Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Tourney race is on


UC, UK are in. Then, things get interesting

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Greater Cincinnati college basketball fans are used to seeing a crowded schedule come NCAA Tournament time.

Recent years have provided as many as five local teams to follow in the men's and women's fields. It has become a right of March to see Cincinnati and Xavier represented in both tournaments, and Kentucky as a favorite in the men's field.

With that success have come postseason expectations that probably will not be met this season. One month from Selection Sunday, March 14, just two area teams seem assured of receiving bids when the men's and women's NCAA Tournament pairings are announced.

Those would be the University of Kentucky and University of Cincinnati men's teams. Both are ranked in the Top 25 in the polls and in the ratings percentage index.

Kentucky (17-4) has posted a half dozen high-profile wins but suffered a bad loss to Georgia Saturday. The Wildcats probably will have to win the Southeastern Conference Tournament to contend for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If not, it's unlikely Kentucky will slip any lower than a No. 3 seed, considering UK is rated No. 3 in the RPI.

Three weeks ago, Cincinnati (17-3, 25 RPI) could have been considered for a top seed, but a loss to Louisville and consecutive losses to Charlotte and Xavier ended that discussion. The Bearcats' schedule strength, 76th, isn't high enough to earn UC a top-three seed. If Cincinnati can win out and win the C-USA Tournament, the Bearcats might move up to a four seed. But realistically, UC will be a five, six or seven.

The rest of the local teams would settle for any seed. They must either make their case during the remainder of the regular season or play their way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the conference tournament.

The Xavier men, who haven't missed the NCAAs since 1999-2000, turned around a season that was heading in the wrong direction but still have work to do. At 14-9 with an RPI of 59, Xavier might need to win its last six regular-season games and advance to at least the Atlantic 10 Tournament final. Otherwise, the Musketeers could host a first-round National Invitation Tournament game.

The Xavier women are in the best position of the local women's teams. XU is 15-9 with an RPI of 97 going into today's game at Richmond. But that is far from even being on the bubble, and the Musketeers lost a valuable RPI game Friday at George Washington. Xavier probably needs to get at least 20 wins and reach the A-10 Tournament final. If Xavier doesn't make the NCAAs, the women's NIT is a possibility.

Cincinnati's women have weathered a disappointing .500 season after beginning the season with NCAA expectations. At 12-12 and with an RPI of 86, only a Conference USA Tournament championship will get the Bearcats into the postseason. The same goes for UK's women, who are 9-13 and have won just one Southeastern Conference game.

Miami's men (11-8, 104 RPI) need to win the Mid-American Conference Tournament to reach the NCAAs. The schedule strength playing in the MAC is just too low to get an at-large bid, but Charlie Coles' team could be an NIT player.

The RedHawks women have an outside chance at making the NCAAs as an at-large at 15-6 with an RPI of 70. The MAC rarely sends multiple teams, so MU probably will need to win the league tournament, even though Miami is in first place in the MAC East.

Beyond the local scene, Dayton and Louisville are set to send their men's teams to the NCAAs. Louisville (17-4, RPI 6) is playing for a top-four seed but hurt itself by losing at Charlotte Thursday. Dayton needs to finish strong to get a seed better than an eight or a nine. The Flyers (19-4, RPI 34) have an impressive record, but UD's strength of schedule is rated 90th, and the Flyers have no big RPI games left unless they meet Saint Joseph's in the A-10 Tournament. Dayton's best wins are a pair of victories against Richmond, 42nd in the RPI.

Indiana's schedule has kept it with a decent RPI at No. 62, but the Hoosiers (12-10) probably need to win out and advance to at least the Big Ten semifinals to get an NCAA bid. Ohio State, playing .500 basketball, must win the Big Ten Tournament. The Buckeyes' only top-50 RPI win came against Villanova Nov. 26.

