NCAA tourney picture needs some more focus

Final weekend, results of conference playoffs will sharpen outlook

National notebook

February 26, 1999|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN STAFF

The crystal ball reflecting the collective mind of the NCAA tournament selection committee remains a bit cloudy, but the last weekend of the regular season for some leagues and the start of postseason conference play for others might clarify a few questions.

Among those being asked: Will the Atlantic Coast Conference get fewer than four teams for the first time since 1979? Will the Big Ten get seven of its 11 members in for only the second time? Will the Ivy League get two teams for the first time? Here's a look at how the various leagues shape up, with RPI ratings in parentheses:

Major conferences

ACC: With Connecticut's loss last week at home to Miami, Duke (1) is almost assured of the top seed in the East. Maryland (4) will likely be a No. 2 seed -- and possibly a top seed -- with North Carolina (11) the only other definite. Sunday's game between Wake Forest (53) and North Carolina State (56) could be for a fourth spot.

Atlantic 10: Temple (24) is a lock, George Washington (49) should be in and Xavier (63) is on the bubble. With an 0-4 record against the other three conference opponents under consideration, Rhode Island (67) would likely have to win next week's A-10 tournament in Philadelphia to get a bid.

Big East: Despite its recent stumble, Connecticut (5) should still merit a top seed, presumably out West. St. John's (8) and Miami (9) are now moving up into No. 2 or 3 seed territory. The league's bubble teams took a hit last weekend. Rutgers (27) has the best chance, but losing at home to Georgetown Tuesday night was a killer and might have opened the door a crack for Syracuse (42).

Big Ten: Michigan State (2) should be the top seed in the Midwest, with Wisconsin (10) and Ohio State (14) among the top 16. Iowa (12), Indiana (15) and Purdue (20) all look solid. Minnesota (23) is on the bubble, and the Gophers had been gagging until last night's victory over Purdue. Thoughts of getting an eighth team have faded with Northwestern (64).

Big 12: Kansas (17), Oklahoma (31) and Texas (32) will all get in, as should Missouri (30) and Nebraska (45), which swept the Jayhawks this season. Oklahoma State (58) had a chance to make a statement Monday, but lost at Lawrence by a point in overtime.

Conference USA: Cincinnati (7) apparently has righted itself after a three-game losing streak, but the Bearcats have moved down from a No. 1 to a 2 seed. Louisville (21) and North Carolina-Charlotte (25) should be in, too, with DePaul (44) knocking on the door. The Blue Demons can help themselves immensely by beating the 49ers tomorrow in Charlotte.

Pac-10: Stanford (3), Arizona (16) and UCLA (19) could all be top four seeds, and Washington (18) has recovered from its early season malaise to secure the league's fourth bid. But getting a fifth team for the third time since 1995 depends on how Oregon (46) finishes.

Southeastern: Auburn (6) looks to be a strong candidate for the No. 1 seed in the South, but its loss at Arkansas on Wednesday night puts the Tigers in the position of having to win at Mississippi State tomorrow to hold onto it. Defending national champion Kentucky (13) could make a case for a No. 2 seed if it makes a run in next week's SEC tournament in Atlanta. Florida (22), Tennessee (26) and Arkansas (39) also should be in, with Mississippi (34) on the bubble.

Western Athletic: Utah (33) has an 18-game winning streak after last night's win over UTEP, and last year's national runner-up should be vying for a No. 4 seed by the time the bids come out a week from Sunday. Tulsa (36) and TCU (37) also look good, but Fresno State (57) and New Mexico (89), will have to win the WAC tournament in Las Vegas.

Mid-major conferences with possible at-large teams

Mid-American: Miami of Ohio (28), Toledo (35) and Kent (40) should all get consideration regardless of what happens in the MAC tournament, but having a well-publicized player such as Wally Szczerbiak will enhance Miami's chances.

Missouri Valley: Southwest Missouri State (29) probably needs only to win a game in its conference tournament to get the school's first bid since 1992. Creighton (54) and Evansville (60) will need to win the tournament.

Minor conferences with possible at-large teams

Ivy: As usual, it will come down to the second game between Penn (102) and Princeton (68), but the Tigers need to win because recent losses to Harvard and Yale make their at-large aspirations shaky despite earlier wins over Texas, UNC-Charlotte, Alabama-Birmingham and Florida State.

Metro Atlantic: Siena (43) is on the bubble for at-large status, so winning the MAAC tournament this weekend will erase all doubts.

Midwestern Collegiate: Detroit (59) has a win over Gonzaga and beat St. John's in the NCAA tournament a year ago.

Ohio Valley: A year ago, Murray State might have had a more legitimate at-large chance. But the Racers (86) will have to win the conference tournament to get in.

Southern: The College of Charleston (41) has a history as a giant-killer, but might still need to win the league tournament as it did in the TAAC to get in.

West Coast: Gonzaga (50) has more good losses than quality wins, but a win over then-No. 17 Washington in December might carry some weight.

Planting seeds

East South

1. Duke 1. Auburn

2. Cincinnati 2. Arizona

3. St. John's 3. Miami

4. Wisconsin 4. Ohio State

Midwest West

1. Mich. State 1. Connecticut

2. Stanford 2. Maryland

3. Kentucky 3. UCLA

4. N. Carolina 4. Utah

Notes: The Huskies were shipped West with their loss at home to Miami, and Maryland is waiting for Connecticut, Michigan State or Auburn to fall to gain a No. 1 seed. All four teams close the regular season on the road this weekend, as does Duke (at North Carolina).

Pub Date: 2/26/99

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