The question that's most important to 10,000 local ticket-holders: Who's coming to Baltimore?
The answers will come this evening, when the NCAA unveils the field and draw for its 64-team tournament. The Baltimore Arena is one of eight sites for first- and second-round games, and the tournament's first game will most likely be here Thursday.
Debate began in earnest Thursday afternoon, when the nine members of the selection committee went into hiding at a hotel in Kansas City, Mo., and began to decide which teams will participate and which ones will have to settle for the National Invitation Tournament.
Twenty-nine teams automatically qualify as conference champions. The remaining 35 are chosen on an at-large basis.
The ratings percentage index (RPI), which weighs a team's record, strength of schedule and the cumulative strength of schedule of its opponents, is crucial, but the selection committee also considers more than a dozen other factors, especially how teams fared in their last 10 games and how they did against quality competition.
In the what-have-you-done-for-us-lately department, Florida and Providence had upsets in the quarterfinals of their conference tournaments that could be enough to push them over the hump.
Florida (17-12) knocked off No. 15 Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference on Friday night, but was beaten by Kentucky yesterday. Providence (16-12) beat No. 21 Syracuse in overtime in the Big East, but fell to No. 13 Villanova yesterday. The Friars had lost five of seven before they finished the regular season beating No. 6 Connecticut and Villanova.
Ohio University (23-9) and George Washington (18-13) began the season with strong showings in the Preseason NIT, but stumbled at the end. The Colonials lost their last three games, and the Bobcats were stopped in the semifinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament by Eastern Michigan.
Three regular-season champions of mid-level conferences -- Tulsa (22-7) of the Missouri ValleyXavier (23-4) of the Midwestern Collegiate and Miami of Ohio (22-6) of the Mid-American -- lost in postseason tournaments, and intensified the competition for at-large selections. Texas was also on the verge of an anxious day, but it survived the Southwest Conference final. Utah (27-5) did the same last night in the Western Athletic Conference.
Five major conferences will conclude their tournaments today.
The Metro Conference final is the only one of the five that could provide some at-large suspense. Louisville improved to 18-13 with a one-point win over Tulane, but the Cardinals were 0-4 when freshman center Samaki Walker was out with a knee injury. Louisville points to its strong nonconference schedule -- it beat Kentucky -- but the loss at Towson State was a big black mark for the Cardinals.
The Big Ten appears to be the only conference with a shot at six teams in the NCAA field. Purdue needs to win at Michigan to gain a share of the conference title, and that outcome would leave the Wolverines with a 17-13 overall record. Iowa (19-10) will surely be rewarded if it meets the challenge of winning at Indiana, and Minnesota can get its 20th victory at Penn State.
Stanford (18-8), playing at home last night against lowly Washington, was trying to become the fifth Pac-10 team in the field.
When: 6 p.m. (bracket will be revealed starting at 6:28 p.m.)
TV: Chs. 13, 9
AT-LARGE BIDS: WHO'S IN AND WHO'S CLOSE
(N. Carolina or
(UConn or Villanova)
(Mich. St. or Purdue)
(Iowa St. or
On the bubble
(In order of probability)
Miami of Ohio