February 18, 2009

The Drive for 65: Time getting short

We're less than four weeks from "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.

(Note: All RPI figures are through play Monday and come from collegerpi.com.)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
No. 1 seeds
1. North Carolina
2. Pittsburgh
3. Oklahoma
4. Connecticut
The buzz: Barring a late swoon, North Carolina will be in Greensboro, N.C., for the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. Pitt's final two regular-season games are home contests against Marquette and Connecticut. Oklahoma has a tough stretch to close out the regular season, with games against Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma State still to go. UConn still has road games left against Marquette and Pitt.
No. 2 seeds

5. Michigan State
6. Louisville
7. Duke
8. Villanova
The buzz: Louisville has lost two of its past four, but the Cardinals are in good position to win the Big East. Michigan State is 8-1 vs. teams in the RPI top 50, and a strong finish keeps the Spartans in the hunt for a No. 1 seed. Villanova has the third-best RPI in the Big East (ninth) and could win out in the regular season. Duke's lack of an inside presence has manifested itself: The Blue Devils have lost four of their past six. Still, Duke is hoping to be able to play in Greensboro, N.C., in the first and second rounds.
No. 3 seeds
9. Memphis
10. Wake Forest
11. Marquette
12. Clemson
The buzz: Memphis easily could go into the NCAA tournament with a 25-game winning streak, which would include winning the C-USA tourney. Wake Forest has lost four of its past seven, but the Demon Deacons still are hoping to play in Greensboro, N.C., in the first and second rounds. Marquette has a monster closing stretch, playing Georgetown, Connecticut, Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse to end the regular season. That means the Golden Eagles could be a seed higher or one or two lower. Clemson could get a No. 2 seed if it closes strong.
No. 4 seeds
13. Xavier
14. Illinois
15. Kansas
16. Purdue
The buzz: Xavier, which has lost two of its past three, is tied for the Atlantic 10 lead with Dayton. Illinois has won three in a row and four of five and could move up a spot in the seedings with a strong close. The Illini also could drop a spot or two if they struggle down the stretch. Kansas' finish in the Big 12 will be determined by a two-game stretch that has the Jayhawks playing at Oklahoma on Feb. 23 and hosting Missouri on March 1. Purdue hasn't played well without Robbie Hummel, but that will be taken into account by the selection committee.
No. 5 seeds
17. Washington
18. Missouri
19. Ohio State
20. UCLA
The buzz: Washington owns a one-game lead in the Pac-10, but the Huskies' next four games are tough: at UCLA, at USC, vs. Arizona State and vs. Arizona. A sweep of that quartet and a No. 4 seed beckons. Missouri has won five in a row and nine of 10 and has an outside shot at the Big 12 regular-season title. Ohio State has won four of its past five and still has a chance to finish second in the Big Ten. UCLA has lost two in a row, but plays four of its final six at home, including a huge Pac-10 showdown against Washington on Thursday.
No. 6 seeds
21. Arizona State
22. Syracuse
23. California
24. Utah
The buzz: Arizona State has won four in a row, and the Sun Devils' chances for the Pac-10 regular-season title likely will be determined by the outcome of their next two games: vs. Arizona and at Washington. Syracuse has lost five of its past seven overall and five in a row on the road. California has won three in a row and owns a season sweep of Washington, but four of the Bears' final six regular-season games are on the road. Utah is the Mountain West leader and is 11th in the RPI despite no wins over teams in the RPI top 30.
No. 7 seeds
25. Butler
26. Florida State
27. West Virginia
28. Dayton
The buzz: Butler has a two-game lead in the Horizon League and plays at Davidson on Saturday in what looks to be the best BracketBuster game. Florida State has an unreal closing stretch: the Seminoles already have lost to Wake Forest and now play Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Clemson, Duke and Virginia Tech again to close out the regular season. West Virginia has a big-time RPI (16th) despite being at .500 in Big East play; a 4-2 record the rest of the way looks very doable. Dayton has won nine of its past 10 and is tied for the Atlantic 10 lead with Xavier. The Flyers also have an impressive neutral-court win over Marquette.
No. 8 seeds
29. Minnesota
30. Gonzaga
31. LSU
32. Tennessee
The buzz: Minnesota is fundamentally sound and plays good defense, but a lack of offense has been the main reason the Gophers have lost three of their past four and five of their past eight. Gonzaga has underachieved relative to its talent level, but the Zags still are running away with the West Coast Conference title. LSU looks as if it will win the SEC regular-season title, but a 10-point home loss to Xavier and a 30-point loss at Utah make you wonder how far the Tigers can go in the tournament. Tennessee has been a disappointment, but the Vols have a strong RPI (18th) and still can win the SEC East.
No. 9 seeds
33. Arizona
34. UNLV
35. Wisconsin
36. Texas
