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January 22, 2008

Forecasting the NCAA field

We're less than two months from "Selection Sunday" (March 16), and here is our projection of how the NCAA Tournament field will look when it is unveiled that day.

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

(NOTES: Teams denoted by asterisks must win their leagues to get into the field. RPI figures through Sunday's game and courtesy of collegerpi.com. If a team doesn't have a "worst loss," it means that in our opinion there isn't one.)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
NO. 1 SEEDS
Memphis
Overall seed: No. 1.
Record: 17-0.
RPI: 2.
Best win: 85-71 vs. Georgetown on Dec. 22.
Behind the choice: It would be a surprise if the Tigers lose during the regular season. They should breeze through Conference USA, and their overall body of work will trump C-USA's low RPI when it comes time to hand out the No. 1 seeds.
Kansas
Overall seed: No. 2.
Record: 17-0
RPI: 3.
Best win: 85-60 at Boston College on Jan. 5.
Behind the choice: The Jayhawks look to be head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the Big 12, and the Big 12 is ranked No. 3 in league RPI. The Big 12 looks too deep for the Jayhawks to run the table. If they do, though, they will be the overall No. 1 seed.
North Carolina
Overall seed: No. 3.
Record: 18-1.
RPI: 4.
Best win: 90-88 at Clemson on Jan. 6.
Behind the choice: The Tar Heels have stumbled a bit of late, with bad defense the culprit. Still, this is the best team in the ACC. Assuming they don't collapse and lose more than four games, the Heels are going to be a No. 1 seed. It will help their cause that the ACC is No. 1 in league RPI.
UCLA
Overall seed: No. 4.
Record: 15-2
RPI: 13.
Best win: 68-63 vs. Michigan State in Kansas City on Nov. 20.
Behind the choice: The Bruins are our predicted winner of the Pac-10, an extremely deep league in which eight teams currently harbor NCAA Tournament hopes. An impressive non-conference schedule will help the Bruins, too.
NO. 2 SEEDS
Tennessee
Overall seed: No. 5.
Record: 15-1.
RPI: 1.
Best win: 80-60 vs. Vanderbilt on Jan. 17.
Behind the choice: The Vols' easy win over the Commodores served notice that this is by far the best team in the SEC, which isn't as strong as usual. Five of the Vols' past six wins have come against teams ranked in the top 30 in the RPI. A Feb. 23 game at Memphis could have a No. 1 seeding on the line.
Michigan State
Overall seed: No. 6.
Record: 16-2.
RPI: 5.
Best win: 78-72 vs. Texas on Dec. 22.
Worst loss: 43-36 at Iowa on Jan. 12.
Behind the choice: The inexplicable loss to Iowa notwithstanding, this looks like the Big Ten's best team. True, the Big Ten isn't much this season. But don't underestimate the Spartans. The next five games are a breeze. But three of the final four games in the regular season are on the road, including matchups against Wisconsin and Ohio State. The one non-road contest is against Indiana in a game that could determine the regular-season title.
Duke
Overall seed: No. 7.
Record: 15-1.
RPI: 6.
Best win: 82-58 vs. Wisconsin on Nov. 27.
Behind the choice: The loss was by one point against Pitt on a neutral court. While Duke and North Carolina look to be the two best teams in the ACC, none of the next nine games could be considered a breather; five of the nine are on the road. The Blue Devils play at North Carolina on Feb. 6 and play host to the Tar Heels on March 8.
Georgetown
Overall seed: No. 8.
Record: 14-2.
RPI: 17.
Best win: 84-65 vs. Notre Dame on Jan. 19.
Behind the choice: The Big East title race is going to be a long, arduous battle, but we think the Hoyas ultimately win the regular-season crown. The league could get as many as eight bids, though six or seven seems more likely. A less-than-stellar non-conference schedule could mean the Hoyas even with a Big East title end up as a No. 3 seed.
NO. 3 SEEDS
Indiana
Overall seed: No. 9.
Record: 16-1.
RPI: 25.
Best win: 70-57 vs. Illinois State in Chicago on Nov. 23.
