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March 3, 2009

Drive for 65: Top seeds holding steady

We're less than two weeks from "Selection Sunday" (March 15), and here's our first bracket projection of the week; the second one will be Friday.

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 Sunday's games come from collegerpi.com.)

Rivals.com Drive for 65
No. 1 seeds
1. North Carolina
2. Connecticut
3. Pittsburgh
4. Oklahoma
The buzz: As long as UNC is a No. 1 seed, it will get to play in Greensboro, N.C., in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament. Connecticut finishes the regular-season Saturday at Pitt. The Panthers won the first meeting and almost certainly would be seeded ahead of the Huskies if they sweep the season series. Oklahoma trails Kansas by one game in the Big 12, but a mitigating factor that will be considered by the selection committee is that Blake Griffin missed all of the loss to Kansas and more than half of the loss to Texas.
No. 2 seeds
5. Michigan State
6. Kansas
7. Duke
8. Louisville
The buzz: Michigan State has a two-game lead in the Big Ten race and leads the nation with 11 victories over teams in the RPI top 50. Kansas has won five in a row and owns a one-game lead in the Big 12 race; it also owns the tiebreaker over second-place Oklahoma. Duke has a solid chance to play in Greensboro if it finishes strong. Louisville still has a good chance at the Big East regular-season title.
No. 3 seeds
9. Memphis
10. Wake Forest
11. Villanova
12. Washington
The buzz: Memphis has won 20 in a row but has just four wins this season against teams in the RPI top 50, which will hurt its seeding. Wake Forest still hopes to be able to play in Greensboro in the first and second rounds, but it must finish strong and have Duke (or North Carolina) falter. Villanova's home loss to Georgetown hurts in the Wildcats' quest to finish at least fourth in the Big East. Washington has won six of seven and owns a 1 1/2-game lead in the Pac-10.
No. 4 seeds
13. Purdue
14. Illinois
15. Florida State
16. Missouri
The buzz: Purdue has won five of six, but a weak non-conference schedule could end up costing the Boilermakers when it comes to seeding. Illinois is in third place in the Big Ten and finishes up the regular season at Penn State on Thursday. The Illini lost at home to the Nittany Lions in mid-February. Florida State is tied for third in the ACC but has tough games left at Duke and at home against Virginia Tech. Missouri was hammered by Kansas on Sunday and ends the regular season at home against Oklahoma and at Texas A&M, so the Tigers could fall a seed.
No. 5 seeds
17. Marquette
18. Xavier
19. Clemson
20. Arizona State
The buzz: Marquette has lost two in a row and plays at Pittsburgh next. Xavier has sputtered a bit of late, but if the Musketeers beat visiting Dayton on Thursday, they lock up the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Clemson has lost four of seven and has dropped out of the top 10 in the RPI. Arizona State has lost two overtime games in a row but owns season sweeps of UCLA and Arizona.
No. 6 seeds
21. LSU
22. UCLA
23. Utah
24. Gonzaga
The buzz: LSU has locked up the SEC regular-season title and has a 10-game winning streak. UCLA has won three of its past four and still has a shot at the Pac-10 regular-season title. Utah has won eight of its past nine and its RPI is ninth, but the Utes have no road wins of note; that will hurt their seeding. Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference regular-season title by four games and is an NCAA lock.
No. 7 seeds
25. Texas
26. Syracuse
27. West Virginia
28. Butler
The buzz: Texas has some nice wins – over Villanova, Wisconsin and Oklahoma – but the Longhorns still could end up with a seed a spot or two lower. Syracuse has lost six of 10 but still is in great shape for a bid. West Virginia has won four of five and has guaranteed itself at least a .500 finish in the Big East. Butler won the Horizon League by two games and will play its league tourney games at home.
No. 8 seeds
29. Tennessee
30. BYU
31. Wisconsin
32. California
The buzz: Tennessee has won four of its past six to move into a tie for the SEC East lead with South Carolina, which plays host to the Vols on Thursday night. BYU has won seven of its past eight, and the only loss in that stretch came by one at UNLV. Wisconsin has won six of seven and is in a position to finish fourth in the Big Ten. California has won five of seven but finishes the regular season on the road against Arizona and Arizona State. Still, the Golden Bears have a good shot at finishing fourth in the Pac-10.
No. 9 seeds
33. Boston College
34. Ohio State
35. Minnesota
36. Arizona