The buzz: Arizona is on fire, having won seven in a row to move squarely into the at-large picture. In Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, the Wildcats have two potential NBA lottery picks. UNLV gets to host the Mountain West tournament, and the Runnin' Rebels need to finish strong and make a nice run in the league tourney to get a seeding this good. Wisconsin quietly has won four in a row to put itself in good position to earn an at-large bid. Texas is fading fast; the Longhorns have lost four of six and could play themselves out of the field.
No. 10 seeds
37. Utah State
38. Boston College
39. BYU
40. Virginia Tech
The buzz: Utah State has a gaudy record (24-2) and good RPI (33rd), but the Aggies have played a weak schedule and 13 of their wins are over teams that have an RPI of 200 or worse; in other words, they want to win the WAC tourney to make sure they're in the field. Boston College has wins over Duke and North Carolina, and can all but lock up a bid with wins in its next two games over Miami and Florida State. Virginia Tech's RPI (51st) isn't that impressive, but the Hokies have road victories over Wake Forest and Miami. Still, there are games left against Florida State (twice), Duke, Clemson and North Carolina, so the Hokies' hold on a spot is tenuous. BYU is in the midst of a tough stretch in which the Cougars can either nail down a bid or risk falling out of the field.
No. 11 seeds
41. Kentucky
42. Florida
43. USC
44. Siena
The buzz: Kentucky's RPI (61st) isn't impressive and the Wildcats have a tough closing stretch that sees them playing LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida in short, the four other SEC teams with legit NCAA hopes. USC has lost three in a row, but the Trojans play four of their final six games at home. Florida has lost three of four and is in danger of playing its way out of the field for the second season in a row; the Gators' non-conference schedule was pitiful and they need some more wins. Siena has won 11 of its past 12, but the Saints have no wins over teams in the top 50 of the RPI, so it would behoove them to win the Metro Atlantic tourney to make sure of their NCAA bid.
No. 12 seeds
45. South Carolina
46. Davidson
47. Cincinnati
48. San Diego State
The buzz: South Carolina is tied for the SEC East lead, and the Gamecocks play co-leaders Kentucky and Tennessee at home down the stretch. Davidson's chances for an at-large bid seem iffy, so the Wildcats would be best-served by winning the Southern Conference tourney. Cincinnati's next three games are against Louisville, West Virginia and Syracuse, giving the Bearcats a chance to nail down their spot in the field. San Diego State has won five of its past six and is in second place in the Mountain West. But the Aztecs are just 1-4 vs. teams in the RPI top 50, so they must finish strong.
No. 13 seeds
49. Northeastern
50. Northern Iowa
51. Buffalo
52. Arkansas-Little Rock
The buzz: Northeastern is tied with Virginia Commonwealth for the lead in the Colonial, but the Huskies won at VCU in the only regular-season meeting between the teams. Northern Iowa is in good position to win the Missouri Valley, which is down this season. Buffalo has a one-game lead over Miami in the MAC, and the Bulls already have won at Miami this season. Arkansas-Little Rock has won five in a row and owns a half-game lead in the Sun Belt. The league tourney will be played in Hot Springs, Ark., about an hour from UALR's campus.
No. 14 seeds
53. American
54. Weber State
55. Binghamton
56. Cornell
The buzz: American has a one-game lead in the Patriot League and can go a long way toward wrapping up the regular-season title when it plays second-place Holy Cross on Saturday. Weber State, which has won eight in a row, has a two-game lead in the loss column in the Big Sky Conference. Binghamton trails Vermont by a half-game in America East, but the Bearcats swept Vermont this season. Cornell leads the Ivy League and is the only conference team above .500 overall.
No. 15 seeds
57. North Dakota State
58. Belmont
59. UT-Martin
60. Robert Morris
The buzz: North Dakota State is aiming for the Summit League title in its first season as a full-fledged Division I member. Belmont is looking for its fourth consecutive NCAA bid out of the Atlantic Sun Conference, and the league tourney will be in the Bruins' hometown of Nashville. UT-Martin has one of the nation's best players in Lester Hudson and is our pick to win the Ohio Valley tourney. Robert Morris is in excellent shape to win the Northeast Conference regular-season title. If the Colonials win the title, they would play every league tournament game at home.
No. 16 seeds
61. CS Northridge
62. Radford
63. Morgan State
64. Nicholls State
65. Alabama State
The buzz: Northridge is the current leader in the Big West and gets to host second-place Long Beach State later this month. Radford has a two-game lead in the Big South over VMI and is trying for just its second NCAA bid. Morgan State has a three-game lead in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Nicholls State is our pick to win the Southland Conference; the Colonels haven't been to the NCAA tourney since 1998. Alabama State has a one-game lead in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and is the only league team above .500 overall.
LAST FOUR IN
San Diego State, Cincinnati, South Carolina, Florida
LAST FOUR OUT:
Miami, Michigan, Penn State, Kansas State
BREAKDOWN BY LEAGUE
8: Big East
7: ACC
6: Big Ten, Pac-10
5: SEC
4: Big 12, 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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