February 17, 2011

Huguenin: Projecting the NCAA field of 68

"Selection Sunday" is March 13, which means we're a bit more than three weeks away. Here is our fourth look at how we think the 68-team NCAA tournament field will look when it is unveiled that day.

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

We will update this every Thursday until late this month, when we will update it more frequently.

Teams are grouped by projected 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.

Remember that this is the first season of a 68-team field. There will be four play-in games this season: two involving teams that will be No. 12 seeds and two involving teams that will be No. 16 seeds. That's why there are six teams at the Nos. 12 and 16 seedings.

(Note: Asterisked teams must win their conference titles to receive an NCAA bid. RPI figures are through Wednesday's games and come from collegerpi.com.)

Rivals.com Projected NCAA Field of 68
No. 1 seeds
1. Ohio State
2. Pittsburgh
3. Texas
4. Duke
BUZZ: The Buckeyes suffered their first loss of the season this past Saturday at Wisconsin, which makes them 8-1 on the road this season. Six of those road wins have come against teams in the RPI top 100. Pitt has won five in a row and owns a two-game lead in the Big East. But the Panthers' closing stretch is a tough one, and it includes games against St. John's, West Virginia, Louisville and Villanova. Texas owns a two-game lead in the Big 12 race. The Longhorns are 11-0 in the league and have won 10 of those games by double-digits; the other was a nine-point win. Duke has won five in a row since losing at St. John's. The Blue Devils have a challenging closing stretch, though. After a gimme Sunday against Georgia Tech, Duke gets Temple, Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina to finish up the regular season.
No. 2 seeds
5. Kansas
6. Georgetown
7. San Diego State
8. Notre Dame
BUZZ: Kansas got spanked on the road Monday night by Kansas State and now trails Texas by two games in the Big 12 race. Georgetown's eight-game winning streak ended Wednesday night at UConn, but the Hoyas still have eight top-50 wins, which is tied for the most in the nation. San Diego State has won six in a row since losing at BYU on Jan. 26, so you can bet the Aztecs are eagerly awaiting BYU's visit to the Mesa on Feb. 26. Notre Dame has won seven in a row, and while it trails Pitt by two games in the Big East, it also leads third-place Georgetown by two games in the race. The Irish play at West Virginia on Saturday.
No. 3 seeds
9. Villanova
10. Louisville
11. BYU
12. Purdue
BUZZ: Villanova has lost four of seven, and a legit question is whether the Wildcats peaked in January. They have five games left, and the final four are toughies: vs. Syracuse, vs. St. John's, at Notre Dame and at Pitt. Louisville is scuffling a bit, having lost three of five. They still have games left against UConn, Pitt and West Virginia. BYU has a tough two-game stretch upcoming, playing host to Colorado State on Feb. 23 and traveling to San Diego State on Feb. 26. Purdue has won three in a row and six of eight, and plays host to Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes beat them by 23 in Columbus on Jan. 25.
No. 4 seeds
13. Florida
14. Connecticut
15. Wisconsin
16. North Carolina
BUZZ: Florida has won seven of eight and is 5-1 against RPI top-25 teams and 7-1 against top-50 foes. UConn got a big win Wednesday when it held off visiting Georgetown. But the Huskies' closing stretch is as tough as anyone's, with games against Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame. They easily could end up with a No. 2 seed. Wisconsin battled back but ultimately fell short in losing at Purdue on Wednesday. The Badgers still have won seven of their past nine and should increase that to 11 of 13 going into the regular-season finale at Ohio State. UNC has won 12 of 14, but has a tough closing stretch that includes visits from Boston College, Maryland and Duke and a trip to Florida State.
No. 5 seeds
17. Syracuse
18. Texas A&M
19. Vanderbilt
20. Missouri
BUZZ: Syracuse has lost six of its past nine, and a third-place finish in the Big East is the best the Orange can hope for now. They still have road games left against Villanova and Georgetown. Texas A&M has followed up a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak. But the Aggies still have road games remaining against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas. Vandy has won seven of nine, but has games left against SEC East foes Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida. Mizzou has won three of four and has a legit chance to finish third in the Big 12.
No. 6 seeds
21. Temple
22. Arizona
23. Kentucky
24. Xavier
