Whatever happens between now and Sunday to affect the NCAA men's basketball tournament field, Towson State can be 99 percent certain of one thing: The Tigers won't have to play their first-round game against Nevada-Las Vegas, this year's team of the century.
The complete 64-team field and bracket will be announced Sunday (6:30 p.m., Ch. 11).
Towson State (19-10), the champion of the East Coast Conference, made the most of being the last-rated team in the tournament a year ago, when it drew then-No. 1 Oklahoma. The Tigers trailed by two with less than seven minutes left, and the Sooners sweated out a 77-68 victory. Being the No. 64 team this time around figures to bring with it a different proposition, as the defending champion and unbeaten Runnin' Rebels are out to make history.
UNLV's probable first-round opponent will be Georgia State (16-14), the Trans America Athletic Conference tournament champion. To date, Georgia State is the only conference champion other than Towson State with fewer than 20 wins.
The 64-team field is broken down into the four regions, with teams seeded No. 1 through No. 16 in each region. At best, Towson State can plan on being seeded no higher than No. 15 in its region, and having to play a No. 2 seed next Thursday or Friday.
The Tigers still could be one of the four No. 16 seeds, along with the winners of tournaments in the Big Sky and North Atlantic conferences. Coincidentally, Towson State has applied for admission to the North Atlantic. The North Atlantic championship game Saturday sends Maine (13-15) to Northeastern (21-9).
Upsets in the Mid-American and Midwestern Collegiate conferences also would aid Towson State's chances for avoiding a No. 16 seed.
The Tigers' seed was hurt Wednesday night in the three "play-in" games that matched champions of 1990's five lowest-rated conferences and the Patriot, a first-year conference. The survivors were Northeast Louisiana (25-7), St. Francis of Pa. (24-7), and Coastal Carolina (24-7).
All three play-in winners are rated higher than Towson State in the USA Today computerized power ratings, one of the many tools the tournament selection committee uses. The play-in winners are not automatically No. 16 seeds.
The nine-man selection committee meets in Kansas City this weekend to seed the 64 teams. The committee -- which picks the 34 at-large teams to join the 30 conference champions that are automatic qualifiers -- is chaired by Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten.
Towson coach Terry Truax isn't spending much time considering the Tigers' possibilities.
"Pam [his wife] knows more about that than me," Truax said. "Jim Delany is an old friend. We were assistant coaches at North Carolina [in 1970-71], but I've never talked to him about what his committee does. That wouldn't be proper."
Towson State is the first team to repeat as the ECC champion since St. Joseph's in 1981 and '82. The 1981 Hawks were the last ECC team to survive the first round, winning three games before losing to Indiana in a regional final.
A conference whose representative is eliminated in the first round will receive approximately $258,000. The ECC takes 50 percent, and champion Towson State will receive 20 percent, $51,600. The other six members split the remaining 30 percent, so UMBC will receive $12,900 from that pool.
Smaller conferences will benefit further from the NCAA's revenue-sharing plan, however. All Division I members will receive $25,000 for academic enhancement, and the NCAA still is finalizing another plan based on scholarships and sports offered. Depending upon the formula, athletic director Bill Hunter said Towson State would receive anywhere from an additional $55,000 to $75,000.