Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, February 19, 2007

NCAA Tournament: Guru's Hunt For The Field of 64

Guru’s Note: Here is your weekly AP voters’ link, although we’re providing this hours ahead of Monday’s newest poll. When you get to the site, this is week 16, which will tell you if you have the newest ballots to peruse.

The next edition of Molto Monday from Acacia in Italy is unknown at this hour, but we’ll post it later in the afternoon or thereafter when we return to the office to work the desk.

And with that, it is time to start focusing on the NCAA tournament forecast.

By Mel Greenberg

PHILADELPHIA _ First and foremost, whatever we are about to discuss, as you have read elsewhere in tournament discussions, this work involves the scene as we see it today, subject to change, and using Jerry Palm’s RPI numbers, since they were available in up-to-date form late Sunday night.

So, who’s your four No. 1 seeds, Guru?

That part is easy after Duke once again tossed another Lindsey Harding missile at Maryland, the defending NCAA champions, this time Sunday night in College Park, making two doses of revenge for the Blue Devils’ losing to the Terrapins in last season’s national title game.

Duke gets the overall No. 1 seed, for now. The Blue Devils still have to play North Carolina again this coming Sunday, but at home, and will have to meet, barring upsets, either the Tar Heels or Terrapins, but not both, one more time in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

The next two No. 1 seeds go to North Carolina, without regard to the upset loss to North Carolina State, Friday night, and to Tennessee. Rank order is to be determined. And the fourth No. 1 seed is now Connecticut’s to lose. Maryland might re-gain the high ground if the Huskies stumble between now and the Big East title. But that alone wouldn’t do it. The Terrapins would have to win the ACC tournament to re-gain lost value.

For now, Maryland holds a high No. 2 seed, as does Louisiana State. Ohio State appears to have a shot at a No. 2, but the Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan State means they must win the Big Ten to hold on to the second line of the “S” curve. Then, a crowd of teams are right behind Ohio State in the seeding hunt. Oklahoma might get back into the Sooners’ pre-season regard by running the table into the Big 12 championship.

This discussion, however, is going to be more centered on just who is going to get into the 64-team field.

Right now, in a year that had a few frontrunners, nationally, and then everybody else, it appears the selection committee better have a good supply of headache medication, because never before have we seen so few “locks” at this late stage of the season. And it could come to a point that the committee will still be looking to fill the field with five or six teams. Of the remaining contenders for those tickets to the Big Dance, none may meet the premium standards we always discuss.

Looming as a key category this time, at least it would be for the Guru, if he was on the committee, is "last ten games."

Who are the hot teams now and how do they compare when the other numbers are applied.

That said, let’s attempt to do some counting. The teams we considered were all given a glance as to how they perform on the Nitty Gritty sheet, also known at Palm’s site as The Gory Details.

For the sake of filling the numbers, here are the conferences worth one team alone, although there is a small wrinkle to this.

The one-team groups include America East, Atlantic Sun, Big Sky, Big South, Big West, Conference USA, Horizon, Ivy, Metro Atlantic, Mid-American, Mid-Continent, Mid-Eastern, Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Northeast, Ohio Valley, Patriot, Southern, Southland, Sun Belt, SWAC, Western Athletic, and West Coast.

That gives us 23 via automatic bids. The remaining eight will come from multi-representative groups. And everything else occurs off the search for 33 at-large teams.

Next, let’s zoom into the group of 23 conferences. If you think your team is on the bubble, you need to cheer for a few things in the 23 group to help your cause because a few conference leaders appear to be “locks,” meaning if “wrong winners” happen, these teams will bump out of the way some contenders for the at-large picks.

In the America East, Hartford, the frontrunner, is a long-shot for being saved if it doesn’t win the automatic. But the Hawks would be among a major pileup of teams under consideration if the committee is still trying to fill its last few spots.

Cheer for Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference because the math makes the squad too compelling not to be taken as an at-large. Ball State would be better served with an upset title, but the team appears to be one that will be discussed if the committee is struggling for those last spots.

The Mountain West is worth a headache or two after easily supplying multiples in the past. If BYU wins outright, that may be the end of it, although TCU would be discussed along with possibly New Mexico. But all couldn’t make it and any of them don’t compare much favorably with also-rans from other major conferences.

That’s a problem Wisconsin-Green Bay may run into if it doesn’t win the Horizon, because we can’t yet call them a lock.

