The Washington Times - June 25, 2009, 12:06PM

No, no, no. There’s no 65-team projection to be seen here in late June.

Maybe there’ll be a list of 65 teams in November. OK, probably.

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But a full-field rundown? Check back after New Year’s.

What can be done, however, is a little guesstimating as to where the nation’s best teams will wind up playing in the first few rounds of next March’s NCAA tournament.

That’s because of the NCAA’s pod system. And since there are enough preseason rankings (like Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman, ESPN’s Andy Katzand CBS’ Gary Parrish), it’s possible to come up with a composite of at least a projected elite for next season:

TeamFoxESPNCBSAvg.
Kansas1111.0
Michigan State
3232.7
Kentucky2723.7
Texas4354.0
North Carolina
5544.7
Villanova6465.3
Purdue8697.7
Duke111079.3
West Virginia
1391010.7
Washington7141211.0
Tennessee981811.7
Butler12151112.7
Connecticut1025814.3
California15112216.0
Minnesota14191616.3
Michigan18132117.3
Ohio State
17162017.6
Siena23201920.7

So that’s 18 teams that popped up in all three top 25s.

Now, those were all posted before Duke announced it had released guard Elliot Williams so he could transfer to be closer to his family. And since Duke now has about as many guard as Maryland had forwards last season, it’s not unfair to knock the Blue Devils down about three places on this chart.

Which is to say that since Mike Krzyzewski will, as usual, squeeze what he can out of his team, Duke will go 24-6 rather than 26-4.

Anyway, the point of this endeavor was not to dissect Duke’s chances for a superb regular season (still very good) and a deep run in March (not quite as good). It’s to figure out where the best teams in the land might open NCAA tournament play next year.

First off, the sites: Buffalo (again!), Jacksonville, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Providence, San Jose and Spokane.

And now, to pair off teams and destinations, based on mileage, eligibility and regional concerns.

1. Kansas: Oklahoma City

2. Michigan State: Milwaukee (which is seven miles closer to East Lansing than Buffalo)

3. Kentucky: Jacksonville (not the closest, but Milwaukee and Buffalo aren’t exactly Big Blue Nation hubs)

4. Texas: Oklahoma City (trumps New Orleans by a few hours)

5. North Carolina: Jacksonville

6. Villanova: Providence

7. Purdue: Milwaukee (an obvious fit, just 214 miles away)

8. West Virginia: Buffalo (less than 300 miles from burning couches to Anchor Bar wings)

9. Washington: Spokane (staying in-state)

10. Tennessee: New Orleans (not much further away than Jacksonville)

11. Duke: Buffalo (slightly further than Providence, but what’s an extra 10 minutes in the air?)

12. Butler: New Orleans (last remaining spot in the middle of the country)

13. Connecticut: Providence (no sign of Ryan Gomes … or Caron Butler and Emeka Okafor)

14. California: San Jose (less than 50 miles away)

15. Minnesota: Spokane

16. Michigan: San Jose

The trends? If the Big Ten is as good as people think it will be, it’s going to have some teams shipped far from home – especially if the Pac-10 endures a down year.

California and Connecticut look like the teams most likely to benefit from the pod system this year, though Florida and Oklahoma are other teams that drew some attention that could also play close to home.

There’s no obvious landing spot for ACC teams, but don’t feel too bad for the league. There have been multiple NCAA tournament games in North Carolina for six straight years, the longest current streak for any state.

In the longer term, obviously not every team that starts off as a top-15 contender will remain there. But for fans of many of the near-sure things (like Kansas, Michigan State, Texas and Villanova), it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to book a hotel room now – it’s pretty clear what the top opening weekend options are, even more than eight months away from Selection Sunday.

Patrick Stevens