Thursday, February 28, 2002

Seed talk sows discontent for XU

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm lately have found their inboxes overflowing with Xavier e-mail.

        Musketeers fans, seeing the team's national ranking and high Ratings Percentage Index figure, have been salivating over a high NCAA Tournament seed. Lunardi and Palm, “bracketology” gurus who know the Selection Committee's every whim, caution them against inflated expectations.

        They both say XU (20-5, 12-2 Atlantic 10) needs just one more victory, which it could get tonight against visiting LaSalle (13-14, 6-8), to be in safe range for an at-large NCAA bid. But the seed the Musketeers could expect probably will be lower than its RPI or ranking might suggest.

        “It's not a hollow No.24 ranking (in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll), but I don't see them being a really high seed with the quality wins they don't have,” said Lunardi, an columnist.

        That's the issue Lunardi and Palm, whose College- Web site offers an independent duplication of the RPI, feel is holding XU back. Lunardi projects XU as a No.9 seed; Palm has it as a seventh seed.

        “The highest they could get, if they win out and win the A-10 Tournament, would be a six (seed), because they didn't do enough out of conference,” Palm said. “The competition is too high for fives and sixes. They didn't do enough good things to get seeded high.”

        The e-mails peaked last week, when XU held a No. 20 RPI but was tabbed an eighth seed by both Palm and Lunardi.

        Quality victories is a key component for the committee, they say. XU, which stood 26th Wednesday in the RPI, has played just three teams in the RPI's Top 50 — Cincinnati (4), Kent State (35) and Missouri (49) — and beaten only Kent State. Wisconsin, which XU also beat, is close, at No.51. Both the KSU and Wisconsin games were at home.

        “They don't have any great wins,” Palm said. “The committee doesn't give out at-large bids very often to teams that don't have top50 wins.”

        Just four times in the eight previous years under the current RPI formula have teams with no top-50 RPI victories made the field. Tulsa, with a No.29 RPI but 0-4 record against the top 50, fits that profile this year.

        Last winter, XU's RPI was iffy at No.44, but it got in the NCAAs on the strength of three top-50 victories. Palm and Lunardi say the strongest factor for XU making it is its A-10 lead.

        The highest seed XU has secured is a No.6, in 1990 and '98. This, Lunardi said, won't be the year it goes higher: “I'm extremely sure there will not be a team in the top 20 (picked) that does not have an RPI top-25 win.”

        Lunardi said each subsequent loss from this point would cost XU roughly one seeding placement.


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