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March 16, 2008

Drive for 65: Forecasting the NCAA field

Here is our final projection of how the NCAA Tournament field will look when it is unveiled.

Teams are grouped by projected seed and listed from strongest to weakest within that seed.

(NOTES: Teams listed in BOLD type clinched automatic bids. LAST UPDATE: Sunday, March 16, 5:45 p.m. ET)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
1. North Carolina (32-2)
2. Memphis (33-1)
3. UCLA (31-3)
4. Kansas (31-3)
THE BUZZ: Memphis blew through C-USA, then the C-USA tourney field; is the Tigers' resume enough to garner them the overall No. 1 seed? UCLA looks good for a No. 1, too. North Carolina could be the overall No. 1 because it won the ACC tourney. Kansas likely gets a No. 1 after its Big 12 tourney title and Tennessee's loss in the SEC tourney.

5. Tennessee (29-4)
6. Duke (27-5)
7. Texas (28-6)
8. Georgetown (27-5)
THE BUZZ: Texas could've been a No. 1 had it won the Big 12 tourney. Tennessee likely falls to a No. 2 after its loss in the SEC semifinals. Georgetown looks like a No. 2 even with its loss to Pitt in the Big East final. Same with Duke despite its loss to Clemson in an ACC semifinal.
9. Wisconsin (29-4)
10. Xavier (27-6)
11. Louisville (24-8)
12. Stanford (26-7)
THE BUZZ: Stanford struggled in the last week of the regular season, but its good run in the Pac-10 tourney erases that. Louisville could drop to a No. 4 because of its early loss in the Big East tourney. Xavier looks like a No. 3 regardless of its loss in the A-10 tourney. Wisconsin won the Big Ten tourney.
13. Pitt (26-9)
14. Notre Dame (24-7)
15. Drake (28-4)
16. Purdue (24-8)
THE BUZZ: Pitt's Big East tourney title could get the Panthers a No. 3 seed, and Notre Dame could end up as a No. 5. Purdue has been a big surprise, but the loss to Illinois in the Big Ten tourney could cost them a spot in the seeding ladder. Drake has been a monster surprise and won both the Missouri Valley regular-season and tourney titles.
17. Michigan State (25-8)
18. Butler (29-3)
19. Clemson (24-9)
20. Connecticut (24-8)
THE BUZZ: Michigan State has underachieved a bit this season. Can Butler, which won the Horizon League, get a No. 5 seed? The Bulldogs have a gaudy record, yes, but they also have just one win over a team in the RPI top 50. Clemson moved up a spot because of its run in the ACC tourney. UConn's early exit in Big East tourney likely costs them a No. 4 seed.
21. Washington State (24-8)
22. Indiana (25-7)
23. Marquette (24-9)
24. Vanderbilt (26-6)
THE BUZZ: Washington State's defense, supposedly the Cougars' calling card, has let them down at times. Indiana has faded a bit of late and an early exit in the Big Ten tourney might drop them to a No. 6 seed. Marquette had a nice run in the Big East tourney. Vandy hurt itself with a loss to Arkansas in the SEC quarterfinals; the Commodores could be a No. 7.
26. Oklahoma (22-11)
27. USC (21-11)
29. West Virginia (23-10)
28. BYU (27-7)
THE BUZZ: Oklahoma could end up as a No. 6. USC played well down the stretch. BYU won the Mountain West regular-season title but lost in the tourney final; the Cougars could end up a spot or two lower. West Virginia could end up as a No. 7 after its showing in the Big East tourney.
29. Gonzaga (25-7)
30. Mississippi State (22-9)
31. Texas A&M (24-10)
32. Arkansas (22-11)
THE BUZZ: Mississippi State easily won the SEC West, but the Bulldogs' RPI and their loss to a Georgia team that was playing twice in one day in the SEC tourney likely will be held against them. Gonzaga was upset in the final of the West Coast tourney and seeding is the big question surrounding the Zags; they could be a No. 7. Texas A&M had a nice run in the Big 12 tourney. Arkansas moves up a few spots because of its work in the SEC tourney.
33. UNLV (27-7)
34. Miami (22-10)
35. Kentucky (18-12)
36. Kansas State (20-11)
THE BUZZ: UNLV won the Mountain West tourney on its home court but still may be a No. 10. Miami got its needed win in the ACC tourney. Kentucky has played superb basketball of late, though the loss to Georgia in the SEC tourney could cost them a spot. K-State has the best player in the nation, but it faded down the stretch.
37. Kent State (27-6)
38. Arizona (19-14)
39. Baylor (21-10)
40. Villanova (20-12)
