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AROUND THE COLLEGE NATION
March 3, 2005

March is here, which means it's every college hoops fan's favorite time of year. Teams all across the land are battling for postseason position. Some have NCAA bids on the line, while others are just trying to improve their seeding.

While many of the small conferences will rely on their league tournament to determine their lone representative in the NCAA Tournament, most of the major conferences have multiple teams battling for a limited number of at-large bids. This week we take a look at several of those leagues and their teams' situations.

ACC
LOCK: North Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke
BUBBLE: Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, Virginia Tech, NC State
BREAKDOWN: Georgia Tech played Wake Forest hard on the road Wednesday but came up short. That means the Jackets must beat Clemson on Saturday to finish .500 in ACC play. The Tigers have recently beaten both Maryland and Virginia Tech, so that will be no easy task. Tech's RPI is in the low-forties at this point in the season. The Terps failed to capitalize against UNC last weekend and now must knock off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg this weekend to get to 8-8 in league action. A UM victory likely gets Gary Williams' squad in. Even with a win, VT, with an RPI well above 100, would likely still need to do some major damage in the ACC Tournament. Miami's hopes took a hit last week, but a win on the road at Duke on Thursday could keep the 'Canes and their 60-plus RPI in the race. NC State must beat Wake Forest at home this weekend to finish 8-8 in the league and keep their hopes alive, but a bad RPI rating will likely keep the Wolfpack on the outside unless they make a run in the ACC Tournament.
PREDICTION:
  IN: Maryland, Georgia Tech
  OUT: Miami, Virginia Tech, NC State

ATLANTIC TEN
LOCK: None
BUBBLE: St. Joseph's, George Washington
BREAKDOWN: SJU picked up a big win at GW earlier this week. Both teams' RPI ratings are in the 70's, so it is very possible that the only team to make the Tournament from the A-10 will be the conference tournament champion.
PREDICTION:
  IN: St. Joseph's
  OUT: George Washington

BIG EAST
LOCK: Boston College, Connecticut, Syracuse, Villanova
BUBBLE: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Georgetown, West Virginia
BREAKDOWN: The Panthers were once a lock for the NCAA Tourney but have since become more of a mystery. Pitt's RPI is among the nation's top 50, and they are guaranteed an above-.500 finish in league play. A Saturday win at Notre Dame would clinch a spot for the Panthers. Speaking of the Irish, Coach Mike Brey's squad carries an RPI in the low-50's, and with a Wednesday win over Rutgers, the team is also assured of a plus-.500 finish in Big East play. West Virginia has come on strong as of late and has an RPI just a few spots behind Notre Dame's. The Mountaineers final league game is Saturday at Seton Hall, a game they should win that would allow them to finish at 9-7 in conference action. Georgetown's RPI is by far the worst of this bunch, number 70 in the land. A Wednesday loss at Connecticut means the Hoyas must win at home against Providence on Saturday to finish above the break-even mark in conference play.
PREDICTION:
  IN: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia
  OUT: Georgetown

BIG TEN
LOCK: Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin
BUBBLE: Minnesota, Indiana
BREAKDOWN: The Gophers' RPI is among the top 50 in the land, and UM has already picked up ten league wins after Wednesday's victory at Penn State. Indiana dropped a crucial game at Wisconsin Tuesday evening, and the Hoosiers' RPI currently sits near 70. Though IU's league record is pretty impressive, the squad did not get enough done in non-conference play to earn a bid, regardless of what happens this weekend against Northwestern.
PREDICTION:
  IN: Minnesota
  OUT: Indiana

BIG XII
LOCK: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech
BUBBLE: Texas, Texas A&M, Iowa State
BREAKDOWN: The Longhorns were rolling until the early-January loss of star forward P.J. Tucker. A loss at Oklahoma State Saturday would mean an 8-8 finish in league play for UT, and the Horns' RPI currently stands in the mid-forties. The Aggies dropped a tight game at Oklahoma State Wednesday and will visit Baylor on Saturday. A&M should pick up a win there, moving the squad to 8-8 in conference action. However, the RPI rating above 70 is hurting the Aggies' chances right now. Iowa State looked like a sure bet to make the Tournament two weeks ago, but the Cyclones have lost two of three and the RPI has dropped to near 80. Wednesday's win against Missouri moved the squad to 8-7 in league play, so a win at Colorado on Saturday would make the Cyclones 9-7 in Big XII games and hard to ignore come selection time.
PREDICTION:
  IN: Texas
  OUT: Texas A&M, Iowa State

CONFERENCE USA
LOCK: Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati
BUBBLE: DePaul, Houston, UAB, Marquette
BREAKDOWN: UAB picked up a huge overtime win over DePaul Wednesday night, but the Blazers' RPI is a not-too-impressive 86. UAB, however, did pick up their ninth league win and could grab their tenth on the road at Houston on Saturday. The Blue Demons have already won ten in the conference and could grab another huge one at home against Louisville this weekend. DePaul's RPI is impressively in the top forty in the country. Marquette picked up a big home win over Houston Wednesday night, but the Eagles must still beat St. Louis on Saturday to go 8-8 in league play. Marquette's RPI is near 60. Speaking of the Cougars, they have nine CUSA wins thus far and could grab a tenth against UAB on Saturday. UH's RPI is just one spot behind that of Marquette.
PREDICTION:
  IN: DePaul
  OUT: UAB, Houston, Marquette

PAC 10
LOCK: Arizona, Washington
BUBBLE: Stanford, UCLA
BREAKDOWN: The Cardinal have already picked up 10 league wins and still host Washington State and Washington this week. A win over the Huskies would likely assure Stanford, who has an RPI in the mid-thirties, of a NCAA bid. UCLA helped their situation dramatically last weekend with a road win at Notre Dame. The Bruins, whose RPI is just over 30, host Oregon and Oregon State this week. Both games should be victories, giving UCLA 11 in the PAC 10 this season.
PREDICTION:
  IN: Stanford, UCLA
  OUT: None

SEC
LOCK: Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State
BUBBLE: Vanderbilt
BREAKDOWN: The Commodores picked up a huge home win Wednesday against South Carolina. That victory assures Vandy of going at least 8-8 in the SEC, but the 'Dores currently carry an RPI in the seventies. A road win at LSU on Saturday could make Vanderbilt a serious contender for a NCAA bid, but at this point, Coach Kevin Stallings' squad must hope for at least a couple wins in the SEC Tournament.
PREDICTION:
  IN: None
  OUT: Vanderbilt

ESPNU HITS THE GROUND RUNNING

The much-anticipated ESPNU network, a new station specializing in college sports broadcasts, hits the air this Friday evening. The premier will also be shown on ESPN2 as the new network has not been picked up yet by all satellite and cable providers.

A full weekend of live college hoops has been scheduled for ESPNU's first few days. Two conference tournament games, one each from the Ohio Valley and West Coast, will be shown on Friday evening. A half-dozen games will be shown live throughout the day on Saturday, five from league tournaments and one regular season battle. The weekend wraps up with four tournament broadcasts on Sunday.

 > Talk about it in The College Corner...

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