Behind the choice: The Hoosiers, thanks to the inside-outside combination of D.J. White and Eric Gordon, are one of the two best teams in the Big Ten (along with Michigan State). The Big Ten as a whole is down this season, which hurts IU in terms of seeding. Also hurting is a weak non-conference schedule.
Texas
Overall seed: No. 10.
Record: 13-3.
RPI: 12.
Best win: 97-78 vs. Tennessee in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 2.
Behind the choice: The Longhorns have played one of the nation's toughest schedules and should be well-prepared in March. Their Feb. 11 home game against Kansas the teams' only meeting this season is one to mark down. A win over the Jayhawks coupled with Texas' win over Tennessee and a victory at UCLA would put Texas in the conversation about No. 1 seeds.
Washington State
Overall seed: No. 11.
Record: 16-1.
RPI: 18.
Best win: 51-47 at Gonzaga on Dec. 5.
Behind the choice: The Cougars look to be the clear-cut No. 2 team in the deep Pac-10. They make the league's Arizona road swing this weekend, then get four in a row at home - including matchups with Stanford and UCLA. If the Cougars can go 5-1 in that six-game stretch, they conceivably could end up with a No. 2 seed.
Dayton
Overall seed: No. 12.
Record: 14-2.
RPI: 11.
Best win: 80-55 vs. Pitt on Dec. 29.
Behind the choice: The Flyers' demolition of Pitt is one of the most impressive victories by anyone this season; they also won at Louisville. They're 3-1 since that win over Pitt, but were shaky in each of the games. Dayton is at Xavier on Thursday in one of the biggest Atlantic 10 games of the season. Three of the next four are on the road.
NO. 4 SEEDS
Butler
Overall seed: No. 13.
Record: 17-2.
RPI: 22.
Best win: 65-46 vs. Ohio State on Dec. 1.
Worst loss: 43-32 at Wright State on Dec. 8.
Behind the choice: The Bulldogs trail surprising Cleveland State by two games in the loss column in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs' strength of schedule isn't quite as strong as it was last season, but they're in good shape for an at-large regardless. The Horizon as a whole is solid this season, with the league ranking ninth in conference RPI. Right now, though, the Bulldogs are the only league team that would get an at-large.
Marquette
Overall seed: No. 14.
Record: 12-4.
RPI: 23.
Best win: 81-76 at Wisconsin on Dec. 8.
Worst loss: 89-73 at Connecticut on Jan. 20.
Behind the choice: The Big East is a jumbled mess and we mean that in a good way. Marquette has the guards to finish as high as third. But the Golden Eagles are 0-3 on the road in conference play, and each of the losses has been by at least 15 points. Three of the next four are at home, and Marquette needs to go 4-0 in this stretch, or else a No. 6 seed may loom.
Vanderbilt
Overall seed: No. 15.
Record: 17-2.
RPI: 10.
Best win: 97-88 vs. Massachusetts on Jan. 5.
Behind the choice: The Commodores started 16-0, and they play four of their next five on the road, including back-to-back visits to Florida (Sunday) and Ole Miss (Jan. 30). If there's a knock on the Commodores, it's that they lack toughness. They also struggle when they're forced to play a half-court offense. Still, the potential exists for a No. 3 seed. Then again, they could slide to a No. 6 or 7.
Xavier
Overall seed: No. 16.
Record: 15-4.
RPI: 16.
Best win: 80-65 vs. Indiana in Chicago on Nov. 24.
Worst loss: 59-57 at Miami University on Nov. 13.
Behind the choice: The Musketeers look like the most talented team in the tough Atlantic 10, but a 19-point loss at Temple gives us some pause. They also didn't put away George Washington until late Saturday. Xavier plays host to Dayton, then travels to UMass in its next two games. The Musketeers could use a road win over a legit foe.
NO. 5 SEEDS
Pittsburgh
Overall seed: No. 17.
Record: 15-3.
RPI: 8.
Best win: 65-64 vs. Duke in New York on Dec. 20.
Worst loss: 62-59 at Cincinnati on Jan. 19.