THE BUZZ: Kent State won the MAC regular-season and tourney titles, and could be a spot or two higher though, frankly, it's better to be a No. 10 than a No. 8 or 9. Villanova beat Syracuse on Wednesday in the first round of the Big East tourney in what essentially was an NCAA play-in game. Baylor suffered a bad loss in the first round of the Big 12 tourney. Arizona is one of the most confounding teams in the nation; the midseason injury to PG Nic Wise who since has returned should cause the selection committee to look favorably on the Wildcats.
41. Illinois State (24-9)
42. Davidson (26-6)
43. Temple (21-12)
44. South Alabama (26-5)
THE BUZZ: Davidson won the Southern Conference tourney after going 20-0 against SoCon opponents during the regular season. Illinois State finished second in the Missouri Valley in the regular season and also was the tourney runner-up. Temple won the A-10 tourney after finishing second in the league in the regular season. South Alabama was stunned on its home court in the semifinals of the Sun Belt tourney, and will be sweating out the selection show.
45. Saint Mary's (25-6)
46. Western Kentucky (27-6)
47. Saint Joseph's (21-12)
48. George Mason (23-10)
THE BUZZ: Saint Mary's was upset in the West Coast tourney semifinals, and the Gaels would be the third team from the WCC; that league never has had three bids. Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt tourney. Saint Joseph's is the final team in our field, by virtue of the Hawks' two wins over Xavier and their A-10 tourney run. George Mason was the surprise CAA tourney winner.
49. Oral Roberts (23-8)
50. San Diego (21-13)
51. Siena (22-10)
52. Georgia (17-16)
THE BUZZ: San Diego pulled the tourney surprise in the West Coast Conference. Oral Roberts won the Summit League and will be making its third consecutive NCAA trip. Siena, which won the MAAC tourney, beat Stanford by 12 in November. Georgia made a miracle run including two wins in one day over NCAA tourney-bound teams to win the SEC tourney.
53. Cornell (22-5)
54. Cal State Fullerton (24-8)
55. Boise State (25-8)
56. Belmont (25-8)
THE BUZZ: Cornell, making its first appearance since 1988, finished unbeaten in Ivy League play. Boise State finished in a four-way tie for the WAC regular-season title and won the tourney in triple-overtime over host New Mexico State. Fullerton State won the Big West tourney as the No. 3 seed and is making its first NCAA trip since 1978, when it lost in the West Regional final to Arkansas and its "Triplets." Belmont is headed for its third consecutive NCAA appearance.
57. American (21-11)
58. UMBC (24-8)
59. Portland State (23-9)
60. Winthrop (22-11)
THE BUZZ: Portland State is making its first appearance. American, also making its first trip, is coached by former Virginia head man Jeff Jones. UMBC has earned its first NCAA bid, as well. Winthrop, on the other hand, is NCAA-bound for the fourth consecutive season.
61. Austin Peay (24-10)
62. Texas-Arlington (21-11)
63. Miss. Valley St. (17-15)
64. Mount St. Mary's (18-14)
65. Coppin State (16-20)
THE BUZZ: Austin Peay is making its first appearance since 2003. Texas-Arlington took advantage of a rash of upsets in the Southland tourney and won it as the No. 7 seed. Mount St. Mary's won the Northeast Conference. Mississippi Valley State won the SWAC tourney title on two free throws with less than a second left. Coppin State, the surprise winner of the MEAC tourney as the No. 7 seed, is the losingest team in NCAA tourney history.
8: Big East
6: Big 12, SEC
5: Pac-10
4: ACC, Big Ten
3: West Coast, Atlantic 10
2: Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Sun Belt
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, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Western Athletic (20)
  • 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.

  • In case you were wondering, six of the 10 people on this season's NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are from non-"Big Six" leagues. George Mason athletic director Thomas O'Connor is the chairman. The other members: UCLA AD Dan Guerrero, Connecticut AD Jeff Hathaway, Texas-San Antonio AD Lynn Hickey, Utah AD Chris Hill, Kent State AD Laing Kennedy, Horizon League commissioner Jonathan LeCrone, UC Riverside AD Stan Morrison, SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Ohio State AD Gene Smith.

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