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The waiting game (cont.)

Posted: Monday March 5, 2007 10:19AM; Updated: Monday March 5, 2007 1:12PM
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First Five Out:

1) Purdue (20-10, 9-7 in the Big Ten, No. 45 RPI): A trio of wins over Northwestern (twice) and Minnesota last week padded the Boilers' record, but their most noteworthy victories (Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois and Virginia) have all come at home. Purdue went 2-8 on the road and may need to knock off top-seed Ohio State this week to secure a bid.

2) Illinois (21-10, 9-7 in the Big Ten, No. 35 RPI): The Illini's high RPI ranking is deceiving -- their only top-50 wins have come against Michigan State, Indiana and Bradley (an NIT team). They also lost 64-47 to Purdue in the teams' only head-to-head matchup. Illinois doesn't have any truly bad losses, though, and two Big Ten tourney wins might do it.

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3) Kansas State (21-10, 10-6 in the Big 12, No. 61 RPI): You would think the fourth-place team in the Big 12 would be in better shape, but Bob Huggins' squad is plagued by a 1-5 record vs. the top 50 (though that one win was at Texas) and No. 231 non-conference strength of schedule. The Wildcats may need to beat both Texas Tech and Kansas this week.

4) West Virginia (21-8, 9-7 in the Big East, No. 56 RPI): Wins over UCLA and Villanova get the Mountaineers in the discussion, but a 2-6 top-50 record and ungodly non-conference schedule strength of No. 273 are keeping them out. They may need to reach the Big East final to have a chance.

5) Clemson (21-9, 7-9 in the ACC, No. 47 RPI): The previously slumping Tigers got themselves back in the mix (barely) with a huge win at Virginia Tech. They have still won just four of their past 13 games, however, and need to prove Sunday's win wasn't a fluke. If it comes down to it, they do hold head-to-head wins over Florida State (twice) and Old Dominion.

Next five: Alabama (20-10, 7-9 in the SEC); San Diego State (21-9, 10-6 in the MWC); UMass (23-7, 13-3 in the A-10); DePaul (17-12, 9-7 in the Big East); Michigan (20-11, 8-8 in the Big Ten).

Keeping An Eye On ...

• Is George Mason about to pull off another miracle? Last year's Final Four darlings finished the regular season just 9-9 in the CAA and 15-14 overall, but over the weekend they knocked off both third-seeded Hofstra and second-seeded Old Dominion to reach Monday night's Colonial title game against top-seed VCU. If the Patriots win, they will steal away an NCAA berth from someone -- either Drexel or ODU from their own conference or a major-conference bubble team elsewhere.

• Outside of UCLA and Ohio State, the race for the No. 1 seeds could remain very fluid right up until Sunday. Right now I have Kansas and Wisconsin just ahead of North Carolina and Florida, but if either the Jayhawks or Badgers stumble prior to their tourney finals, the Heels or Gators could easily pass them. Note, however, that due to time constraints, the committee has to mostly wrap up the seeding process prior to Sunday's conference-title games, so whether or not the teams involved actually win championships might not have an impact.

• Texas A&M and Georgetown will be hard-pressed to reach the top line, but I don't see them slipping below a second seed, either. There's a noticeable difference between them and the teams currently on the three line.

• A few teams quickly surging up the bracket: Maryland (No. 3 seed), Tennessee (No. 4) and Texas (No. 4). It's hard to believe that a few weeks ago, all three were considered bubble teams. The Terps have won seven straight, including a sweep of Duke and a home win over North Carolina; the Vols have won seven of eight, including last week's rousing victory over Florida and a good road win at Georgia; and any committee member who watched the 'Horns' double-OT win over Texas A&M or 54-point first half at Kansas last week surely realizes Kevin Durant & Co. have vastly improved over the second half of the season.

• Heading in the opposite direction: Nevada. The Wolf Pack have long been a top-four seed on mine and other mock brackets due largely to their gaudy record (27-3) and high AP ranking. I decided it was time to take a closer look, however, the same way the committee will, and the fact is Nevada has played only one game all season against a top-50 team: A 58-49 home loss to UNLV. I currently have the Rebels as a six seed; I now see Nevada falling in about the same range (6 to 7).

• Finally, I don't know if I've ever seen a harder major-conference team to gauge than Virginia. The Cavs, if you didn't notice, shared the ACC regular season championship with North Carolina (11-5). Pretty impressive, right? Except that in the ACC's unbalanced schedule, Virginia managed to play half its league games against the bottom five teams. And the Cavs have lost to two of those teams, Wake Forest and Miami, since Feb. 21. I have them as a six seed, behind three ACC teams (Virginia Tech, Maryland and Duke) they finished ahead of in the standings. That's unusual.

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