First rounds will be a huge factor

Originally Published: March 9, 2005
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Conference tournament first-round or quarterfinal games will be more important to the selection process this week than at any time in recent memory.

So says at least one source close to the NCAA Tournament selection committee. There could be bubble-bursting games in the first round, like Indiana-Minnesota in the Big Ten.

"There are so many teams that need to win a first-round game to create some separation," said the source. "There is a lot of pressure to win these first-round games."

The other major issue for the selection committee will be how to handle the often-talked-about but supposedly-not-that-important RPI.

For example, does the committee take Saint Mary's with 25 wins and an InsideRPI of 33 but only one Top 25 win (against Gonzaga)? Or does the committee ignore the RPI and go with Virginia Tech (RPI: 119) and its Top 25 win over Duke?

Both may get invitations, or one may get a bid over the other – or each could end up getting shut out of the Dance.

Saint Mary's lost to Gonzaga in the WCC tournament title game Monday night in Santa Clara and is apparently not a lock at this juncture, according to ESPN.com's sources. That obviously could change as the rest of Championship Week unfolds, but right now the Gaels are sweating it out.

Based on what we're hearing, here are some other nuggets to help set up the rest of Championship Week:

Teams bubble teams are rooting for:
Pacific (Big West), Nevada (WAC) and Utah (Mountain West): All three are locks if they don't win their respective conference tournaments.

TEAMS LIKELY NEEDING A WIN (or more) to ensure a better night's sleep on Saturday:
Indiana (15-12, 10-6) – Plays Minnesota on Friday in the Big Ten quarterfinals. If the Hoosiers win, they'd likely get a crack at No. 1 Illinois in the semifinals.

NC State (17-12, 7-9) – Plays Florida State in Thursday's first round of the ACC tournament. Would then get a rematch with Wake Forest (sans Chris Paul) in the quarters.

Virginia Tech (15-12, 8-8) – Plays Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals on Friday. With a win, good chance of seeing North Carolina in the semis .

Maryland (16-11, 7-9) – Plays Clemson, which swept the Terps, in the first round on Thursday. But sources said the two wins over Duke could push the Terps into the field, regardless of this outcome.

Texas A&M (19-8, 8-8) – The Aggies may need two wins but the 8-8 Big 12 mark is getting them serious consideration. The Aggies play Kansas State in the first round and then Kansas in the quarterfinals.

Georgetown (16-11, 8-8) – The Hoyas might need two wins to get into the Dance but must beat Seton Hall at the very least in the first round of the Big East tourney on Wednesday.

West Virginia (18-9, 8-8) – The Mountaineers might need only one win, meaning they must beat Providence in Wednesday's Big East first round.

New Mexico (23-6, 10-4) – The Lobos, according to our sources, have to beat BYU in the MWC quarterfinals and probably Air Force in the semifinals to warrant a bid.

DePaul (18-9, 10-6) – The Blue Demons do have a favored status but must beat Tulane in the first round of the Conference USA tournament to be considered.

UAB (20-9, 10-6) – If DePaul beats Tulane in the C-USA in the first round, it would be UAB-DePaul in the quarterfinals in a potential bubble game – although sources say both are close to being in at this point.

Vanderbilt (18-12, 8-8) – The Commodores are the lone bubble team in the SEC. They must beat Auburn in the first round and then possibly LSU in the quarters.

UTEP (24-7, 14-4) – The word is that the Miners must get to the final (where they'd likely lose to Nevada) to get an at-large berth out of the WAC. That means beating Hawaii in the Thursday quarterfinals and then probably Rice in the semis.

George Washington (19-7, 11-5) – The Colonials must get to the A-10 title game to have a chance at an at-large berth. Have defeated both Maryland and Michigan State.

Saint Joseph's (17-10, 14-2) – Even with their convincing regular-season league crown, the Hawks also must get to the A-10 title game to have a chance (due to poor nonconference performance).


RESTING EASY this week:
Southern Illinois – Loss in the MVC semifinals shouldn't affect the Salukis' bid. With a strong RPI and league title, they have done more than enough to get in.

Stanford – Beating Washington probably pushed the Cardinal into the field. Tricky quarterfinal against Washington State on tap in Los Angeles.

UCLA – Win over Notre Dame on the road should have been the clincher. The Bruins get a rematch with Oregon State in the Pac-10 quarters at Staples Center.

Iowa State – Cyclones make a strong case with win over Kansas in Lawrence and three other Top 25 wins on successive Sundays.

Minnesota – The Gophers supposedly can afford a loss Friday to Indiana in the Big Ten quarters and still get a bid. Ten league wins and 20 overall appear to be enough.

Georgia Tech – Beat Wake Forest and won at Miami; should be enough to earn a bid. Wouldn't hurt to beat Virginia Tech in ACC quarterfinals.

Texas – Sweep of Oklahoma State makes the Longhorns a lock. Texas has survived nicely without LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker.

Notre Dame – The Irish still own major wins over Connecticut and Boston College to ease the potential angst of the Big East tourney in NYC.

NO SHOT at at-large berth:
Vermont – Numbers don't add up for the Catamounts. Can't lose to Northeastern at home in America East title game Saturday.


Here are some storylines to watch for teams not on the bubble:

Which teams are locks for the No. 1 seeds?
The committee is leaning closer toward going with Illinois, North Carolina and Wake Forest, barring a collapse. But the fourth spot is still wide open.

Clamoring for a No. 2?
Defending champ Connecticut has been on a roll and is a possible No. 2 seed, sources say. The Huskies have six wins against the top 50, are 9-1 in their past 10 games and shared the Big East regular-season title with Boston College.

Battle for Oklahoma City
The Big 12 tournament could determine which two of three Big 12 teams play in Oklahoma City, one of the first-round sites for the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas are all vying for that honor this week.

Same is true in Charlotte for the ACC
Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest could all be playing for the right to go to Charlotte. Two of the three teams would be in Charlotte. Remember, the pod system allows two four-team tournaments to coexist at the same site. The two winners would then move on to two different regional sites the ensuing weekend for the Sweet 16.

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com