March 9, 9:30 a.m.: Grab a pen and a sheet of paper. Write down the projected champions of the 31 conferences. Then try to write down 34 at-large teams that will fill up this 65-team bracket.
The first 20 or so at-large teams – such as Duke, Missouri, UCLA --- come pretty easy. The next nine – such as Boston College, Ohio State, Dayton -- are in pretty decent shape. I also have two more teams that I think will find their way into the field: Arizona and either UNLV or San Diego State.
Well, that leaves three more at-large slots. Good luck finding a team – any team -- deserving of a berth. A lot of mediocrity out there, more than in recent years. Chances are a third team out of that powerhouse league, the SEC, will emerge, most likely Florida or South Carolina.
That still leaves two spots. The selection committee could get lucky with an upset champion or two in a conference tournament (say Alabama wins the SEC), which would take a slot away from a bubble team. If that does not happen, the selection committee has its work cut out for it as it weighs one NIT-quality resume against another.
So Maryland absolutely still has a shot, provided it can win two games in the ACC tournament. So does Virginia Tech.
Meantime, I have a headache trying to compare Saint Mary’s resume with Creighton’s body of work. Losing sleep over this.
Each morning, I will post my last four teams in the field and my first teams out. As you can tell, it is very difficult to separate one team from another, and selection committee members often differ on which credentials they value most. (SOS means strength of schedule; all records reflect Division I competition; all data courtesy of Jerry Palm’s Web site, www.collegerpi.com)
LAST FOUR IN
Nevada-Las Vegas (21-9, 9-7)
Pros: won at Louisville, swept BYU
Cons: Got swept by San Diego State, 9-7 MWC record
Florida (22-9, 9-7)
Pros: Beat Washington, 22 overall wins
Cons: 2-6 vs. top 50, 2-7 on road
Miami (17-11, 7-9)
Pros: Beat Wake Forest, Florida State
Cons: 7-9 ACC record, 2-7 vs. top 50
Saint Mary’s (23-5, 10-4)
Pros: Mills is back, 8-3 road record
Cons: 166 SOS, 0-0 vs. top 25
FIRST TEAMS OUT
San Diego State (19-8, 11-5)
Pros: Swept UNLV
Cons: 1-5 vs. top 50
South Carolina (21-8, 10-6)
Pros: 21 overall wins
Cons: 281 non-conference SOS, 1-5 vs. top 50
Providence (18-12, 10-8)
Pros: Win vs. Pittsburgh, winning BE record
Cons: 70 RPI, 2-8 vs. top 50
Maryland (18-12, 7-9)
Pros: two top five victories
Cons: 2-6 on road, 11-12 vs. top 200
Virginia Tech (17-13, 7-9)
Pros: two top 25 road wins
Cons: 2-8 vs. top 50, 1-6 down the stretch
Creighton (26-7, 14-4)
Pros: three top 25 wins, 26 overall wins
Cons: 10-0 vs. 200 or worse, 107 SOS
March 9, 2009; 9:32 AM ET
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