Behind the choice: The Panthers have played well despite losing two starters to injuries. Point guard Levance Fields is going to return sooner than expected, and that will be a big boost to the Panthers. Pitt easily could be a No. 4 or even No. 3 seed if Fields comes back strong in mid-February.
Arizona
Overall seed: No. 18.
Record: 12-6.
RPI: 9.
Best win: 78-67 vs. Texas A&M on Dec. 2.
Worst loss: 75-72 vs. Virginia on Nov. 17.
Behind the choice: The Wildcats have played the nation's toughest schedule. In addition, they're in the Pac-10, and they're going to lose a few more. The thought here is they ultimately will prove they're the third-best team in the Pac-10, but it's time to start producing. Now that freshman guard Jerryd Bayless is back, it should be easier to do that.
Ole Miss
Overall seed: No. 19.
Record: 15-2.
RPI: 15.
Best win: 85-82 vs. Clemson in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 22.
Worst loss: 80-77 at Auburn on Jan. 19.
Behind the choice: The Rebels were in the last group of unbeaten teams, but they've lost two of their past four and have Mississippi State and Vanderbilt next. They're not the best team in the SEC, but they still might be the second-best. Getting another road win (or two) is vital: Ole Miss has just one true road victory, over Central Florida.
Texas A&M
Overall seed: No. 20.
Record: 15-3.
RPI: 42.
Best win: 70-47 vs. Ohio State in New York on Nov. 23.
Worst loss: 68-53 at Texas Tech on Jan. 16.
Behind the choice: The Aggies have dropped two in a row and suddenly are having all sorts of offensive problems. They're too good not to work them out. Still, that they're 0-3 in true road games isn't good. What is a bit worrisome is that while A&M has six road games left, only one (Iowa State) looks easily winnable. This is a team that could slide a bit, maybe ending up as a No. 6 or even No. 7 seed.
NO. 6 SEEDS
Notre Dame
Overall seed: No. 21.
Record: 13-4.
RPI: 52.
Best win: 68-59 vs. Kansas State in New York on Dec. 4.
Worst loss: 70-69 vs. Georgia Tech in Virgin Islands on Nov. 19.
Behind the choice: We think the Irish are fine and will end up being one of the four or five best teams in the Big East. But there's one huge red flag: The Irish do not have a true road victory yet. They have three neutral-court wins, but they're 0-2 on the road. They also were beaten by a combined 45 points in those two games.
Wisconsin
Overall seed: No. 22.
Record: 15-2.
RPI: 20.
Best win: 67-66 at Texas on Dec. 29.
Behind the choice: The Badgers look like the third-best team in the Big Ten and appear to be miles better than team No. 4. The Big Ten also looks like a four-bid league, but unless the Badgers implode, that shouldn't affect them. They play Michigan State just once this season, Feb. 28 in Madison.
Rhode Island
Overall seed: No. 23.
Record: 15-3.
RPI: 21.
Best win: 91-89 at Syracuse on Dec. 8.
Worst loss: 68-61 at Saint Louis on Jan. 17.
Behind the choice: The Rams may be a case of a team that looks better than it is because it beat some good-but-not-great teams early in the season. While URI has lost two of its past three, each of the next three games is easily winnable. The A-10 looks to be in good shape to get four NCAA bids, and right now, URI looks like the No. 3 team from the league.
Oregon
Overall seed: No. 24.
Record: 12-6.
RPI: 32.
Best win: 84-74 at Arizona on Jan. 5.
Worst loss: 88-79 at Nebraska on Dec. 15.
Behind the choice: The Pac-10 is going to have a lot of teams with at least nine or 10 losses, and the main reason for that is that the teams are unbelievably evenly matched. The Ducks have lost two in a row and just their luck a home game with UCLA is next, on Thursday. Five of their next seven league games are at home.
NO. 7 SEEDS
Clemson
Overall seed: No. 25.
Record: 14-4.
RPI: 30.
Best win: 84-82 at Mississippi State on Nov. 15.
Worst loss: 82-72 vs. Charlotte on Jan. 9.
