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February 27, 2008

Could one conference produce two top seeds?

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He'll answer your questions every week in his College Hoops Mailbag.
Feb. 20: Worried Wildcats
Feb. 13: Same story?
Feb. 7: Mixed legacy

Could two teams from the same conference land No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament? That's becoming a popular question in ACC country.

North Carolina (26-2 overall, 11-2 in the ACC) and Duke (23-3, 10-2) have legit shots at No. 1 seeds. The Tar Heels are third in the RPI and the Blue Devils are fifth.

The archrivals square off in Durham for a rematch March 8; Duke won the first meeting 89-78. Would the winner lock up one of the four top seeds? Would the loser have no shot at being a No. 1?

We explore those questions in this week's mailbag, along with others about whether a No. 16 seed will win an NCAA Tournament game (it has never happened), who should be the SEC Coach of the Year, which player who has overcome a serious injury will make the biggest impact in the NCAA Tournament and whether Miami's emergence or N.C. State's steady fall is a bigger surprise.

ACC Seeding

Could North Carolina and Duke both get No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament? Has that ever happened before?

Chris from Wilmington, N.C.

Yes and yes. North Carolina and Duke have twice been No. 1 seeds together. The first time was 1998, when North Carolina reached the Final Four and fell to Utah in the semifinals and Duke lost a double-digit lead in the second half and fell to Kentucky in a regional final.

It happened again in 2005, when Duke lost to Michigan State in the Sweet 16 and North Carolina went on to win it all.

Duke and North Carolina could be No. 1 seeds together again, although it is unlikely. Both would need to win the rest of their regular-season games before squaring off in Durham on March 8. The loser of that matchup then would need to win the ACC Tournament while the winner probably would have to reach the championship game.

In addition, they would need some help, with either Texas and/or UCLA losing at some point in their conference tournaments.

Memphis losing in the Conference USA Tournament also could open up a No. 1 seed, but that is a long shot. The Tigers haven't lost to a league opponent in more than two years, and the league tournament is held on their home court in the FedEx Forum.

Sweet 16?

Will we ever see a No. 1 seed lose to a No. 16 seed? If so, who is the No. 1 seed with the best chance of falling in the first round this year?

Steven from Tacoma, Wash.

Yes. I expect to see it happen two or three times in my lifetime (I turn 29 later this year).

It's almost happened a few times already. Everyone seems to remember top-seeded Georgetown famously escaping with a 50-49 win over No. 16 Princeton in 1989. But four other 1-16 matchups have been decided by four points or fewer (Michigan beat Fairleigh Dickinson 59-55 in 1985, Oklahoma beat East Tennessee State 72-71 in 1989, Michigan State beat Murray State 75-71 in overtime in 1990 and Purdue beat Western Carolina 73-71 in 1996).

In the 2006 NCAA Tournament, every 1-16 matchup was competitive. Albany had a lead for most of the second half against tourney favorite UConn, leading 50-38 at one point, before falling 72-59.

As far as which No. 1 seed is most susceptible to fall in the first round this year, I'd go with Tennessee. I'd be shocked if the Vols actually lost to a No. 16, but they play so recklessly at times and have a history of losing big leads (Ohio State was trailing by 20 points and came back to beat the Vols in the 2007 NCAA Tournament), which I think makes them vulnerable to more opponents than other elite teams.

And the winner is

Who gets your vote for SEC coach of the year? I think it has to be between Bruce Pearl and Kevin Stallings.

Evan from Chattanooga, Tenn.

I'd give Stallings the slight edge. Nobody picked Tennessee to be the best team in the country, but just about everyone thought the Vols had Final Four potential. The only player they lost from a Sweet 16 team was glue guy Dane Bradshaw, and he was replaced by Tyler Smith, a third-team All-Big Ten selection last season as a freshman.

Vanderbilt was supposed to take a significant step backward with the loss of Derrick Byars. But the Commodores don't appear to miss him at all. They may be better than they were last season, thanks mostly to the addition of Australian center A.J. Ogilvy, whom Stallings must get credit for finding.

Surprise, surprise

What's been the bigger surprise to you Miami turning its season around or NC State falling well short of an at-large bid?

Chris from Madison, N.J.

I'm proud to say I wasn't buying into the preseason hype with NC State. I had my doubts whether the Wolfpack's run to the championship game of the ACC Tournament last season was a sign of things to come or just a team getting hot at the right time. They had gone 5-11 in league play with a handful of embarrassing losses with virtually the same team.

But I am surprised by how much Brandon Costner has regressed. I thought Costner was on his way to becoming a star.

I never thought Miami, who was picked to finish last in the ACC, would be anywhere near an NCAA Tournament bid. Guard Jack McClinton has become a great shooter, the kind who can single-handedly win games when he's on. His supporting cast has vastly improved.

Impact from the injured

Which player who has been seriously injured this season will have the biggest impact in the NCAA Tournament?

Patrick from Edgewater, Md.

North Carolina's Ty Lawson looks like the obvious pick. The speedy sophomore, who has missed six consecutive games with a sprained ankle, is one of the top point guards in the country. But I'll go with another point guard: Pittsburgh's Levance Fields.

UNC has fared well without Lawson, and backup Quentin Thomas has excelled in his absence, far exceeding anyone's expectations. I'm starting to think the Tar Heels could get to the Final Four without Lawson.

Pitt, on the other hand, looked like a Final Four team before Fields broke his foot in late December. Without Fields, they have looked like a bubble team. He returned last week, and once he completely shakes off the rust, the Panthers will get off the bubble and be capable of engineering some huge upsets in the Big Dance.

Andrew Skwara is the national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his Mailbag.

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