February 4, 2009

The Drive for 65: UConn builds on resume

We're about five weeks away "Selection Sunday" (March 15), and here is our weekly 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.

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.

Rivals.com Drive for 65
No. 1 seeds
1. Connecticut
2. North Carolina
3. Duke
4. Oklahoma
The buzz: UConn has won 10 in a row, with Monday's 17-point victory at Louisville perhaps the most impressive of the wins. North Carolina and Duke are angling for No. 1 seeds and to play their first- and second-round games in Greensboro, N.C. Oklahoma looks to be the only non-ACC or Big East team in position to get a No. 1 seed.
No. 2 seeds
5. Wake Forest
6. Louisville
7. Pittsburgh
8. Purdue
The buzz: Wake Forest has a chance to play itself into a No. 1 seed, and Louisville and Pitt will have the same opportunity. Purdue is our pick to win the Big Ten our pick this week, at least.
No. 3 seeds
9. Marquette
10. Xavier
11. Michigan State
12. Memphis
The buzz: Marquette is unbeaten in Big East play, but the league schedule gets noticeably tougher down the stretch. Xavier has a legit chance to finish unbeaten in Atlantic 10 conference action. Michigan State has two Big Ten losses to Northwestern and Penn State at home. Memphis' toughest remaining regular-season game is Saturday at Gonzaga.
No. 4 seeds
13. Butler
14. UCLA
15. Kansas
16. Clemson
The buzz: Butler's game at Davidson in the BracketBusters might be the key to the Bulldogs getting a No. 4 seed. UCLA is tied for the Pac-10 lead with Washington, and the Bruins play four of their next six at home. Kansas looks to be a legit threat to win the Big 12; are the Jayhawks really that good or is the league down a bit? Clemson has some impressive road wins and could end up with a No. 3 seed.
No. 5 seeds
17. Texas
18. Illinois
19. Villanova
20. Washington
The buzz: Texas has five winnable games in a row and needs to do some damage in that span. Illinois has a great chance to finish third in the Big Ten, but three of its next four games are on the road. Villanova is sort of the forgotten team in the Big East; the Wildcats could use a road win over a "good" team. Washington is tied for the Pac-10 lead with UCLA, but the Huskies play four of their next six on the road.
No. 6 seeds
21. Syracuse
22. Missouri
23. Minnesota
24. Arizona State
The buzz: Syracuse has lost three in a row and four of five and has a tough stretch coming up. Missouri has been a pleasant surprise, but the Tigers need some more road wins. Minnesota plays four of its next five on the road, which gives the Gophers the opportunity to move up or down a few spots in the seedings. Arizona State lost twice at home over the weekend, and it's become obvious the Sun Devils lack athleticism.
No. 7 seeds
25. Gonzaga
26. Kentucky
27. Virginia Tech
28. Florida
The buzz: Gonzaga can help itself with a win Saturday when it hosts Memphis. Kentucky, like every SEC team, is flawed, but UK still could move up a few spots in the seedings. Virginia Tech has the opportunity to get a few more big wins. Florida didn't show up when it played at Tennessee on Saturday, but the Gators still have a legit chance to win the SEC.
No. 8 seeds
29. West Virginia
30. UNLV
31. California
32. Tennessee
The buzz: West Virginia has the opportunity to move up a spot or two in the seedings; the Mountaineers, though, also could drop because of the tough Big East schedule. UNLV is the pick to win the Mountain West. California has come back to earth a bit but plays five of its next seven at home. Tennessee played one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules but didn't win many of the games.
No. 9 seeds
33. USC
34. Davidson
35. Ohio State
36. BYU
The buzz: USC has won three in a row and five of six, but the Trojans play three in a row and five of their next seven on the road. Davidson could play its way into a No. 7 seed if it can beat Butler in a BracketBusters game. Ohio State is in a stretch where it plays four of six games at home, giving the Buckeyes a chance to strengthen their hold on an at-large bid. BYU is scuffling a bit of late, but the Cougars have the talent to win the Mountain West.
No. 10 seeds
37. LSU
38. Siena
39. Florida State
40. South Carolina
The buzz: LSU should win the SEC West, but that doesn't guarantee anything this season. Siena has won 13 of its past 14 but is likely to end the regular season without a win over a team in the RPI top 50. Florida State is seeking its first NCAA bid since 1998, and the Seminoles could help their seeding if they can get a road win over a "good" team. South Carolina is a surprise; it has won at Kentucky and Baylor.
No. 11 seeds
41. Utah
42. Penn State
43. Boston College
44. Texas A&M