Behind the choice: Right now, the Tigers are our No. 3 ACC team but it's a long, long drop from No. 2 (Duke) to No. 3. And given the dog-eat-dog nature in the middle of the league, the No. 3 team today could be the No. 7 team in two weeks. In its next five games, Clemson gets Wake Forest, Miami, Boston College, Virginia and North Carolina, with just Wake and BC at home. They need to hold serve at home and steal one on the road.
West Virginia
Overall seed: No. 26.
Record: 14-4.
RPI: 31.
Best win: 79-64 vs. Marquette on Jan. 6.
Behind the choice: WVU has been a pleasant surprise, but moving up the seeds list is going to require a road win over a legit foe. The best road victory thus far is over USF.
Arizona State (13-2)
Overall seed: No. 27.
Record: 14-3.
RPI: 67.
Best win: 77-55 vs. Xavier on Dec. 15.
Worst loss: 62-47 at Nebraska on Dec. 2.
Behind the choice: Three impressive wins Xavier, Oregon and Arizona, all at home give the Sun Devils big-time hope they'll make the NCAA field. But they have just one true road victory a two-overtime thriller over California and it's going to be tough to win on the road in the Pac-10 other than at Oregon State. There's no marquee neutral-court win, either.
Gonzaga
Overall seed: No. 28.
Record: 14-4.
RPI: 29.
Best win: 85-82 vs. Connecticut in Boston on Dec. 1.
Worst loss: 73-63 vs. Texas Tech in Anchorage, Alaska, on Nov. 23.
Behind the choice: It's a two-team race in the West Coast Conference between the Zags and St. Mary's (more on the Gaels in a minute), but the Zags' non-conference schedule has them in good shape for an at-large bid. They play Saturday at Memphis, but should be favored in every other game the rest of the way.
NO. 8 SEEDS
Drake
Overall seed: No. 29.
Record: 16-1.
RPI: 14.
Best win: 79-73 vs. Illinois State on Jan. 19.
Behind the choice: The Bulldogs are a huge surprise and lead the Missouri Valley Conference. Still, there's no marquee non-conference win though they did beat intrastate foes Iowa and Iowa State by a combined 40 points. Drake gets Creighton twice in the next three games, then goes to Illinois State six days after playing at Creighton. If the Bulldogs can get through the conference schedule with one or two league losses, a higher seed awaits.
Stanford
Overall seed: No. 30.
Record: 15-3.
RPI: 26.
Best win: 67-52 vs. Arizona State on Jan. 19.
Worst loss: 79-67 at Siena on Nov. 17.
Behind the choice: The Cardinal is at full strength and could end up being the third-best team in the Pac-10. We're not sold on them being quite that good yet, mainly because they haven't beaten anybody truly worth a darn on the road. Last week's sweep of Arizona and Arizona State was impressive, but five of the next seven are away from home.
Louisville
Overall seed: No. 31.
Record: 13-5.
RPI: 45.
Best win: 71-51 vs. Marquette on Jan. 17.
Worst loss: 67-59 vs. Purdue in Indianapolis on Dec. 15.
Behind the choice: The Cardinals had some issues before Christmas, but look to have righted themselves. They need to make some hay in the next few weeks because the schedule at the end of the regular season is masochistic: at Pitt, Notre Dame, Villanova and at Georgetown.
Baylor
Overall seed: No. 32.
Record: 15-2.
RPI: 33.
Best win: 68-64 vs. Notre Dame in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 18.
Behind the choice: The Bears have been surprisingly good and don't have what could be termed a "bad" loss. Baylor hasn't been to the NCAAs since 1988, and a trip this season would be just its second since 1950. Four of their next six are on the road; the outcomes should determine whether Baylor will be feeling comfortable on Selection Sunday or whether they'll slide down and be hoping for a No. 11 or 12 seeding.
NO. 9 SEEDS
Mississippi State
Overall seed: No. 33.
Record: 13-5.
RPI: 75.
Best win: 87-75 vs. Missouri on Dec. 30.
Worst loss: 67-60 vs. Miami University in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 25.
