Monday, February 08, 1999

Bearcats still No. 1 seed material

A-10 title would be key for XU

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Did the Cincinnati Bearcats' loss at DePaul cost them a No.1 seed?

        In a word: No.

        One month out from Selection Sunday, we assessed the landscape and found:

        • UC will be a No.1 seed in the Midwest.

Projected seeds and analysis
NCAA Tournament: League-by-league outlook
        Saturday's 61-60 overtime loss may have cost UC some margin for error, and will probably keep the Bearcats in the Midwest instead of the South, where first-round games are just a hop away in Indianapolis. But UC is still a likely No. 1 seed.

        • Xavier, 16-7 and No.62 in the RPI, can solidify its standing by winning four of its final six regular-season games, which would get the Musketeers to 20 wins.

        • Kentucky, 19-6 and ninth in the RPI, probably has no chance at a No.1 seed.

        • If Miami, 17-4 and 24th in the RPI, wants to breathe easily, the RedHawks better not lose more than one more Mid-American Conference game.

        • Other top seeds: Connecticut (East), Duke (South), Michigan State (West).

        Here's the outlook for Tristate teams:

        • Cincinnati (21-2): The No. 4 Bearcats needlessly imperiled their status as a No. 1 seed with a flat performance and defeat at DePaul, but the committee will note their two losses have been by a combined three points and that the end of each was clouded by officials' calls.

        What UC cannot afford is to lose more than one more time, and even then it is difficult to imagine a circumstance that would not be considered for a No. 1. The Bearcats have two more games remaining against top 30 teams in the Ratings Percentage Index, against UNC Charlotte and Louisville, and both are at home.

        What the Bearcats almost certainly lost Saturday, with their loss and the victory by Connecticut, is the opportunity to open as a No. 1 seed in the South, where first-round games are at Indianapolis.

        UConn's win at Stanford means it would be ludicrous for the Huskies not to remain in the East and play first-round games in Boston.

        The committee made the original error by selecting three Southern sites this year and spreading them across three regions — Charlotte in the East, Orlando in the South, New Orleans in the Midwest — and there is no reason the best Eastern team should be anywhere but in the East Regional.

        That means Duke gets the No.1 in the South Regional and most likely head to Orlando. If UC can hang onto a No.1 spot, it would most likely be in the Midwest with first-round games in Milwaukee.

        • Xavier (16-7): The Musketeers do not have a healthy RPI number (62), but the way they dominated the Atlantic 10 in the season's first few weeks, it seemed not to matter. After a loss to La Salle, perhaps it might.

        At their best, the Musketeers are not only one of the best 64 teams in the nation, they are one of the best 20. But three losses in the past two weeks revealed problems.

        They have six games remaining, four at home. Xavier would hit 20 wins in the regular season if it were to go 4-2 down the stretch, which would be difficult for the committee to ignore. That is especially true if the Musketeers can take down Temple at home Sunday and win at George Washington Feb. 27.

        There still is an opportunity to win the Atlantic 10 regular-season title, which would all but guarantee an at-large bid.

        • Kentucky (19-6): The Wildcats' puzzling swoon will affect their seeding only if it continues, not likely with hapless South Carolina coming to town next.

        Only a complete collapse by the entire first wave of contenders for No.1 seeds (UC, Stanford, Michigan State, Auburn) and a run of eight consecutive wins by the Wildcats could put them in line to be a No.1.

        However, UK most likely will be placed in the Midwest Region with first-round games at New Orleans. The Superdome has plenty of tickets available. Kentucky has plenty of fans to buy them.

        • Miami (17-4): A team that drops only one game this deep into such a balanced conference ought to be considered a must for an NCAA invitation.

        It helps that the RedHawks defeated Toledo, the Mid-American Conference's other top hope for an NCAA at-large bid. If both were to be prevented from winning the league tournament, Miami would have the edge in terms of star quality (Wally Szczerbiak) and the head-to-head competition.

        The RedHawks still have to visit Toledo, Bowling Green and Ball State, three of the toughest trips in the league, as well as playing Kent at home. It would help greatly to lose no more than one in that stretch; more than two would be disastrous.

        • Ohio State (16-7): Coach Jim O'Brien is among those most nervous about looking ahead toward breaking the Buckeyes' six-year tournament drought.

        He wants to focus on the immediate future. Looking at the schedule, it's easy to see why. Nothing in the Big Ten is easy, but it has to be nice to have Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin at home and have one of the remaining three road games played at Penn State. Even winning half gets OSU seeded among the top seven in a region. Going 4-2 would give the Buckeyes a chance to be a No.5 or better.

        • Indiana (18-7): There is no doubt Indiana will be included in the field, and it may even overcome a lack of achievement on the road to earn a high seed.

        The remaining schedule sends IU on the road only twice, to Northwestern and Illinois.

        Although the Hoosiers have an impressive RPI ranking, the committee does pay attention to where a team is winning its games, which may keep them to about a No. 5. IU has done very little of note on the road.

Projected seeds and analysis
NCAA Tournament: League-by-league outlook

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