s
5. Purdue
7. Kansas State
8. West Virginia
The buzz: If Purdue wins out, including winning the Big Ten tournament title, it could snag a No. 1 seed. Going into the weekend, Duke had played the most games (11) against RPI top-50 teams than anybody in the nation.
No. 3s
9. Ohio State
10. Georgetown
11. Temple
12. Vanderbilt
The buzz: Georgetown's monumental comeback effort against Syracuse fell just short Thursday, but the Hoyas still are in good shape for a No. 3 seed because they have six RPI top-50 wins. Keep an eye on Vanderbilt's game Saturday at home against Kentucky; if the Commodores can win that, they can win the SEC regular-season title - and perhaps move as high as a No. 2 seed.
No. 4s
13. Wake Forest
14. Michigan State
15. New Mexico
16. Pittsburgh
The buzz: New Mexico has won 10 in a row and that streak should grow to 12 by the time the Lobos play at BYU on Feb. 27 in a game that almost certainly will decide the Mountain West regular-season title. Pitt's last chance for a top-50 win until the Big East tourney comes Sunday at home against Villanova; a win in that one and a No. 3 seed becomes possible.
No. 5s
17. Wisconsin
18. Tennessee
19. BYU
20. Gonzaga
The buzz: Wisconsin did not play well in Thursday night's loss at Minnesota, but the Badgers' next three games are eminently winnable (Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa). How in the world can Gonzaga dominate league contenders Saint Mary's and Portland but lose to West Coast Conference also-rans San Francisco and Loyola Marymount?
No. 6s
21. Butler
22. Texas
23. Xavier
24. Texas A&M
The buzz: Butler's last chance for a RPI top-50 win this season comes Saturday against Siena; the Bulldogs could be a No. 7 or No. 8 seed. Texas once looked like a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, but the Longhorns have stumbled big time and don't really scare anybody right now.
No. 7s
25. Baylor
26. Georgia Tech
27. Northern Iowa
28. Richmond
The buzz: Georgia Tech has underachieved relative to its talent level; Saturday's game at Maryland is big for both teams. The A-10 is getting a lot of love, which it should, but Richmond remains overlooked. The Spiders have won seven in a row and have a great chance to improve their seeding because of a tough closing stretch. The flipside, of course, is that they could fall to a No. 10 or No. 11 seed.
No. 8s
29. Maryland
30. Missouri
31. Clemson
32. Marquette
The buzz: Maryland has just two RPI top-50 wins, but each of the Terps' next four opponents are in the top 50. Missouri's win over Texas earlier this week was a big one for the Tigers. Marquette has played well of late and should finish OK, but they're far from an NCAA lock at this point.
No. 9s
33. Florida State
34. California
35. Louisville
36. Dayton
The buzz: Dayton has been a minor disappointment, and though the A-10 is stronger than usual, the Flyers still have some work to do. California is mystifying; the Golden Bears were blown out Thursday night at Oregon State but still look to be the best team in the much-weaker-than-usual Pac-10.
No. 10s
37. Siena*
38. Oklahoma State
39. Rhode Island
40. UNLV*
The buzz: Oklahoma State has a murderous four-game stretch starting Saturday - vs. Baylor, at Texas, vs. Kansas and at Texas A&M. We'll know a lot more about the Cowboys' at-large chances after that quartet of games. Rhode Island is a team that can't feel all that good about its chances; the Rams must close strong. UNLV's recent swoon may mean the Runnin' Rebels need to win the MWC tourney to get in; good news for them is that the tourney is in Vegas.
No. 11s
41. Virginia Tech
43. Charlotte
42. UTEP
44. Saint Mary's
The buzz: Virginia Tech is second in the ACC but still far from an NCAA lock because the Hokies' non-conference schedule was beyond embarrassing. Winning at Duke on Sunday would be huge for the Hokies. Charlotte and Saint Mary's have to finish the regular season strong, then make nice runs in their respective league tournaments. Both probably belong as potential No. 12 seeds - but the at-large teams at No. 12 in this projection don't really deserve a better seed.
No. 12s
45. Illinois
46. USF
47. UAB
48. Cornell*
The buzz: Illinois has some work to do to lock up a bid; the Illini have some nice wins, but they also have some bad losses. USF has a chance to finish the regular season strong. UAB has faltered a bit of late and must right itself; it wouldn't be a surprise at all if Conference USA again received just one bid.
No. 13s
49. Old Dominion*
50. Utah State*
51. Kent State*
52. College of Charleston*
The buzz: ODU, which won at Georgetown in December, can strengthen its case for a potential at-large bid if it can win tonight at Northern Iowa in a BracketBusters game. Utah State has won 11 in a row and has a one-game lead in the WAC; the Aggies are looking for their second NCAA bid in a row and their ninth in 13 years.
No. 14s
53. Oakland*
54. Weber State*
55. Sam Houston State*
56. Murray State*
The buzz: Oakland clinched at least a portion of the Summit League title Thursday night and can win it outright with a win Saturday night over defending champ North Dakota State. Murray State is undefeated in OVC action and already has won the regular-season title; its final two regular-season games are on the road against the second- and third-place teams.
No. 15s
57. UC Santa Barbara*
58. Western Kentucky*
59. Stony Brook*
60. Morgan State*
The buzz: UCSB is tied for the Big West lead with Pacific, but the Gauchos swept the season series; they're looking for their first NCAA bid since 2002 and just the fourth in school history. Stony Brook, which never has been to the NCAA tournament, leads the America East by a game in the loss column over Vermont and can wrap up the regular-season title when the teams meet Wednesday night in Stony Brook - which is on Long Island.
No. 16s
61. Coastal Carolina*
62. Jacksonville*
63. Robert Morris*
64. Lehigh*
65. Jackson State*
The buzz: Coastal Carolina is coached by former Auburn and Clemson head man Cliff Ellis; the Chanticleers have a one-game lead in the Big South race and play their final three games at home (where they are 12-1 this season). Robert Morris can sew up the Northeast Conference title with a victory Saturday over second-place Quinnipiac in the teams' only regular-season meeting. A regular-season title would mean Robert Morris would play every conference tournament game at home.
8: Big East
7: ACC, Big 12
6: Atlantic 10
5: Big Ten
3: Mountain West, SEC
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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