Behind the choice: The Bulldogs were sluggish early but have picked up the pace of late and look like no worse than the No. 2 team in the SEC West. But there's really no non-conference win of note for the Bulldogs to hang their hats on, and that could hurt down the line. They play Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee in their next three games only the Hogs are on the road and a 2-1 mark in those games stamps them as possibly the team to beat in the SEC West.
St. Mary's
Overall seed: No. 34.
Record: 14-2.
RPI: 7.
Best win: 72-66 vs. Drake on Nov. 10.
Worst loss: 71-56 at Southern Illinois on Dec. 11.
Behind the choice: The Gaels have a stunningly high RPI, thanks to a schedule that is a bit tougher than it looks. While they lost by 19 at Texas, they also beat Oregon by 12. It's a two-team race in the West Coast Conference between the Gaels and Gonzaga, and assuming neither loses more than twice in the league, an at-large bid looks likely for the one that will need it.
Ohio State
Overall seed: No. 35.
Record: 12-6.
RPI: 24.
Best win: 79-65 vs. Syracuse in New York on Nov. 21.
Behind the choice: The Buckeyes look to be the fourth-best team in the Big Ten and that looks like a four-bid league. The Buckeyes don't have a bad loss, but they also lack a true marquee victory. They've lost three in a row going into Tuesday night's game against Illinois, which starts a stretch of five eminently winnable games.
Florida
Overall seed: No. 36.
Record: 16-3.
RPI: 70.
Best win: 81-70 vs. Kentucky on Jan. 19.
Behind the choice: The Gators don't really have a bad loss. But they don't have a really good win, either (the best victory in terms of RPI is a 17-point win over Temple). Right now, the Gators are our fifth SEC team. But a poor strength-of-schedule ranking (213) could prove problematic down the road.
NO. 10 SEEDS
Illinois State
Overall seed: No. 37.
Record: 14-4.
RPI: 34.
Best win: 62-52 vs. Cincinnati on Dec. 8.
Worst loss: 72-63 at Eastern Michigan on Dec. 4.
Behind the choice: The Redbirds who returned four starters are looking for their first NCAA bid since 1998; they've been surprisingly strong so far. Three of the next four are on the road, but each is winnable. This is a typical Missouri Valley team tough, hard-nosed and efficient on offense. And if everything breaks right, this is a team that could be seeded as high as seventh.
Kansas State
Overall seed: No. 38.
Record: 12-4.
RPI: 49th.
Best win: 75-54 vs. Texas A&M on Jan. 19.
Behind the choice: We have the Big 12 as a five-bid league right now, and K-State is team No. 5. Oklahoma is going to hard-pressed to keep up without injured star Blake Griffin, but the Sooners could be Big 12 No. 6 if they can keep it together without Griffin. K-State is at Colorado on Wednesday; stunningly, it will be just the Wildcats' second true road game of the season. It's also a game K-State needs to win.
Villanova
Overall seed: No. 39.
Record: 13-3.
RPI: 28.
Best win: 64-63 vs. Pitt on Jan. 6.
Worst loss: 84-76 at DePaul on Jan. 3.
Behind the choice: The Big East is deep and could get as many as eight bids. Right now, though, we have the Big East with seven and the Wildcats as team No. 7. A .500 league record likely gets Villanova in the NCAAs, but the Wildcats also need a few more road victories to feel truly comfortable.
UNLV
Overall seed: No. 40.
Record: 13-4.
RPI: 57.
Best win: 81-64 vs. Minnesota on a neutral court in Las Vegas
Worst loss: 65-53 at Air Force on Jan. 12.
Behind the choice: We think the Runnin' Rebels are the best team in the Mountain West. And we think the MWC will get two bids. But the league ranks 10th in the RPI, and no league school has a better RPI than San Diego State's 56th. Because of those factors, this could end up being a one-bid league. UNLV is at San Diego State on Saturday in a big game.
NO. 11 SEEDS
Arkansas
Overall seed: No. 41.
Record: 13-5.
RPI: 40.
Best win: 85-78 vs. Baylor in Dallas on Jan. 5.
Worst loss: 70-66 vs. South Carolina on Jan. 16.
