This is the time of year that college basketball coaches and players familiarize themselves with their team's Rating Percentage Index as much as the X's and O's, the time of year when college basketball fans start planning their weekend road trips in March. (Note to road warriors: Syracuse is lovely this time of year.)
You've heard of the September swoon in baseball?
This is the February fade for college hoops.
Now you see them, now you don't ...
Atlantic Coast Conference: Is there a team free-falling worse than Virginia? With Wednesday's loss at Florida State, the Cavaliers (RPI of 47) have lost six of their past eight games. A win over Duke at home next week could right this sinking ship, otherwise Pete Gillen's team might have to win next month's ACC tournament in Charlotte. As of now, the ACC will get four bids: Maryland and Duke will be top seeds, with Wake Forest and North Carolina State also getting in.
Atlantic 10: There are more teams on the proverbial bubble than in most years. While Xavier has likely locked up a bid and Dayton is close (though its most recent RPI of 65 won't help), St. Joseph's has a lot of work left. The Hawks have won four of their last five to get to 10-3 in the league but are still 78th in the RPI. Temple needs to win the A-10 tournament to get a bid.
Big East: Georgetown is rivaling Virginia and Missouri as the most disappointing team in the country. It seems as if the Hoyas (66) haven't recovered from that four-overtime loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago. With Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Miami having clinched spots - the Panthers and Hurricanes could be as high as No. 3 seeds - that leaves Syracuse, as well as red-hot Rutgers and St. John's, on the verge of inclusion. The Irish, meanwhile, could be a seventh team given an RPI of 39.
Big Ten: The interesting dilemma the selection committee will have concerns Michigan State. Will the Spartans (45), given their recent run to three straight Final Fours and coach Tom Izzo's popularity, be given any extra consideration? Last night's 74-55 win over Minnesota (No. 52) could go a long way in determining the fate of these bubble teams - Michigan State is 16-10 (7-6 in the Big Ten), and the Gophers are 14-10 and 7-6 - as will the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin should be already in the field.
Big 12: This is one of the few leagues where the line of demarcation between the haves and have-nots is clearly defined. Kansas, the almost-certain No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, Oklahoma (likely a 1 or 2 in the West), Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech have locked up spots. Missouri (64) didn't help its quickly fading chances with Wednesday's 91-68 loss at Texas Tech and still has to play Kansas and Oklahoma, though both are at home.
Conference USA: Cincinnati could be a top seed in the West, and Marquette has been nearly as big a surprise as the Bearcats. Tonight's game between the two schools in Cincinnati could help determine where they might end come March. Charlotte is the only other team that should make the NCAAs, and an RPI of 28 won't hurt. The NIT can't wait to invite Louisville and Rick Pitino.
Mid-American: Kent State (41 in the RPI) should get in regardless of what it does the rest of the way. Bowling Green could be the odd team out because of its RPI (63). The interesting team to watch is Ball State. The Cardinals have had an up-and-down season, and a low RPI (70), but they are only one of two teams (UCLA is the other) to have beaten Kansas.
Mountain West: Utah, with an RPI of 16, has locked up a bid. Wyoming has fallen into second place in the conference and with an RPI of 75 would need to win the conference tournament. Brigham Young (40) holds the RPI edge over Wyoming but is only 6-5 in the conference.
Pacific-10: This could be the most balanced league in the country. After last night's games, Southern Cal and Oregon were 11-4, Arizona was 11-5, Stanford and Cal were 10-5, and UCLA was 9-6.USC, Oregon and Cal each had 19 wins, and the other three had 17 or 18 overall. According to the latest power ratings, Arizona was the highest at No. 8, followed by UCLA (23), Southern Cal (29), Oregon (31), Stanford (32) and California (37).
Southeastern: Six teams are likely to be invited. Florida, Georgia and Kentucky should get in from the East, while Alabama, Mississippi and Mississippi State will get in from the West.
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky, led by 7-foot-1 center Chris Marcus, could be one of the sleepers in this year's tournament.
West Coast: Despite playing in a rather mediocre league, Gonzaga has maintained both its national ranking and RPI (26) and figures to be a factor in March. Pepperdine is No. 54, but its wins over USC, UCLA and the Zags will go far with the committee.
From now until the NCAA tournament, The Sun will run its weekly seedings for the top four teams from each regional. The seedings will be made before Thursday night's games.
4. Ohio State