SIX BIDSThe only thing we know for sure about the NCAA tournament is that Cal isn't going unless they cap this strange season with an even stranger miracle finish. The conference, however, looks to be good for six bids, barring collapses by the three teams who need a little help to make the field of 64. Here's our take on it before this week's action:
IN FOR SURE
RPI: 1/AP: 4/ESPN: 4/Pomeroy: 6
Remaining schedule (wins in bold): Cal, Stanford, @ WSU, @ Washington
Probable seeding - #1
The UCLA/WSU game will be very important from a seeding perspective. We're guessing that the Cougars will beat UCLA in Pullman, and that could conceivably drop UCLA out of a one seed for a short time. We say "short" because we fully expect the Bruins to defend their Pac-10 Tournament championship at Staples in three weeks and enter March Madness as a deserving top seed. They remain the conference's best chance at a NC in 2007 by a long shot. The only teams that have impressed me more this year are North Carolina and Florida.
How far will they go? All the way to Atlanta.
Washington State (22-4/11-3)
RPI: 24/AP: 9/ESPN: 11/Pomeroy: 22
Remaining schedule: @ Oregon, @ OSU, UCLA, USC
Probable seeding - #2 or #3
Most websites have WSU as a #3 seed, but we think they will finish strong and make a very good case for a #2 seed. If, as we expect, they finish 4-0 and then get to the Pac-10 championship game, they will finish 28-5, which to us says two seed. Of course 2 and 3 seeds are in the same end of a regional bracket, so the difference might not be that important.
How far will they go? I see WSU as a Sweet 16 team and nothing more. Teams with active, athletic front courts could give them problems. Outside shot at the Elite Eight.
PROBABLY IN BUT COULD USE A WIN OR TWO
RPI: 11/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 18
Remaining schedule: @ ASU, @ Cal, @ Stanford
Probable seeding - #9
Their record is mediocre, but oh that RPI. How a 17-9 team can be #11 in the nation in RPI is beyond me - and calls the RPI formula into question, frankly. This isn't an underrated team that has played a tough schedule. This is an average team that is much less than the sum of its parts. I think they need the Cal win to feel comfortable about a bid, particularly given Arizona's history of under-achievement at Staples. If they collapse and go 1-3 the rest of the way, I don't think they get in, RPI or no. The committee has shown they'll ignore a relatively high RPI if a team struggles down the stretch.
How far will they go? As recently as early January I thought Arizona could make an Elite Eight run. Now we all know better - the Cats aren't very quick, and early signs of a defensive renaissance have evaporated during conference play. Is it conditioning, or is Lute losing his touch? Whatever the case, Arizona is good for one tournament win, tops - and that depends on what sort of opening game they draw.
RPI: 34/AP: 23/ESPN: 24/Pomeroy: 46
Remaining schedule: WSU, Washington, OSU
Probable seeding - #9
At the turn, we thought they might be an Elite Eight team. Now, they look...well, they look awful. They're a jump-shooting team that's a step slow on defense, and Maarty Leunen has vanished. Still, that amazing start will get them in the tourney barring a complete collapse down the stretch (and by complete, I mean losing every game).
How far will they go? The next four games will tell us a lot about the Ducks. Right now they look really tired and a prime prospect to go one-and-done.
RPI: 60/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 39
Remaining schedule: Stanford, Cal, @ Washington, @ WSU
Probable seeding - #7
The ASU loss really dinged an already-shaky RPI and put the Trojans in the position of needing to finish strong. I think they will, and it will be impossible for the committee to overlook a team with 22-plus wins that finishes third in the conference.
How far will they go? I'm gonna shake off that ASU loss and stick to my belief that USC could be a Sweet 16 team. Their big athletic wings are tough match-ups for lots of teams. Also, defense rarely slumps, and USC's is as good as any in the Pac-10.
RPI: 38/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 49
Remaining schedule: @ USC, @ UCLA, ASU, Arizona
Probable seeding - #6
Stanford figures to finish fourth in the conference, which should be good enough to get in. Joe Lunardi has them at a five seed, which seems a bit high. Their season-ender with Arizona is huge - even more so if Cal can beat the Wildcats the previous Thursday. If they go 1-3 to finish the regular season, Stanford will need to win a game at Staples to get in.
How far will they go? Stanford's a really interesting team. On the one hand, they have the massive Lopez twins and Lawrence Hill, who constitute a pretty terrific front court. On the other hand, their back court is mediocre to poor. The CW is that guard play reigns in March, but it's more complicated than that - Stanford's chances will depend more than any other conference team on the strengths of the other teams in their bracket.
NEED A LOT OF HELP
RPI: 80/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy: 65
Remaining schedule: @ OSU, @ Oregon, USC, UCLA
If UW wins 3 of 4 (losing only to UCLA) and then makes it to the finals of the Pac-10 tournament, they would finish with 22 wins and have a fair argument despite the low RPI. Don't worry, they won't.
RPI: 66/AP: NA/ESPN: NA/Pomeroy 75
Remaining schedule: @ UCLA, @ USC, ASU, Arizona
Cal's schedule is tougher than the Huskies, and the Bears would also need to win 3 of 4 and probably get to the conference final to have a good shot. The committee has tended to look at not just the teams' records but their potential to do damage in the tourney. That's where Cal might fall short, even compared with a team like Washington. And in the unlikely event that the Bears pull off the miracle finish, they'll still need to explain how they lost at home to San Diego with DeVon Hardin in the lineup.