Behind the choice: The Hogs are our sixth team from the SEC and the SEC may not even be a six-bid league. Arkansas has lost two in a row, and after what should be a win Saturday at LSU, the Hogs play Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Mississippi State again. A 3-2 mark in those games will be necessary to stay in our field.
Miami
Overall seed: No. 42.
Record: 14-3.
RPI: 43.
Best win: 64-58 at Mississippi State on Dec. 13.
Worst loss: 76-70 vs. Winthrop on a neutral court in Miami
Behind the choice: The Hurricanes have been a surprise, and right now, they're the fourth of five ACC teams in our field. But they've lost two in a row, have home games with North Carolina and Clemson in the next week, then head on the road to play Wake Forest and Duke. In other words, UM may not be in our field at all in two weeks. The bottom line: UM has a gaudy record, but that could change in a hurry.
Kent State
Overall seed: No. 43.
Record: 14-4.
RPI: 44.
Best win: 65-59 vs. Illinois State in Chicago on Nov. 24.
Worst loss: 61-60 at Detroit on Nov. 10.
Behind the choice: The Mid-American Conference is solid, but one bid is all it can hope for. The three best teams in the league are in the East Division, with Akron and Ohio joining the Golden Flashes. Kent State lost at Ohio, which at lost at Akron. Kent State plays host to Akron on Wednesday; that game is the key to who we have in the field from the MAC next week.
Massachusetts
Overall seed: No. 44.
Record: 13-4.
RPI: 19.
Best win: 82-71 at Dayton on Jan. 16.
Worst loss: 75-68 at Northern Iowa on Nov. 11.
Behind the choice: The Atlantic 10 certainly appears strong enough to get four bids, and right now, UMass is our No. 4. The road win at Dayton is huge; the Minutemen also have won at Boston College and Syracuse. Wednesday's game at Saint Joseph's a team that won at UMass is a big one and starts a stretch of three road contests in four games.
NO. 12 SEEDS
Boston College
Overall seed: No. 45.
Record: 12-5.
RPI: 63.
Best win: 81-78 at Maryland on Dec. 9.
Worst loss: 57-51 vs. Robert Morris on Jan. 7.
Behind the choice: Right now, we think the ACC gets only five bids. And say hello to BC, the No. 5 team from the ACC. Can the ACC get six bids? Yes. Right now, BC figures to battle Miami, Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, NC State and maybe Florida State for the fourth and fifth and sixth spots. The home loss to Robert Morris hurts.
South Alabama
Overall seed: No. 46.
Record: 15-3.
RPI: 27.
Best win: 71-67 vs. Mississippi State on Dec. 15.
Worst loss: 64-59 to Miami University in Anaheim, Calif., on Nov. 22.
Behind the choice: The Jaguars have a shot at a higher seed, but we're still not 100 percent convinced they're the best team in the Sun Belt. Western Kentucky was our preseason pick, and while USA beat WKU on Jan. 5, WKU plays host to the Jags on Feb. 21. If the Jags win that, too, they'll go into the Sun Belt tourney at home as the prohibitive favorite.
BYU
Overall seed: No. 47.
Record: 13-5.
RPI: 74.
Best win: 78-76 vs. Louisville in Las Vegas on Nov. 23.
Worst loss: 73-70 at Boise State on Dec. 29.
Behind the choice: The Mountain West seems likely to get two teams, and BYU is our second from the league this week, at least. UNLV remains our pick to win the league, but San Diego State and New Mexico and possibly Utah will be in the mix as well. BYU gets the Aztecs at home Wednesday night and the Lobos at home on Saturday in two big showdowns.
Creighton
Overall seed: No. 48.
Record: 14-4.
RPI: 41.
Best win: 90-84 vs. Saint Joseph's on Dec. 9.
Worst loss: 62-54 at Indiana State on Jan. 2.
Behind the choice: The Bluejays are our third team from the Missouri Valley. One problem: The MVC may only get two. In Creighton's favor is its tourney history (this would be the seventh appearance this decade) and that the MVC is eighth in conference RPI. Perception of the league, though, is that it isn't as good as in recent seasons because perennial powers Southern Illinois and Wichita State are struggling.
NO. 13 SEEDS
Virginia Commonwealth*
Overall seed: No. 49.