The buzz: Boston College has a good chance to finish 10-6 in the ACC. Ohio State has lost four of five and is in danger of not making the field for the second season in a row. Minnesota has lost five of seven and needs to beat either Wisconsin and/or Michigan this week to feel good about an at-large bid. Arizona has lost three in a row to fall to .500 in Pac-10 play.
No. 10 seeds
37. Dayton
38. South Carolina
39. Creighton
40. Maryland
The buzz: Dayton can lock up a bid with a victory at Xavier on Thursday; that would complete a season sweep of the Musketeers. South Carolina is tied for the SEC East lead with Tennessee, and the Gamecocks play host to the Vols on Thursday. Creighton takes a 10-game winning streak into the Missouri Valley tournament. Maryland is firmly on the bubble and needs some more wins; a victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday likely would lock up a bid.
No. 11 seeds
41. Oklahoma State
42. Miami
43. Florida
44. UNLV
The buzz: Oklahoma State has won five in a row to play itself into the field – for now, anyway; the Cowboys still could play their way out. Miami is less than .500 in the ACC and still needs some more wins. Florida played a weak non-conference schedule and needs to win out in the regular season against Mississippi State and Kentucky to have a legit at-large opportunity. UNLV's at-large chances are dicey; it needs to win the Mountain West tourney, which will be played on its home court.
No. 12 seeds
45. Siena
46. Utah State
47. Penn State
48. Rhode Island
The buzz: Siena is the top seed in the Metro Atlantic Athletic tourney, but the Saints will be chewing their nails on Selection Sunday if they don't win the league tournament because their at-large résumé doesn't stand out. Utah State is in the same boat in the WAC: The Aggies already have clinched the regular-season title but would be an at-large long shot. Penn State has some impressive wins, most notably road conquests of Illinois and Michigan State, but it also played a pitiful non-conference schedule and still has some work to do. Rhode Island also played a weak non-conference schedule and also has work to do.
No. 13 seeds
49. Davidson
50. Virginia Commonwealth
51. Western Kentucky
52. American
The buzz: Davidson has clinched the Southern Conference regular-season title, but the Wildcats would be a long shot to get an at-large bid if they lose in the league tourney. VCU is the top seed in the Colonial tourney as it goes for its second NCAA bid in three seasons. Western Kentucky tied for the regular-season title in the Sun Belt with Arkansas-Little Rock, but got the top seed because it beat the Trojans in their only regular-season meeting. American is the top seed in the Patriot League tourney and is going for its second consecutive NCAA appearance.
No. 14 seeds
53. Weber State
54. Binghamton
55. Bowling Green
56. Stephen F. Austin
The buzz: Weber State is the Big Sky regular-season titlist, and as such, it will host the league tourney. Binghamton tied for the regular-season title in the America East with Vermont, but Binghamton is the No. 1 seed in the league tournament because it swept the Catamounts. Bowling Green is tied with Buffalo for the regular-season lead in the MAC, but the Falcons swept Buffalo. Stephen F. Austin has a one-game lead in the race to be the top seed in the Southland Conference tournament and is angling for its first NCAA bid.
No. 15 seeds
57. Cornell
58. North Dakota State
59. Belmont
60. Robert Morris
The buzz: Cornell has a 1 1/2-game lead in the Ivy League and closes out its season at home, where the Big Red is 11-0 this season. North Dakota State won the Summit League regular-season title and is trying to get to the NCAA tournament in its first season as a full-fledged Division I member. Belmont is the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Sun tourney and is going for its fourth consecutive tourney title. Robert Morris has a three-game lead in the Northeast Conference and already has clinched the 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 the No. 1 seed in the Ohio Valley tourney, which begins today. CS Northridge has a one-game lead over Long Beach State in the Big West; the teams split their season series, with each winning at home. Morgan State has clinched the regular-season title in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Radford is the top seed in the Big South tourney, which also starts today. Alabama State is in good shape to win the Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season title, and it's a good bet that the SWAC titlist will be in the play-in game.
Rhode Island, Penn State, Florida, Miami
Virginia Tech, Michigan, Kentucky, Texas A&M

8: ACC
7: Big East, Big Ten
5: Big 12, Pac-10
4: SEC
3: Mountain West, 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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