Posted: Thursday January 12, 2006 1:07PM; Updated: Thursday January 12, 2006 11:04PM
Louisville and Villanova could both be a part of the largest single-conference representation in NCAA tournament history.
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Seth Davis will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his Hoop Thoughts column.
Last summer, while very few people were paying attention, the NCAA men's basketball committee changed one of the rules that govern how it brackets the NCAA tournament. Whereas in the past two teams from the same conference could not play until a regional final, this year, for the first time, they may face each other as early as the second round.
This small adjustment serves as a backdrop to a question that I believe will be hotly debated between now and Selection Sunday: How many teams from the newly expanded Big East will play in the NCAA tournament? Since last season, the Big East has increased from 11 to 16 teams, and several that were supposed to be mediocre are now looking anything but.
No conference has ever sent more than seven teams to the tournament, but in changing the bracketing rule last summer the committee was preparing for the possibility that more than eight teams from a conference could earn bids. Does that mean the Big East will get nine? Not necessarily. It may get 10.
Think I'm nuts? Well, consider that if you were going to take that many right now, the last of those 10 would arguably be DePaul. The Blue Demons were 8-5 going into Thursday's game at Pitt, but their wins included road victories at Dayton, Wake Forest and Cal and wins over Creighton, UAB and Notre Dame at home. That would at least warrant strong bubble consideration.
Look at it another way: In 1991 the Big East had only nine teams and sent seven to the tournament. That's 77.7 percent of the league. At that rate, the conference would send 12 this year.
The committee has always maintained that it judges teams based on their individual performances and does not take the conference question into consideration. Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, a former chairman of the selection committee, has faith in that notion, though he was reluctant to play the numbers game when I ran this idea by him this week. "I've talked to members of the committee and they've told me they're going to be open-minded," Tranghese said. "But it's still too early. I'm realistic to know that teams inside the league are going to knock each other off."
The way I see it, eight is the minimum number of berths the Big East will get. Nine is more likely. Ten is not out of the question. We won't know for sure until it all plays out over the next two months, but in the meantime we'll have a lot of fun watching and guessing.
Other Hoop Thoughts
I know the folks at Oklahoma thought their chemistry would improve after Drew Lavender and Lawrence McKenzie transferred, but the Sooners could really use their playmaking and shooting right now. Terrell Everett is just not a full-time point guard, and OU's perimeter play has suffered on both ends of the floor. The Sooners are 11th in the Big 12 in field goal defense and 3-point shooting, and they are dead last in 3-point defense.
I was bummed that Northwestern lost at home to Penn State on Wednesday night to drop to 2-1 in the Big Ten. I just wanted a few more days of seeing the Wildcats tied for first place in the league.
Syracuse freshman Eric Devendorf is a major talent, but I wish he would keep his yap shut and just play.
N.C. State has a very efficient offense and a lot of experience, so to beat the 'Pack you have to get after them defensively and score in transition. North Carolina played that way and knocked off N.C. State at home. Boston College took a more passive approach and lost.
Several NBA scouts have told me they really love West Virginia guard Mike Gansey. He's a legit 6-4, is a great shooter and he's a much better athlete than people realize.
I really can't say enough about John Calipari's schedule down at Memphis. Besides loading up on highly ranked squads such as UCLA, Duke, Gonzaga and Texas, Cal also added three true road games plus a home date last Saturday against Winthrop -- exactly the type of quality mid-major team that coaches in Calipari's position usually avoid. (Memphis won, 73-63.) This schedule and the way the Tigers have played it clearly gives them an inside track at a No. 1 seed.