Record: 13-4.
RPI: 64.
Best win: 86-76 vs. Maryland in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2.
Worst loss: 62-61 at James Madison on Jan. 2.
Behind the choice: The Rams upset Duke in the first round as a No. 11 seed last season and look to be the best team in the Colonial Athletic Association again this season. The CAA doesn't look as if it will get two teams in the tourney again; George Mason is the other top contender. The teams meet just once this season: Jan. 29 at GMU.
Davidson* (8-6)
Overall seed: No. 50.
Record: 10-6.
RPI: 96.
Best win: 71-60 at Appalachian State on Nov. 26.
Worst loss: 83-76 at Western Michigan on Nov. 21.
Behind the choice: The Wildcats entered the season with a lot of hoopla, but while they played a lot of power-conference opponents close they lost to North Carolina by four, to NC State by one, to Duke by six, to UCLA by 12 they didn't get any marquee wins. Still, they're the only Southern Conference team with less than two league losses, and all that good pre-conference opposition has them well-seasoned for league play. But there will be no at-large spot; they have to win the league to get to the NCAAs for the third season in a row.
Utah State*
Overall seed: No. 51.
Record: 14-5.
RPI: 100.
Best win: 76-55 vs. Oral Roberts
Worst loss: 83-69 at Cal Poly on Nov. 15.
Behind the choice: The Western Athletic Conference is way down this season, and the well-coached Aggies look to be in prime position to win the league. But six of their next eight are on the road. They haven't played a road game since Dec. 8.
Oral Roberts*
Overall seed: No. 52.
Record: 12-5.
RPI: 55.
Best win: 74-59 vs. Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City on Dec. 20.
Worst loss: 86-71 to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in College Station, Texas, on Nov. 14.
Behind the choice: The Golden Eagles have a two-game lead in the Summit League over IUPUI. No one else in the league other than those two has a legit shot at the title. ORU plays at IUPUI on Feb. 16. The Summit tourney is in Tulsa, ORU's home city.
NO. 14 SEEDS
Stephen F. Austin*
Overall seed: No. 53.
Record: 15-2.
RPI: 87.
Best win: 66-62 at Oklahoma on Dec. 8.
Worst loss: 58-57 at Nicholls State on Jan. 10.
Behind the choice: SFA is two points away from having a 14-game winning streak. SFA plays Thursday night at Sam Houston State in a battle of the Southland Conference's two best teams.
Winthrop*
Overall seed: No. 54.
Record: 11-7.
RPI: 103.
Best win: 76-70 vs. Miami on neutral court in Miami.
Worst loss: 62-61 at High Point on Jan. 12.
Behind the choice: The Eagles are in second place in the Big South, but they're used to winning and the victory over the ACC's Miami shows they can beat top-caliber competition. And top-caliber competition, frankly, is something the Eagles won't see in the Big South. A Feb. 2 game at UNC Asheville should determine the league's pecking order at the very top.
Cal State Northridge*
Overall seed: No. 55.
Record: 13-3.
RPI: 61.
Best win: 78-68 at Cleveland State on Nov. 28.
Behind the choice: The Matadors have won six in a row since a loss at Washington, and the victory at Cleveland State becomes more impressive by the day because the Vikings lead the Horizon Conference by two games in the loss column over Butler. Pacific and UC Santa Barbara look to be the other main contenders in the Big West, and Northridge already has beaten both.
Siena*
Overall seed: No. 56.
Record: 11-6.
RPI: 98.
Best win: 79-67 vs. Stanford on Nov. 17.
Worst loss: 53-52 vs. Fairfield on Jan. 8.
Behind the choice: Between Feb. 2-10, the Saints play Rider and Marist twice each. Those three teams, along with Niagara, are the four best teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Siena already has won at Niagara, which already has beaten Rider and Marist.
NO. 15 SEEDS
Hampton*
Overall seed: No. 57.
Record: 9-6.
RPI: 99.
Best win: 64-55 vs. Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 29.
Behind the choice: The Pirates have played a solid schedule, and they and Delaware State look to be the two best teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. They meet once this season, Feb. 9 at Delaware State.
