Taking early shot at the field of 64


PHILADELPHIA -- Believe it or not, just 4 1/2 weeks are left until NCAA Selection Sunday. By the time of the Selection Show on March 7, 30 teams will have been crowned conference basketball champions and gotten automatic bids. The show will be about the 34 at-large bids, seedings and matchups.

At this point, there are not many more than 40 teams vying for those 34 spots. And 24 of them are probably locked up. So what we have is around 16 teams trying to get one of the last 10 spots.

Conference by conference, here is my best guess at how it stands now, including the Rating Percentage Index and how many teams each conference is likely to get.

America East (1): Drexel (RPI: 117).

The Dragons have the lead, but can afford no slips. All but the championship game of the conference tournament will be held at Delaware. The final game will be at the home court of the higher remaining seed.

Atlantic Coast (4): Duke (1), Maryland (6), North Carolina (11), Florida State (27).

Duke looks like a lock for No. 1 seed in the South (Orlando, Fla., or Indianapolis and the regionals in Knoxville, Tenn.). Maryland is a No. 2 somewhere. The bottom of the league is not nearly as strong as usual. Florida State is no lock. Georgia Tech (32) is fading.

Atlantic 10 (3): Temple (25), George Washington (38), Xavier (52).

Three might be generous. It's not news that the league, which had five teams in each of the last two years, is down.

Big East (6): Connecticut (5), St. John's (12), Miami (24), Rutgers (35), Villanova (43), Syracuse (53).

UConn should be the No. 1 seed in the East, no matter what. The committee owes the Huskies after sending them to Greensboro, N.C., as a No. 2 seed last year. To get to the 1998 Final Four, they had to beat North Carolina, which was borderline unfair.

Big Sky (1): Northern Arizona (147).

The Lumberjacks almost beat Cincinnati in the NCAAs a year ago.

Big South (1): Winthrop (191).

The Eagles, of Rock Hill, S.C., were just 7-20 last season and are unbeaten in conference this season.

Big Ten (7): Michigan State (4), Wisconsin (7), Iowa (9), Indiana (13), Minnesota (15), Purdue (17), Ohio State (20).

You read it right. The Big Ten has seven teams in the RPI's top 20. And Northwestern (39) isn't out of it. The league earned its way with a solid record in nonconference games, but there are skeptics. In recent years, the Big Ten has been brutal in the tournament.

Big 12 (4): Kansas (16), Missouri (31), Nebraska (44), Oklahoma State (46).

This is the Plains version of the Atlantic 10. This is the weakest Kansas team in a decade. Oklahoma State has been disappointing. Villanova crushed the Huskers. Here's the key. In its first 20 games, Texas (50) was 4-8 out of conference and 7-1 in conference.

Big West (1): New Mexico State (88).

Lou Henson is back in Las Cruces for a second year and the Aggies were the last team to lose a league game. Bottom line, this is a bad league.

Colonial (1): Old Dominion (67).

The Monarchs (19-5) have really done well outside the league, but with three league losses, they are no lock to win the tournament.

Conference USA (3): Cincinnati (2), UNC-Charlotte (21), Alabama-Birmingham (41).

Louisville (23) would be a player here, but, unless it wins an appeal to the NCAA (not likely), it's barred for NCAA violations. The Bearcats look like the No. 1 seed in the Midwest (Milwaukee, New Orleans, with the regionals in St. Louis), but Michigan State is still a player for the top seed there.

Ivy (1): Penn (79).

The Quakers, Princeton, the three-time defending champ, and Dartmouth are all unbeaten in the league. In six days, only one of those teams can still be unbeaten. Dartmouth is at Penn and Princeton this weekend. Then, Princeton comes to the Palestra on Tuesday.

Metro Atlantic (1): Siena (28).

I have no idea how Paul Hewitt's team has such a strong RPI because its schedule strength is just 155th and their only good non-conference wins are over George Washington and Pepperdine. Whatever, the Saints (18-2) have it.

Mid-American (2): Toledo (29), Miami of Ohio (42).

After the weekend, these two were a combined 30-7 with several very good wins. Neither will be an easy first-round opponent.

Mid-Continent (1): Valparaiso (128).

Valpo is the only team in America to win its conference regular-season and tournament titles each of the last four years.

Mid-Eastern (1): South Carolina State (219).

Coppin State is lurking, but the Bulldogs were champs last year.

Midwestern Collegiate (1): Detroit (65).

Perry Watson's Titans have become a very solid program.

Missouri Valley (2): Southwest Missouri State (26), Creighton (30).

Steve Alford has done a wonderful job at SWMS. Creighton's Rodney Buford is one of the best, if unknown, players in the country.

Northeast (1): UMBC (132).

The Retrievers, who moved from the Big South after last season, are 14-0 in the league.

Ohio Valley (1): Murray State (62).

The amazing Racers are 20-2 and unbeaten in the league.

Pacific-10 (4): Stanford (3), Arizona (14), UCLA (18), Washington (19).

The Cardinal looks like the No. 1 seed in the West. The league is very strong at the top with four teams in the RPI Top 20. After that, it's a lot of nice teams (California, Oregon State). Perhaps, one of them will slip into the field.

Patriot (1): Lafayette (122).

Fran O'Hanlon's team is alone at the top with one loss.

Southeastern (6): Kentucky (7), Auburn (10), Tennessee (22), Florida (33), Mississippi (40), Arkansas (47).

One of these teams might fall out, but any league that has had a team in the final game each of the last five seasons and won three titles deserves extra consideration.

Southern (1): Charleston (59).

The Cougars changed conferences, but they still win. It looks as if they'll get their usual 25 wins.

Southland (1): Northeast Louisiana (174).

Does it really matter?

Southwestern Athletic (1): Alcorn State (159).

Sorry, no repeat for Prairie View.

Sun Belt (1): Western Kentucky (131).

The whole league is around .500, so anybody could win the tournament.

Trans America (1): Samford (120).

Charleston is gone, so the others have a chance now. The Bulldogs have a three-game lead.

West Coast (1): Gonzaga (45).

John Stockton should be proud, but Pepperdine (58) is still a factor.

Western Athletic (4): Texas Christian (34), Tulsa (36), Nevada-Las Vegas (49), Utah (55).

With its 262nd-ranked schedule, New Mexico (104) is out. The Lobos are ranked 17th, which has to be the biggest-ever discrepancy between polls and RPI.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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