Likewise to the MAC, Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt is a lock. Western Kentucky would be discussed, but at the moment we have them on the low bubble level.

Automatics and Locks

So now we must find 41 teams, of which eight will be automatics. In this discussion, we are only looking to draw the map of contenders. We can’t fill the slots at this hour, but we can give you an idea of the dynamics based on procedures we’ve observed in the past.

Let’s first work on the lock list.

Atlantic Coast -- In the ACC, Duke, North Carolina, and Maryland are all in, one probably will be the champion, and North Carolina State appears to have earned its spot after beating North Carolina on Friday night. We have Florida State in the high bubble group, and Georgia Tech in the medium bubble group.

Atlantic Ten -- In the A-10, George Washington is a lock, and is still the favorite to win the automatic. We’re being somewhat conservative with Temple, but we’re putting them in the high bubble group, for the moment, but understand, much of the high bubble group would have to get picked. The Owls, unbeaten in the league with George Washington at the moment, probably put themselves in the NCAA by beating Charlotte Sunday. They go head-to-head with GW this Sunday in Washington and the two could meet again in the conference championship.

Xavier, which will host the A-10, is also in the high bubble group, and likely to get picked. Charlotte needs to do some tournament damage.

Big 12 -- Next up, the Big 12, and does anyone have some aspirin for this discussion? Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Nebraska are locks and one will probably be the automatic winner of the conference. Iowa State is in our high bubble group. Texas Tech is in the lower bubble group, but could be one of the first taken if teams are still needed. Texas is also in the far group, but, hey, 3-7 in the “last ten games” category does not help. We put Texas Tech out in the farest group because of 5-5 in the last ten.

Big East -- And now we move to the Big East, which is really a hybrid of its former self and the former Conference USA configuration.

Give locks to Connecticut, Rutgers, Marquette, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, with Connecticut most likely to win the automatic bid. We have South Florida and West Virginia in the high bubble group, and, for now, Seton Hall and DePaul in the lower bubble group.

Big Ten -- In the Big Ten, we have Ohio State, Purdue, and Michigan State as locks, with one of them likely to win the automatic bid. At this hour, we placed Illinois in the low bubble group to see how they would compare if teams were still needed. Of course, a loss before the tournament may make this move unnecessary, unless the Illini make somewhat of a run.

CAA -- As for the Colonial Athletic Association, James Madison appears a lock and this conference might be the chief beneficiary of the drought of high multiple providers from the past in places such as the Big Ten, and a few other conferences. We put Delaware, Old Dominion, and Hofstra in the lower bubble group, but at least one of them could get taken and, who knows, one of them might win the CAA, such as the perennial 15-title run of ODU.

Pac-10 -- Stanford and Arizona State are locks with Stanford likely to win the automatic bid. We have California on the high bubble list, and not quite a lock, only because of the Bears’ adventurous weekend in Oregon. We also Southern Cal in the high bubble group, but they could be interchangeable with Washington. This is our move, but we will note that the real committee could have their own ideas about Southern Cal and Washington.

SEC -- Still an outstanding conference is the Southeastern group, but not necessarily a top-to-almost-to-the-bottom collection as in the past. Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Mississippi, are locks, and that might be it. One is likely to win the tournament. A sixth could pop, but not before much deliberation.

Thus, our lock list, which includes eight automatics, but doesn’t count BYU, Middle Tennessee, or Bowling Green, which were previously discussed, comes to 25, if the Guru is counting this right.

Not So Tiny Bubbles

We said, we needed 41 to fill the field, so we’re still 16 short.

Our high bubble list of Florida State, Temple, Xavier, Iowa State, South Florida, West Virginia, California, and Southern Cal or Washington, gets us another eight, if all get picked.

The Finishing Touch

Then the real fun begins getting the picks from what’s left, which looks like 11 or more depending on wrong winners. And the committee, with all the math, will have more teams off a long list.

One other observation. The teams that get the No. 6 seeds in the NCAA will all be capable of playing against No. 3 seeds in the second round, but many will get tough competition themselves from some No. 11 seeds. No. 5 seeds could beat No. 4s, but the dubious prize will be going against top seeds. No. 7 seeds may not be desired, either, but one or two might be capable of upsetting a No. 2, depending who lands on the second row.

That’s it for now.

-- Mel


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