No. 1 priority (cont.)
Posted: Monday February 18, 2008 12:19PM; Updated: Tuesday February 19, 2008 8:27AM
Just how big is Saturday's Memphis-Tennessee showdown? If the season ended today, the Tigers and Vols would likely be the top two overall seeds (they are in this projection). Last week's losses by Kansas (at Texas) and Duke (at Wake Forest) opened the door for Tennessee (23-2), which is 8-1 against top 50 RPI foes.
In case you're wondering, the Wake Forest loss did not affect Duke's standing as a No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils' 14-2 record against the top 100 is better than everyone but Memphis and North Carolina, the latter of whom Duke beat head-to-head.
Just as Wake Forest (16-8) snuck up on the Blue Devils, suddenly the Demon Deacons -- which entered Sunday's game ranked 81st in the RPI and completely off the tourney radar -- are right in the mix. At 6-5 in the ACC, with quality wins over Duke and BYU, Wake isn't quite there yet, but could be soon enough if it wins one of its next two games against North Carolina or Maryland.
It was a rough week for last season's national-title game participants, Florida and Ohio State, which went a combined 1-3. Already fighting for their tourney lives, the Gators (19-7) did themselves no favors by falling at home to LSU (9-15), while the Buckeyes (17-9) laid an egg at 8-17 Michigan.
As a result, both teams fell out of my projected field. If the same holds true on Selection Sunday, it will mark the first time since 1980 -- the year after Magic-Bird for Michigan State and Indiana State -- that both the defending champion and runner-up failed to earn bids to the following year's tournament.
On the flip side, Arizona State (16-8) not only leapt onto the bracket but into a solid No. 9 seed after beating two RPI top 20 teams, Arizona and Stanford, in an a four-day span. The Sun Devils, 6-6, are hardly a lock yet, however. Due to an abysmal non-conference schedule rating (314th out of 341 Division I teams), ASU's RPI remains stuck at No. 73.
Meanwhile, the one team the Sun Devils lost to last week, Cal (15-9), earned my last at-large berth, giving the Pac-10 an absurd eight bids (not bad for a 10-team league). I don't see that holding up come Selection Sunday, and the Bears (6-7 in the conference), ASU and Oregon (15-10) all need extremely strong finishes.
One last thought to ponder: Can the Sun Belt, ranked 15th out of 31 conferences, manage to earn two bids? Western Kentucky (21-5, 13-1 in the Sun Belt) moved a half-game ahead of South Alabama (21-5, 13-2) in the standings this week, which means the Hilltoppers get the league's automatic bid in these projections, but South Alabama, with an RPI of 36, merits strong at-large consideration.
The Jaguars earned a bid this week, barely, due in large part to their strong non-conference schedule (27th). The committee has shown recently that they look favorably on mid-majors that schedule big-name teams out of conference. South Alabama only beat one of those teams (Mississippi State) but also took Vanderbilt (No. 10 in the RPI) to overtime in Nashville.
All RPI ratings come from CollegeRPI.com.
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