Road to Final 4 under construction

There are still three weeks remaining in the regular season, but the top of the NCAA tournament already is starting to take shape.

Let's start with the obvious: UNLV will be the top seed overall and the big kahuna out West, likely drawing first- and second-round games in Tucson, Ariz. Third-ranked Arkansas should get the top Southeast nod and likely play its first two games in Louisville.


No. 2 Ohio State took a giant step toward cinching the top seed in the Midwest with a thrilling 97-95 double-overtime win Sunday over fourth-ranked Indiana, though the Buckeyes have a big test tonight on the road against Illinois.

Since the Big Ten has no postseason tournament, Ohio State will need to win the league to get that seed and play in Dayton, then in Pontiac, Mich. If the Buckeyes falter, Indiana probably will get the nod.


As for the East, the top seed is up for grabs among four teams, especially with Duke's loss to Wake Forest on Saturday.

The seventh-ranked Blue Devils were on course to nail it down, but now will have to meet No. 6 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on March 3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season closer and probably again in the ACC tournament.

The Tar Heels, though, would gladly take a lower seed in the Southeast to play first in Atlanta, then in Charlotte for the regionals.

But Syracuse and Indiana will have strong cases to make for a high seed, especially if the No. 5 Orangemen can survive the recent turmoil surrounding an NCAA investigation, and if the Hoosiers, whose only losses are to Ohio State and Syracuse, don't lose again.

If Syracuse does get the top seed in the East, it would come to College Park for its first two games, since it cannot play at the Carrier Dome, the other East site.

Finally, here's a dream matchup that would be a nightmare for host Maryland: Georgetown, the eighth seed in the East, meets ninth seed James Madison at Cole, matching John Thompson against Lefty Driesell.

Now, that's funny.

* TIME OUT FOR TELLY: One can certainly understand how a man like Dean Smith, who has amassed more than 700 wins in his tenure at North Carolina, could get confused. After all, he does have lots of things on his mind, like how many of his high school All-Americas he can play in one stretch.


Still, did he really think that because last Saturday's game

against Maryland was on tape delay that there would be no television timeouts?

"I thought they could insert the commercials later," Smith said sheepishly after the game.

* PERFECTION, PERFECTION: Top-ranked Virginia is attempting to become the first women's team in ACC history to complete a 14-game regular season undefeated, though tonight's match at Maryland and Saturday's home closer against seventh-ranked North Carolina State won't be picnics.

The Wolfpack teams of 1978 and '80 won all nine of their ACC games, but that was before the league went to a 14-game schedule in 1983-84. Since then, three teams -- N.C. State in 1984-85, Virginia in 1985-86 and Maryland in 1988-89 -- won 13 of 14 ACC contests, with only Maryland making it as far as the Final Four.

On the men's side, seven teams have gone through the league schedule undefeated, since the ACC was formed in 1954. Two of them -- the 1957 North Carolina team and the 1974 N.C. State club -- have won the NCAA championship.


Duke's 1963 team, which finished third nationally, the 1970 South Carolina team, with a younger, darker-haired Bobby Cremins, the 1973 N.C. State club and North Carolina's 1984 and '87 editions were the other perfect entries.

* PET PEEVE: For the record, there is a difference between NCAA probation and sanctions.

An NCAA probation requires a school to make detailed reports regarding the offending program. A sanction is the actual penalty handed down.

It is wrong, for example, to say that Maryland's men's basketball program is on two years probation. It is actually on probation for three years, but it is sanctioned for two years from participating in postseason play.

And the school made the decision not to play in this season's ACC tournament because the sanction banning it from appearing on live television would have forced all of its appearances to be tape-delayed, thus throwing a monkey wrench in the league's television plans.

Got it?


* RESTED AND READY: After a week off and fresh off a no-brainer pick of UNLV over Arkansas, Fearless Prognosticator returns with a double dip.

Look for Duke to end Arizona's home-court string at 60 Sunday and for Illinois to nab a huge Big Ten win on the road against Iowa on Saturday.