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February 24, 2009

The Drive for 65: Picking up the pace

We're less than three weeks from "Selection Sunday" (March 15), and we're now going to have two bracket projections per week one on Tuesdays, one on Fridays.

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 Sunday and come from collegerpi.com.)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
No. 1 seeds
1. Pittsburgh
2. North Carolina
3. Connecticut
4. Oklahoma
The buzz: Pitt has won seven in a row and has the No. 1 RPI in the nation. North Carolina's overtime loss at Maryland on Saturday hurt the Tar Heels' chances to be the overall No. 1 seed. Still, the Heels almost certainly will play in Greensboro, N.C., in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. Connecticut still has a shot at the overall No. 1 seed assuming the Huskies win out in the regular season. Oklahoma is seeking its first No. 1 seed since 2003, when it lost in the East Regional final to Syracuse.
No. 2 seeds
5. Louisville
6. Michigan State
7. Memphis
8. Duke
The buzz: Louisville is tied for the Big East lead in the loss column, and the Cardinals easily could win out and be the No. 1 seed in the league tourney. Michigan State is in the driver's seat in the Big Ten, but still has games left against Illinois and Purdue. Memphis once again is cruising through Conference USA, but the Tigers have just three wins against teams in the RPI top 50 (Gonzaga, Tennessee and UAB). Duke's victory over Wake Forest on Sunday night was big, as it kept the Blue Devils' hopes alive to play in Greensboro in the first and second rounds.
No. 3 seeds
9. Villanova
10. Wake Forest
11. Clemson
12. Purdue
The buzz: If it can win its four remaining regular-season games (DePaul, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Providence), Villanova easily could be a No. 2 seed. Wake Forest has lost five of nine and may have played itself out of the chance to play in Greensboro in the first and second rounds. Clemson could drop a seed or two if it falters in its tough season-closing stretch. Purdue has won four in a row and is a game behind Michigan State in the Big Ten.
No. 4 seeds
13. Marquette
14. Kansas
15. Illinois
16. Missouri
The buzz: Marquette is one of four teams tied for the Big East lead in the loss column, but the Golden Eagles close out the regular season with games against UConn, Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse. Kansas has been a big surprise and could end up as a No. 3 seed. Illinois isn't always pretty to watch on offense, but the Illini have won four of their past five going into a tough closing run against Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State. Missouri has won six in a row and has the opportunity to play itself into a No. 3 and maybe even No. 2 seed.
No. 5 seeds
17. Washington
18. Xavier
19. Arizona State
20. Florida State
The buzz: Washington has a half-game lead in the Pac-10, and its remaining three conference games are at home - where the Huskies have lost just once this season. Xavier has lost three of five, and Thursday's game at Saint Joseph's is important in the A-10 title race. Arizona State is a half-game behind Washington in the Pac-10. If the Sun Devils want to win the league, it would behoove them to beat the Huskies in Seattle on Thursday. Florida State is tied for second in the ACC and has won five of its past six as it attempts to get into the NCAA field for the first time since 1998. But the Seminoles' closing stretch is a tough one: at Boston College, vs. Clemson, at Duke and vs. Virginia Tech.
No. 6 seeds
21. UCLA
22. West Virginia
23. Syracuse
24. Texas
The buzz: UCLA has lost three of four and plays its next two on the road. West Virginia has won three in a row and four of its past five, and its RPI is 13th. Syracuse is stumbling down the stretch, having lost three of four and six of eight, and the Orange could drop another seed or two. Texas has won three of its past four, and Saturday's win over Oklahoma even if the Sooners were without Blake Griffin for most of the game was especially big.
No. 7 seeds
25. Butler
26. Utah
27. LSU
28. Gonzaga
The buzz: Butler has a good RPI (20th), but the Bulldogs have played just three teams ranked in the top 50. The soft schedule likely will hurt their seeding. Utah is another team with an impressive RPI (11th), but the Utes have no road wins of note, which likely will hurt their seeding. LSU is in good shape to win the SEC regular-season title, but the Tigers' pitiful non-conference schedule it ranks 257th hurts their RPI (33rd). Gonzaga already has clinched the West Coast Conference regular-season title and has a good shot at going unbeaten in league play.
No. 8 seeds
29. California
30. Minnesota
31. Ohio State
32. Arizona
The buzz: Cal is tied for third in the Pac-10 but has a bruising closing schedule: vs. USC, vs. UCLA, at Arizona and at Arizona State. Minnesota has lost six of 10, but the Golden Gophers still have a shot at finishing fourth in the Big Ten. Their next two games are against Illinois and Wisconsin, so don't expect any offensive masterpieces. Ohio State has lost three in a row and still has some work to do. Arizona almost rallied to beat archrival Arizona State on Sunday; that loss snapped a seven-game winning streak.
No. 9 seeds
33. Wisconsin
34. USC
35. Tennessee
36. Boston College