BUZZ: Temple has won six in a row and nine of 11 and is tied for second, with Richmond, in the A-10. The Owls play host to the Spiders tonight. Arizona has won six in a row and nine of 10, and owns a one-game lead in the Pac-10 race. But the Wildcats also own just one RPI top-50 win, and 16 of their 21 wins have come against teams 100th or worse in the RPI. Kentucky has dropped three of its past five and has been awful on the road in the SEC. Still, they have a chance to close strong, as the Wildcats' final three regular-season games are against Florida, Vandy and Tennessee. Xavier has won 11 of 12 and leads the A-10 race by a game over Temple and Richmond. The Musketeers have five regular-season games remaining, but just one is against a team with a winning record.
No. 7 seeds
25. Illinois
26. West Virginia
27. Tennessee
28. George Mason
BUZZ: Illinois, whose big men are as soft as melted butter, play three of their final five regular-season games on the road - Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. Luckily for the Illini, the remaining home games - Iowa and Indiana - are eminently winnable. WVU has lost three of four and faces a murderous closing stretch; the Mountaineers have five games left and four of the foes are Notre Dame, Pitt, UConn and Louisville. At least all but the Panthers have to visit Morgantown. Tennessee snapped its three-game losing streak by beating South Carolina on Wednesday night, but the Vols have a tough closing stretch that includes games against Georgia, Vandy and Kentucky. George Mason - which has won 12 in a row - owns a two-game lead in the Colonial with two league games left. The Patriots have a tough BracketBusters game Saturday at Northern Iowa.
No. 8 seeds
29. Washington
30. Minnesota
31. Florida State
32. St. John's
BUZZ: Washington trails Arizona by two games in the Pac-10 race, and if the Huskies have any hope of tying for the regular-season title, they must win both games this weekend - tonight at Arizona State and Saturday at Arizona. Minnesota has lost four of five and is one game below .500 in Big Ten play. The potential exists for them to win out in league play, though. Florida State's position is a bit dicey because star F Chris Singleton has a broken foot and is likely to miss the rest of the regular season. The rest of the schedule isn't all that difficult, though. St. John's has won five of six and owns victories in that stretch over Duke, UConn, Cincinnati and Marquette. The Red Storm play host to Pitt on Saturday.
No. 9 seeds
33. Boston College
34. UCLA
35. Old Dominion
36. Saint Mary's
BUZZ: BC still has some work to do; most notably, the Eagles need some road wins. UCLA looks poised to return to the NCAAs after a one-season absence. The Bruins have won nine of their past 10, but they play four of their remaining six regular-season games on the road. ODU has an important BracketBusters game Saturday when Cleveland State comes calling. ODU trails George Mason by two games in the Colonial race with two league games left. Saint Mary's was shocked by last-place San Diego on Wednesday night. The Gaels finish out the regular season at home, including an important BracketBusters game Saturday against Utah State and then a showdown with Gonzaga on Feb. 24.
No. 10 seeds
37. UNLV
38. Marquette
39. Kansas State
40. Richmond
BUZZ: UBLV is fourth in the Mountain West and has a big game Saturday at Colorado State, which won earlier this season in Las Vegas. Marquette has lost five of seven and its NCAA hopes are teetering. K-State routed Kansas on Monday night, a huge boost to the Wildcats' NCAA hopes. Richmond has won seven of eight and is tied for second in the A-10 with Temple, one game behind Xavier. The Spiders play at Temple tonight.
No. 11 seeds
41. Virginia Tech
42. Baylor
43. Memphis
44. Missouri State
BUZZ: Virginia Tech gets ACC bottom-feeders Virginia and Wake Forest in its next two games, both on the road. Wins in those games won't help the Hokies' resume, but a loss would hurt - and hurt bad. Baylor has won three of its past four and has some opportunities down the stretch to improve its NCAA hopes. Memphis owns a half-game lead in Conference USA after holding on to nip UAB on Wednesday night. The Tigers have five regular-season games remaining and just one, at UTEP on Feb. 26, is against a team with a winning record. Missouri State is tied for the Missouri Valley lead with Wichita State. Missouri State won the first meeting between the teams, and they meet again to close out the regular season on Feb. 26.
No. 12 seeds
45. Utah State*
46. Clemson
47. Georgia
48. Southern Miss
49. Colorado State
50. Wichita State
BUZZ: Utah State, as usual, has won 20 games. But the Aggies have just one RPI top-100 win - and that's over No. 100 Long Beach State. That means an at-large bid would be dicey if they were to lose in the WAC tourney. Utah State has a big BracketBusters game Saturday at Saint Mary's. Clemson resides squarely on the NCAA bubble and needs some more wins, especially on the road. Georgia has lost two of three and four of seven, and goes on the road to Tennessee and Florida for its next two contests. Southern Miss beat UTEP by 13 on Wednesday night to keep itself in the hunt for the C-USA regular-season title. If they want an at-large bid, it would behoove the Golden Eagles to win out in the regular season. Colorado State owns a solid RPI (40th) in a league (Mountain West) that's third in conference RPI. The Rams have five games left, including matchups with UNLV, BYU and San Diego State. Wichita State has won seven of eight and is tied for the Missouri Valley lead with Missouri State. But the Shockers have zero RPI top 50 wins and they almost certainly need to beat VCU on Saturday in a BracketBusters game to keep their faint at-large hopes alive.
