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InsideHoops [NCAA HOME] Feb. 22, 2004

The Spin: Predicting the Tournament Field of 65

 


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Just one month until brackets begin falling apart across the country. So now's as good a time as any to look at which teams have nothing to worry about, those which still need to prove their worth, and those on the outside looking in.

There are 16 conferences that have no shot whatsoever of getting more than one bid:

America East, MEAC
Atlantic Sun, Northeast
Big Sky, Ohio Valley
Big South, Patriot
Colonial, Southern
Horizon, Southland
Ivy, SWAC
Mid-Continent, Sun Belt


And there are four other conferences that would only receive a second NCAA Tournament bid if the heavy favorite listed below is upset in the conference tournament (in order of likelihood):

WCC (Gonzaga)
Missouri Valley (Southern Illinois)
Big West (Utah State)
MAAC (Manhattan)

While Gonzaga is a lock to dance, SIU is a near-lock and would do well to finish up strong just in case. Utah State certainly has better at-large credentials than Manhattan, but neither can afford more than one regular-season loss the rest of the way and must reach the conference tournament championship game to have a reasonable shot at an at-large berth.

The Mid-American Conference has two viable at-large options in Kent State and Western Michigan. In order for the MAC to get both into the NCAAs, though, the best-case scenario would be for both teams to play well down the stretch and then meet each other in the MAC championship game. Neither team's RPI is currently impressive enough on its own for a sure dance ticket.

Even if the MAC does get two teams, and the other 20 conferences above get just one bid, there are still 43 spots to be filled among the remaining ten conferences. Here's how things break down entering the weekend:

ACC (5-7 bids)
No worries: Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, North Carolina
Still something to prove: Florida State, Maryland
Outside looking in: None.

The ACC is looking pretty good in its quest for seven bids this year. While there are five sure-fire tourney teams, Florida State's troubles away from home and Maryland's roller-coaster ride are the only things keeping them on the stand-by list at this moment. Many have Maryland as a sure thing, but I'm not convinced just yet.

Atlantic 10 (2-4 bids)
No worries: Saint Joseph's
Still something to prove: Dayton
Outside looking in: Xavier, Richmond, George Washington

Dayton is a near-lock, especially with the conference tournament being held on its home court, where the Flyers excel. But whether the A-10 gets more than two bids is entirely up to how Richmond, Xavier, and even George Washington finish. Richmond is boosted by a strong RPI and a high-quality win at Kansas, but the Spiders also have double digits in defeats already. Expect one of these three to finish strong and give the conference a third tournament representative.

Big 12 (4-6 bids)
No worries: Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas, Texas Tech
Still something to prove: Oklahoma
Outside looking in: Colorado, Missouri, Iowa State

It's hard to imagine the Big 12 not getting five bids, but it would be encouraging to see Oklahoma look like a tournament team one of these days. I'm not so sure the Sooners are a tournament-caliber club. But when comparing blemishes with Colorado, underachieving Missouri and Iowa State, Kelvin Sampson's bunch appears most likely to be that fifth entry out of the conference right now. Big East (4-6 bids)
No worries: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Providence
Still something to prove: Seton Hall, Boston College, Syracuse
Outside looking in: Notre Dame, Villanova, Rutgers, West Virginia

Just like every year in the Big East, it's going to come down to the Big East Tournament before the picture gets any clearer. So many similar teams, it's hard to make a strong case for any of them at this point in time. The next month will be crucial, and by early March, there will likely be about eight teams competing for five or six NCAA bids.

Big Ten (3-4 bids)
No worries: Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State
Still something to prove: None
Outside looking in: Purdue, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana

As bad as the Big Ten has been this season, it doesn't deserve any more than four bids. And that's only if one of the three teams on the outside looking in peak at the right time. Michigan State has done well in Big Ten play to right the ship, and although Tom Izzo's bunch lost all of their tough non-conference games, the committee will reward them for at least playing the games, much like it has rewarded Temple in past seasons, win or lose.

Conference USA (4-6 bids)
No worries: Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis
Still something to prove: UAB, Charlotte
Outside looking in: DePaul, Marquette

This has been a very good season for C-USA. Lots of depth and the conference will likely be rewarded for it on Selection Sunday. I would expect five bids, but there could be a sixth if DePaul or Marquette finishes strong and/or makes a run deep into the conference tourney.

Mountain West (1-2 bids)
No worries: None
Still something to prove: Utah, Air Force
Outside looking in: BYU

This conference is hard to figure. There isn't one dominant team, and although Air Force has just one conference loss, its style of play is such that the Falcons could lose to anyone just as easily as they could beat anyone (see loss to UT-Pan American on Monday). BYU's saving grace is an early-season victory over Oklahoma State, but the Cougars will need more than that in order to be included when the brackets are released.

Pac-10 (2-3 bids)
No worries: Stanford, Arizona
Still something to prove: None
Outside looking in: Oregon, California

The Pac-10 is so weak this season, I'm not even sure that Oregon is a realistic third option. They are just too one-dimensional and don't defend well enough to keep from losing a few more games. Of course, a run in the Pac-10 Tournament by the Ducks or even California could change things. But if ever there was a year to take just two Pac-10 teams to the Dance, this is it.

SEC (5-7 bids)
No worries: Mississippi State, Kentucky, LSU, South Carolina
Still something to prove: Florida, Vanderbilt
Outside looking in: Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia

The SEC always gets plenty of respect from the committee, and rightly so. It's always extremely competitive and a .500 record in league play isn't such a bad thing. That being said, either Florida or Vandy needs to step up and start playing like a tournament team - and not just every other game, either. Alabama only gets billing because they have faced the No. 1 schedule in the land, and if they can somehow pull it together to finish up the regular-season slate, they'll at least warrant consideration.

WAC (1-2 bids)
No worries: None
Still something to prove: None
Outside looking in: UTEP, Hawaii, Rice, Nevada

None of these teams have great at-large cases, but one can be made if any of these four run the table the rest of the way. Nevada's win over Kansas is the most impressive, but Hawaii will have a chance to make an impression late-night Saturday at Southern Illinois. These teams have beat on each other so much during the regular season, it's unlikely the WAC will get more than one bid.

One thing I recommend doing before you say no to any of these teams' tourney chances, is to come up with a field of 65 at this very moment, and then you'll realize why all of these teams listed have legitimate, not just fleeting, chances at being there in mid-March. Parity is as great as its ever been, and when you break it down yourself, you'll see exactly what I mean. Enjoy the next month. It's going to be a lot of fun.







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