Cornell*
Overall seed: No. 58.
Record: 9-5.
RPI: 110.
Best win: 83-77 vs. Siena on Nov. 25.
Worst loss: 76-73 vs. Colgate on Dec. 1.
Behind the choice: Either Penn or Princeton has represented the Ivy League in the NCAA Tournament every season since 1987-88, but this looks as if this will be the season that changes. Then again, full-fledged league play doesn't begin until next month.
Northern Arizona*
Overall seed: No. 59.
Record: 13-6.
RPI: 133.
Best win: 64-61 vs. Western Kentucky on Dec. 1.
Worst loss: 93-87 vs. Pepperdine on Nov. 28.
Behind the choice: The Lumberjacks' next three games are on the road, including a matchup with Weber State that will have Big Sky regular-season title implications. Good news for NAU, though, is that five of its final seven regular-season league contests are at home.
Lafayette*
Overall seed: No. 60.
Record: 12-6.
RPI: 132.
Best win: 87-84 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County on Nov. 20.
Worst loss: 98-92 to Fairleigh Dickinson on Nov. 16.
Behind the choice: The Leopards are used to close games six of their wins have come in overtime and they have played just one home game since Dec. 3. They play host to Bucknell on Wednesday with first place in the Patriot League at stake. Preseason favorite Holy Cross is in last place.
NO. 16 SEEDS
Austin Peay*
Overall seed: No. 61.
Record: 12-7.
RPI: 111.
Best win: 93-84 at Belmont on Dec. 19.
Worst loss: 72-62 at Evansville on Dec. 8.
Behind the choice: The Governors, looking for their first NCAA bid since 2003, have a two-game lead in the Ohio Valley Conference race. They play host to second-place Murray State on Jan. 31. The OVC is ranked 30th among the 32 Division I leagues in RPI.
Maryland-Baltimore Co.*
Overall seed: No. 62.
Record: 12-7.
RPI: 129.
Best win: 70-68 at Richmond on Nov. 17.
Worst loss: 77-74 vs. Maine on Jan. 12.
Behind the choice: The Retrievers in a three-way tie for the league lead are the only America East team currently above .500 overall. But their remaining schedule isn't that difficult, with Albany (whom they play twice) the only team remaining whose RPI is better than 209. (Then again, you can say the same thing about Albany vis--vis UMBC.)
Belmont*
Overall seed: No. 63.
Record: 12-7.
RPI: 128.
Best win: 86-75 at Cincinnati on Nov. 9.
Worst loss: 83-75 at Campbell on Jan. 5.
Behind the choice: The Bruins are aiming for their third consecutive NCAA trip as Atlantic Sun champs. Half of the league's 12 members are 275th or worse in the RPI. Belmont's next three games are on the road, but the Bruins get league leader Jacksonville at home on Feb. 7 in the teams' only meeting this season.
Wagner*
Overall seed: No. 64.
Record: 12-5.
RPI: 156.
Best win: 64-55 vs. Bucknell on Nov. 24.
Worst loss: 72-69 at St. Peter's on Nov. 17.
Behind the choice: The Seahawks currently are a half-game back in the Northeast Conference race, but their RPI is the best in the league. The Northeast winner appears a likely candidate for the play-in game.
Southern*
Overall seed: No. 65.
Record: 6-10.
RPI: 220.
Best win: 75-61 at SMU on Nov. 10.
Worst loss: 84-81 vs. Paul Quinn in Dallas on Nov. 11.
Behind the choice: The Jaguars are our pick to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference the weakest of the 32 Division I leagues. The Jaguars also are our pick to be one of the two teams involved in the play-in game. Actually, the SWAC champ will be in the play-in game, whoever it is.
BREAKDOWN BY LEAGUE
7: Big East
6: Pac-10, SEC
5: ACC, Big 12
4: Atlantic 10, Big Ten
3: Missouri Valley
2: Mountain West, West Coast
1: America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Conference USA, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Eastern Athletic, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Southwestern Athletic, Summit, Sun Belt, Western Athletic
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.

Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mhuguenin@rivals.com.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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