No. 13 seeds
51. Cleveland State*
52. Princeton*
53. Coastal Carolina*
54. Belmont*
BUZZ: Cleveland State moved into the Horizon lead Wednesday night by a half-game when Valparaiso was upset by UW Milwaukee. The regular-season title is big in the Horizon because the champ is guaranteed to host every league tourney game it plays. Princeton has lost once since Thanksgiving and owns a one-game lead, over Harvard, in the Ivy League race. Coastal Carolina became the last team in the nation to lose a league game when it was stunned by Big South rival Gardner Webb on Tuesday; still, Coastal already has clinched the regular-season title. Belmont has lost once since Christmas and owns a two-game lead in the loss column in the Atlantic Sun.
No. 14 seeds
55. Oakland*
56. College of Charleston*
57. Fairfield*
58. Kent State *
BUZZ: Oakland has a two-game lead in the Summit and owns a win at Tennessee. Charleston has won seven of eight and has a two-game lead for the Southern Conference overall title. Fairfield already has clinched the MAAC regular-season title and is seeking its first NCAA bid since 1997; that season, the Stags fell in the first round of the NCAA tourney to North Carolina in the game in which Dean Smith tied Adolph Rupp's career wins record. Kent State. Kent State trails Miami by a half-game for the MAC overall lead; those teams split their regular-season series.
No. 15 seeds
59. Vermont*
60. Bucknell*
61. Murray State*
62. Long Beach State*
BUZZ: Vermont, looking for its fifth NCAA bid in nine seasons, already has clinched the America East regular-season title, which means the Catamounts will host the league tourney final if they're in it. Bucknell leads the Patriot League by two games with three games remaining; because the Bison swept second-place American, one more win gives them the regular-season title. Murray State, which fell to Butler by two points in the second round of the NCAA tourney last season, had its eight-game winning streak snapped Wednesday night by Southeast Missouri, but the Racers still are tied for the OVC lead. Long Beach State has a two-game lead in the Big West and already has won at second-place Cal Poly by 16.
No. 16 seeds
63. Florida Atlantic *
64. Montana*
65. Long Island*
66. Texas Southern*
67. McNeese State*
68. Morgan State*
BUZZ: The move to a 68-team field means four conference champs are going to end up in the play-in games. FAU, which is coached by Mike Jarvis, has dropped two in a row and three of five but remains in first place overall in the Sun Belt. Montana has a half-game lead in the Big Sky over Northern Colorado; those teams split their regular-season series. LIU has a two-game lead in the Northeast Conference and is aiming for its first NCAA appearance since 1997. Texas Southern leads the SWAC by two games over Jackson State and Mississippi Valley. Texas Southern swept Jackson State but lost its only meeting to Valley; those teams meet again Monday. McNeese State is our pick to emerge as Southland champ; 10 of the league's 12 teams have at least three but no more than six conference losses. Morgan State, coached by Todd Bozeman, is attempting to gain its third consecutive NCAA bid; the Bears are a half-game behind first-place Hampton but beat the Pirates in their only regular-season meeting.
10: Big East
6: ACC, Big 12
5: Big Ten, SEC
4: Mountain West
3: Atlantic 10, Pac-10
2: Colonial, Conference USA, Missouri Valley
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast, Western Athletic (20)
The NCAA uses an "S curve," meaning it ranks all 68 teams in order 1-68, 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.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is the chairman of the 10-member NCAA Tournament Selection Committee this season. He is one of four members with a "Big Six" affiliation, joining Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, Connecticut AD Jeff Hathaway and Wake Forest AD Ron Wellman. The other six members: Utah State AD Scott Barnes, Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, Big Sky commissioner Doug Fullerton, Texas-San Antonio AD Lynn Hickey, UC Riverside AD Stan Morrison and SMU AD Steve Orsini. Hickey is the second woman to serve on the committee, following Charlotte AD Judy Rose (1999-2003).
March 15: Four play-in games in Dayton, Ohio
First and second rounds
March 17 and 19: Denver, Tampa, Tucson, Ariz., and Washington, D.C.
March 18 and 20: Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland and Tulsa, Okla.
Regional semifinals and final
March 24 and 26: Anaheim, Calif., and New Orleans.
March 25 and 27: Newark, N.J., and San Antonio
Final Four
April 2 and 4: Reliant Stadium, Houston

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

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