Sizing up the Dance

Here is a mock NCAA Tournament field as compiled by Enquirer reporter Dustin Dow (RPI in parentheses):

No. 1 seeds: Stanford (5), Duke (1), Saint Joseph's (2), Mississippi State (4)

No. 2: Kentucky (3), Gonzaga (12), Connecticut (9), Oklahoma State (8)

No. 3: Pittsburgh (20), Louisville (6), Texas (10), North Carolina (17)

No. 4: North Carolina State (15), Kansas (14), Providence (11), Georgia Tech (16)

No. 5: Arizona (28), Cincinnati (25), Wisconsin (18), Florida (7)

No. 6: South Carolina (41), Southern Illinois (22), Texas Tech (19), Louisiana State (21)

No. 7: Dayton (34), Maryland (33), Wake Forest (24), Seton Hall (13)

No. 8: Syracuse (29), Memphis (32), Charlotte (26), Florida State (44)

No. 9: Vanderbilt (23), Utah State (36), Western Michigan (50), Michigan State (43)

No. 10: Illinois (38), Boston College (27), Oklahoma (35), Air Force (56)

No. 11: Utah (39), Hawaii (49), Kent State (63), UAB (31)

No. 12: Manhattan (55), BYU (45), UTEP (40), Creighton (58)

No. 13: Troy State (75), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (48), Drexel (86), Rutgers (37)

No. 14: Murray State (64), IUPUI (100), East Tennessee State (79), Louisiana-Lafayette (78)

No. 15: Princeton (138), Monmouth (126), Lafayette (109), Vermont (124)

No. 16: Southeast Louisiana (164), Winthrop (196), Mississippi Valley State (169)

Play-in: So. Carolina State (245), Eastern Wash. (147).

Could fall out: Illinois, Utah, Creighton, Kent State, Hawaii, UAB, BYU, Michigan State, UTEP, Rutgers

Could sneak in: Richmond, Colorado, Xavier, Indiana, California, Michigan, Purdue, Villanova, Alabama, DePaul

Final Four favorites: Saint Joseph's, Stanford, UConn, Gonzaga

Sleepers: Kent State, Florida State, Charlotte, Utah St.

NCAA MEN'S TOURNAMENT

Play-in game March 16

• University of Dayton Arena, Dayton

Ticket Information: $10

Ticket office number: (937) 229-4433

First and second rounds

March 18/20

• HSBC Arena, Buffalo

• Pepsi Center, Denver

• RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.

• Key Arena, Seattle

March 19/21

• Nationwide Arena, Columbus

Tickets sold out to the public.

• Kemper Arena, Kansas City, Mo.

• Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wis.

• TD Waterhouse Center, Orlando, Fla.

Regionals

March 25/27

• East: Continental Airlines Arena, East Rutherford, N.J.

• West: America West Arena, Phoenix

March 26/28

• Midwest: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

Ticket Information: $110, $100

Ticket office number: (314) 241-1888

Web Site: www.ncaastlouis04.com

• South: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Final Four

April 3/5

• Alamodome, San Antonio

Future Final Fours

• 2005: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

• 2006: RCA Dome, Indianapolis

• 2007: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

NCAA WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

First and second rounds

May 20/22 or 21/23

• University Arena "The Pit," Albuquerque, N.M.

• McKenzie Arena. Chattanooga, Tenn.

• St. John Arena, Columbus

Ticket info: $20 adult, $10 student

Ticket office: 800-462-8257

• Dahlberg Arena, Missoula, Mont.

• The Liacouras Center, Philadelphia

• The Thunderdome, Santa Barbara, Calif.

• Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center, Tallahassee, Fla.

• Wells Fargo Arena, Tempe, Ariz.

• James H. Hilton Coliseum, Ames, Iowa

• Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

• Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, La.

• Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.

• Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.

• Bridgeport Arena at Harbor Yard, Bridgeport, Conn.

• Williams Arena, Minneapolis

• Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.

Regional Sites

March 27/29 or 28/30

• East: Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, Conn.

• West: Bank of America Arena, Seattle

• Mideast: Ted Constant Convocation Center, Norfolk, Va.

• Midwest: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, Okla.

Final Four

April 4/6

• New Orleans Arena

Future Final Fours

• 2005: RCA Dome, Indianapolis

• 2006: FleetCenter, Boston

• 2007: Gund Arena, Cleveland

---

E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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