The buzz: Wisconsin has won five of its past six and still has a chance to finish fourth in the Big Ten. USC is scuffling a bit four losses in the past five games but the remaining schedule is such that a 3-1 finish to the regular season is a distinct possibility; that would put the Trojans at 10-8 in the Pac-10. Tennessee has a strong RPI (25th), but the Vols are limping home. The Volunteers have lost two in a row, three of five and five of nine. They also have road games left against Florida and South Carolina, so a spot in the field of 65 isn't a lock at all. Boston College has wins over Duke and North Carolina, but needs to go at least 2-1 the rest of the way to truly feel good about itself.
No. 10 seeds
37. Kentucky
38. Dayton
39. Florida
40. UNLV
The buzz: Despite a so-so RPI (61st), Kentucky is tied for the SEC East lead. But the Wildcats' remaining schedule is tough at South Carolina, vs. LSU and at Florida are among the final four games. Dayton played a weak non-conference schedule, but the Flyers do have a victory over Marquette. Florida is tied for the SEC East lead, but plays LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Kentucky to close out the regular season. UNLV is in fifth place in the Mountain West, but the Runnin' Rebels still could finish second in the league - plus they host the conference tournament.
No. 11 seeds
41. Maryland
42. BYU
43. Siena
44. Cincinnati
The buzz: Maryland's OT win over North Carolina puts the Terps squarely in the NCAA discussion. Maryland has Duke and Wake Forest both at home still on the schedule, so the potential exists for another big win. BYU has two big ones back-to-back: at San Diego State tonight and vs. Utah on Saturday; wins in both would all but nail down a bid. Siena already has won the Metro Atlantic Athletic regular-season crown, but the Saints' at-large hopes are iffy. Cincinnati is 7-7 in the Big East and needs to finish .500 in the league to have a shot at an at-large. Getting swept by Providence hurts the Bearcats' chances.
No. 12 seeds
45. Creighton
46. South Carolina
47. Utah State
48. Penn State
The buzz: Creighton has won eight in a row and 11 of its past 13 to move into a tie atop the Missouri Valley standings with Northern Iowa; the teams split this season, with each winning on the other's home court. South Carolina is tied for the SEC East lead and still has home games remaining against division contenders Kentucky and Tennessee. Utah State hasn't helped its at-large cause by losing two of its past three, but the Aggies remain prohibitive favorites to win the WAC tourney. Penn State's RPI (62nd) isn't that impressive, but the Nittany Lions have some good victories, most notably at Illinois and at Michigan State and at home against Purdue. Still, Penn State probably needs to win three of its remaining four regular-season games to be able to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.
No. 13 seeds
49. Davidson
50. Virginia Commonwealth
51. Western Kentucky
52. Buffalo
The buzz: Davidson has lost three of five, and it looks as if the Wildcats need to win the Southern Conference tourney to get an NCAA bid. Virginia Commonwealth currently is atop the standings in the Colonial, which has five other teams still in the running for the No. 1 seed in the league tourney. Western Kentucky is tied for the Sun Belt regular-season lead with Arkansas-Little Rock, but the Hilltoppers swept UALR this season. Buffalo has lost three in a row but still leads the MAC.
No. 14 seeds
53. American
54. Weber State
55. Binghamton
56. Cornell
The buzz: American has won 14 of its past 15 and is one win away from clinching the Patriot League regular-season title. Likewise, Weber State is one win away from clinching the Big Sky regular-season title. Binghamton is tied for the America East lead with Vermont, but the Bearcats swept Vermont in the season series. Cornell is in good position to win the Ivy League, the only conference without a tournament.
No. 15 seeds
57. Stephen F. Austin
58. North Dakota State
59. Belmont
60. Robert Morris
The buzz: Stephen F. Austin is part of a five-team battle to get the No. 1 seed in the Southland. North Dakota State is in good shape to win the Summit League in its first season as a full-fledged Division I member. Belmont's bid to win the Atlantic Sun regular-season title likely will go down to the season's final day, when the Bruins play host to Jacksonville. Robert Morris has lost two in a row but already has clinched at least a tie for the Northeast Conference regular-season title.
No. 16 seeds
61. UT-Martin
62. CS Northridge
63. Morgan State
64. Radford
65. Alabama State
The buzz: UT-Martin is in good shape to get the top seed in the Ohio Valley tourney. CS Northridge has a tough closing stretch in the Big West, but plays co-leader Long Beach State at home. Morgan State won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title last season, but faltered in the league tourney. Radford has clinched the Big South regular-season title. Alabama State looks to be the best team in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and the SWAC winner almost certainly will be in the play-in game.
Penn State, South Carolina, Cincinnati, BYU
Virginia Tech, San Diego State, Miami, Oklahoma State
8: Big East
7: ACC, Big Ten
6: Pac-10
5: SEC
4: Big 12
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)
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).
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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