February 26, 2010

Drive for 65: NCAA tournament projection

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

Starting Tuesday, we will project the field twice a week.

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 Thursday and come from collegerpi.com.)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
No. 1s
1. Kansas
2. Kentucky
3. Syracuse
4. Villanova
The buzz: The first three teams in this grouping seem to have solid grasps on a No. 1, but Villanova's hold is tenuous. If the Wildcats win out -- at Syracuse, vs. Cincinnati, at West Virginia -- that tenuous hold becomes a lock. But they easily could slip to a No. 2 seed.
No. 2s
6. Kansas State
7. Purdue
8. West Virginia
The buzz: Duke has nine RPI top-50 wins, which is the most in the nation, but the Blue Devils are 1-3 on the road against top-50 teams. Purdue had a great shot at a No. 1 seed until Robbie Hummel was lost for the season with a torn ACL. The Boilermakers play host to Michigan State on Saturday, and if they win, they should win the Big Ten's regular-season title.
No. 3s
9. Georgetown
10. Ohio State
11. Temple
12. Vanderbilt
The buzz: Georgetown and Temple have seven RPI top-50 wins, which is tied for third-most in the nation. The Hoyas have seven losses overall, but they've also played the nation's toughest schedule. A No. 3 seed would be the ceiling for Vandy; the Commodores could end up as low as a No. 6.
No. 4s
13. New Mexico
14. Pittsburgh
15. Texas
16. Wisconsin
The buzz: New Mexico has won 12 in a row and plays at BYU on Saturday with the Mountain West regular-season title on the line. Texas has two big road games remaining: at Texas A&M on Saturday and at Baylor on March 6.
No. 5s
17. Michigan State
18. BYU
19. Wake Forest
20. Baylor
The buzz: Michigan State has a shot at the Big Ten regular-season title, but the Spartans have just two RPI top-50 wins - which likely will adversely affect their seeding. Wake Forest hasn't been all that impressive away from home, with just one RPI top-100 win.
No. 6s
21. Texas A&M
22. Butler
23. Gonzaga
24. Xavier
The buzz: Butler can finish the Horizon League regular season unbeaten (18-0) if it can win at Valparaiso tonight, and the Bulldogs could end up as a No. 5 seed. Xavier has won eight of its past nine and is tied atop the A-10 standings with Temple and Richmond; the Musketeers play host to Richmond on Sunday.
No. 7s
25. Tennessee
26. Richmond
27. Northern Iowa
28. Maryland
The buzz: Richmond has won eight in a row and 10 of its past 11, and is tied for the A-10 lead. The Spiders close the regular season with three toughies: at Xavier, vs. Dayton and at Charlotte. Maryland has won four in a row and six of its past seven to zoom into second place in the ACC standings.
No. 8s
29. Missouri
30. Marquette
31. Florida State
32. Oklahoma State
The buzz: Marquette has won seven of its past eight, but a weak non-conference schedule and a 3-7 mark against RPI top-50 teams means the Golden Eagles are not in the clear yet. Oklahoma State has lost four of its past seven and has Kansas and Texas A&M next on the schedule.
No. 9s
33. California
34. UNLV
35. Georgia Tech
36. Clemson
The buzz: UNLV's ace in the hole might be that it is the host for the Mountain West tournament. Georgia Tech is under .500 in the ACC, a puzzler considering the Yellow Jackets' talent level. Clemson is fading and needs another win to feel good about itself.
No. 10s
37. Florida
38. Rhode Island
39. Louisville
40. Siena*
The buzz: Florida's resume has some holes -- but so does every bubble team's. The Gators would be well-served to beat Georgia on Saturday. Louisville's final three regular-season games: at Connecticut, at Marquette and vs. Syracuse. Yikes. Siena dominated the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference this season but must win the league tournament to nab a bid.
No. 11s
41. UTEP
42. Illinois
43. Connecticut
44. Virginia Tech
The buzz: Connecticut has gotten hot of late and has a great chance at playing its way into the field. The Huskies need some more road wins, and they'll have the opportunity to get them when the play at Notre Dame and USF in the final two regular-season games. Illinois and Virginia Tech are far from NCAA locks; each needs to finish strong.
No. 12s
45. Charlotte
46. Dayton
47. Old Dominion
48. Saint Mary's
The buzz: Can the A-10 get six bids? Charlotte and Dayton would be the fifth and sixth -- but neither has been all that impressive of late. Still, the question is: Who else is there? Old Dominion has a shot at an at-large bid should it lose in the CAA tourney. Saint Mary's profile is similar to the one it had last season -- when it was left out of the tournament.
No. 13s
49. Utah State
50. Cornell*
51. Kent State*
52. Oakland*
The buzz: Utah State has won 13 in a row and is in the midst of its 11th consecutive 20-win season. Cornell can all but officially wrap up the Ivy League title if it can beat Princeton tonight. Oakland, which already has clinched the Summit League regular-season crown, played the 11th-toughest non-conference schedule in the nation.
No. 14s
53. Murray State*
54. Weber State*
55. College of Charleston*
56. Sam Houston State*
The buzz: Murray State suffered its first OVC loss of the season Thursday night, which snapped a 17-game winning streak. But the Racers already had clinched the regular-season title. Sam Houston State has clinched at least a share of the Southland Conference title. The Bearkats have won 12 of their past 14, and each of the losses was by one point.
No. 15s
57. UC Santa Barbara*
58. Western Kentucky*
59. Morgan State*
60. Stony Brook*
The buzz: Western Kentucky has had a disappointing season, but the Hilltoppers are healthy and should go into the Sun Belt tournament on a six-game winning streak. Their past three losses have come by a total of four points. Stony Brook won the America East regular-season title, which guarantees that the Seawolves would play the conference tourney final on their home court, where they were 12-1 this season.
No. 16s
61. Coastal Carolina*
62. Jacksonville*
63. Robert Morris*
64. Lehigh*
65. Jackson State*
The buzz: Coastal Carolina has clinched the Big South regular-season title, which means that it will play every conference tournament game on its home court. Jackson State has won nine in a row and is one of just two teams in the 10-team SWAC that is above .500 overall; the Tigers started the season 0-10 and now are 15-11.
8: Big East
7: ACC, Big 12
6: Atlantic 10
5: Big Ten
4: SEC
3: Mountain West
2: West Coast
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA, 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 (23)
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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