The buzz: Utah has some impressive wins, including a 30-point demolition of LSU, but the Utes still could use a road victory over a legit foe. Penn State has been a huge surprise, but the Nittany Lions' pitiful non-conference schedule could come back to haunt them. Boston College has won four in a row, and its win at North Carolina last month might be the biggest road win for anybody this season. Texas A&M needs an impressive road win to bolster its case and plays at Oklahoma on Wednesday night.
No. 12 seeds
45. Baylor
46. Dayton
47. Utah State
48. Notre Dame
The buzz: Baylor has lost four in a row, and the Bears seem intent on playing their way out of the field. Dayton has a nice neutral-court win over Marquette and looks as if it could grab a second bid out of the Atlantic 10. Utah State has won 20 games for the 10th consecutive season, and the Aggies are running away with the WAC regular-season title. Notre Dame has lost five in a row and basically faces a must-win game against Cincinnati on Wednesday night.
No. 13 seeds
49. Northern Iowa
50. Northeastern
51. Western Kentucky
52. Buffalo
The buzz: Northern Iowa is running away with the Missouri Valley title, but has little to no hope of making the field as an at-large entrant. Northeastern hasn't been to the NCAAs since 1991 but is the leader in the Colonial and already has beaten George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth. Western Kentucky looks to be the best team in the Sun Belt, but the Hilltoppers play three of their next four on the road. Buffalo is the leader in the Mid-American Conference, which is down way down this season.
No. 14 seeds
53. Stephen F. Austin
54. Cornell
55. Vermont
56. VMI
The buzz: Stephen F. Austin looks to be the best team in the Southland and is aiming for its first NCAA berth. Cornell is the only Ivy League school ranked better than 200th in the RPI. Vermont is tied with Boston U. for the America East lead, but Vermont has won by 14 at BU already. VMI leads the nation in scoring and already has won at Big South co-leader Radford.
No. 15 seeds
57. American
58. Weber State
59. Long Beach State
60. North Dakota State
The buzz: American will battle Holy Cross for the Patriot League title. Weber State is in excellent shape in the Big Sky Conference and would get to host the league tourney semifinals and final as the regular-season champ. Long Beach State is the surprise leader in the Big West race. North Dakota State is the leader in the Summit Conference and could make the NCAA field in its first season of eligibility in Division I.
No. 16 seeds
61. Belmont
62. Robert Morris
63. Morgan State
64. Morehead State
65. Alabama State
The buzz: Belmont currently is in third place in the Atlantic Sun, but the league tourney is in Nashville, Tenn. Belmont's home and that could be enough to propel the Bruins back into the NCAAs. Robert Morris is the class of the Northeast Conference. Morgan State is on its way to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title; the Bears won the regular-season crown last season but faltered in the league tourney. Morehead State is in the driver's seat in the Ohio Valley Conference and is seeking its first NCAA bid since 1984. Alabama State should win the Southwestern Athletic Conference title; we think the SWAC winner is a definite for the play-in game.
LAST FOUR IN
Notre Dame, Dayton, Baylor, Texas A&M
LAST FOUR OUT:
Saint Mary's, Miami, Georgetown, Providence
BREAKDOWN BY LEAGUE
8: Big East
7: ACC
6: Big Ten, Big 12
5: Pac-10, SEC
3: Mountain West
2: Atlantic 10
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, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Sun Belt, West Coast, Western Athletic (23)
SOME NOTES ON THE MAKEUP OF THE FIELD
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.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive 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 UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. The other six members: Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, Texas-San Antonio AD Lynn Hickey, Utah AD Chris Hill, Kent State AD Laing Kennedy, UC Riverside AD Stan Morrison and George Mason AD Thomas O'Connor. O'Connor was the chairman last season. Hickey is just the second woman to ever serve on the committee, following Charlotte AD Judy Rose (1999-2003).
2009 TOURNAMENT DATES
March 17: Opening-round game in Dayton, Ohio
First and second rounds
March 19 and 21: Greensboro, N.C.; Kansas City, Mo.; Philadelphia; Portland, Ore.
March 20 and 22: Boise, Idaho; Dayton, Ohio; Miami; Minneapolis
Regional semifinals and final
March 26 and 28: Boston; Glendale, Ariz.
March 27 and 29: Indianapolis; Memphis, Tenn.
Final Four
April 4 and 6: Ford Field, Detroit

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



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